How Much Should I Walk According To My BMI? Step Recommendations

Although we all know that walking can be helpful for weight loss and is certainly important for overall health, it’s often not clear how much walking you need to do.

This leads to questions such as: How much do I need to walk to lose weight? How much should I walk according to my BMI?

In this article, we will discuss recommendations for “how much should I walk according to my BMI” and provide you with general tips for walking for weight loss.

We will look at the following: 

  • What Is BMI?
  • How Much Do I Need to Walk to Lose Weight?
  • How Much Should I Walk According to My BMI?

Let’s get started!

A BMI calculation table.

Before we try to look at how many miles to walk based on BMI, let’s take a look at what BMI is and how your BMI affects how much walking you should do.

Related: BMI calculator

What Is BMI?

BMI refers to body mass index. It is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared.

BMI = weight (kg) / [height (m)]2

For example, if you weigh 70 kg and are 165 cm tall, 70 / (1.65)2 = 25.7.

With pounds and inches, the formula for calculating BMI is weight (lb) / [height (in)]2 x 703.

For example, if you weigh 160 pounds and are 65 inches tall, [160 / (65)2] x 703 = 26.6.

A person standing on a scale.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), BMI is categorized as follows:

BMIWeight Status
Below 18.5Underweight
18.5 – 24.9Healthy Weight
25.0 – 29.9Overweight
30.0 and AboveObesity

Some organizations add an additional classification of Morbid Obesity for a BMI of 35 or above.

Although the medical community uses BMI as a metric of health risk and degree of “fatness,” it is important to note that BMI is not the same thing as your body fat percentage, and conflating the two measures can incorrectly stratify your relative disease risk.

Your body fat percentage is the relative amount of body fat you have compared to lean body mass, whereas BMI is a measure of your overall body weight relative to your height.

A person measuring their body fat.

BMI does not take into account the specific composition or tissue that comprises your weight. Body fat, muscle, bone, organs, blood, nerves, etc., are all lumped together. 

Therefore, two different people of the same height and weight will have the exact same BMI even if their physique or body fat percentage is vastly different.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are plenty of people whose BMI places them in the overweight or obese category who are in good health.

The classic example of this disparity is an athlete who has built tremendous muscle mass.

Because muscle tissue is much denser than fat, a strong athlete can have a high BMI because their weight will be high relative to their height.

This may categorize the athlete as overweight or obese based on BMI, even though the individual might be quite fit.

Consider the potential difference in health risk between two men who are both 5’10” inches (70 inches) and weigh 200 pounds, which means that both men have a BMI of 28.7.

A person stepping on a scale.

This BMI classifies them as overweight, which is thought to be at an elevated risk for certain health conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and eventually obesity.

But, let’s imagine that the athlete is a bodybuilder with 8% body fat, and the non-athlete has 30% body fat.

The difference in body composition would have a significant impact on their relative health risks, but just looking at BMI would overlook the differences in risk and would place unnecessary caution on the athlete.

Research has even found that BMI classifications do indeed incorrectly stratify the health risk of certain individuals.

One study looked at the BMI data from 40,420 adults, along with their blood pressure, triglyceride, cholesterol, glucose, insulin resistance, and C-reactive protein data, to evaluate their true cardiometabolic risk.

Results found that almost half of the individuals categorized as overweight, 29% of those classified as obese, and even 16% of those whose BMI classified them as morbidly obese were actually metabolically healthy based on their other health markers. 

A person meeting with their physician.

Perhaps even more surprising and certainly more concerning, over 30% of normal-weight individuals were actually cardio-metabolically unhealthy based on their health markers other than BMI.

These results indicate that using BMI as a measure of cardiovascular and metabolic health risks at the individual level is inherently flawed, even if it can be useful for stratifying relative risks for the entire population.

Essentially, there are some merits of the associations between BMI and disease risk at the population level, but because there are so many individuals that are exceptions to the “rules,” relying just on an individual’s BMI classification to assess health risks is problematic.

To this day, the reason that BMI is so heavily used instead of body fat percentage is that it is far simpler and more accurate to measure than body fat percentage, and there is much less data about body fat percentage and specific disease risk increases.

That said, let’s get into how much walking is needed to lose weight in general.

Two people walking their dog.

How Much Do I Need to Walk to Lose Weight?

Before we look into the question, How much do you need to walk to lose weight? Let’s address the question Can walking help you lose weight?

Like any form of physical activity, walking can help you lose weight because it burns calories.

To lose one pound of fat, you need to create a caloric deficit of approximately 3500 calories. 

Exercise, such as walking workouts, is only one of the four contributing factors to your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).

The other factors that contribute to the number of calories you burn in a day are your BMR, your physical activity aside from deliberately planned exercise like walking, and the calories you burn digesting food.

How much you need to walk to lose weight will largely depend on these other factors as well as your diet.

A person walking at sunset.

In terms of the NEAT—the calories you burn during daily life outside of exercise—the more active you are at your job or lifestyle, the more calories you will burn.

In order to create the 3500-calorie deficit to lose one pound of fat, you can increase caloric expenditure by walking or being more physically active in general, you can cut calories from your diet, or you can do a combination of both.

Although your body size plays a significant role in how many calories you burn per mile of walking, the average adult burns around 100 to 130 calories a mile walking. 

Therefore, if you want to lose 1 pound of fat per week and you are only walking for weight loss and not changing your diet, you would want to walk about 5 miles a day. 

This would generate a caloric deficit of 500 calories, which over the course of seven days, would equate to the 3500 calories necessary to lose a pound of fat.

Keep in mind that if you have a large body size, you may burn significantly more than 100 calories per mile walking, so you will not need to walk as many miles a day to lose 1 pound per week.

Two people smiling and power walking.

How Much Should I Walk According to My BMI?

As mentioned, the medical community tends to use BMI, which stands for body mass index, as an indicator of weight status (underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese).

For this reason, if your doctor has recommended that you start walking for weight loss, you may wonder how much to walk according to BMI.

So, returning to the question, “How much should I walk based on my BMI?” we can see that there are some inherent flaws with relying on BMI for an individual.

With that said, we can still make some suggestions about how much to walk based on BMI:

  • How much to walk if your BMI is below 18.5 (Underweight): 4,400 – 7,500 steps per day or 2.5 miles to 3.5 miles.
  • How much to walk if your BMI is 18.5-24.9 (Healthy): 10,000 steps, 5 miles, or 90 minutes of walking per day.
  • How much to walk if your BMI is 25-29.9 (Overweight): 10,000 steps, 5 miles, or 90 minutes of walking per day.
  • How much to walk if your BMI is over 30 (Obese): Start with every other day for 20 minutes. Build up to 60 minutes every day.

Speak with your doctor for further guidance if your BMI classifies you as underweight or obese.

If how much to walk according to BMI turns out to be 10,000 steps a day, check out our guide here for more information.

Two people walking with water bottles.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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