Here’s what you need to know about walking in the name of weight loss.
You don’t need a gym to score a quality workout — just head out the front door for a brisk walk. Walking is a legit form of exercise and accessible to almost everybody.
Walking for exercise can even help you lose weight when combined with a low-calorie diet, but how much you need to walk to lose weight depends on the intensity of the walk and on your size.
Is Walking a Good Exercise for Weight Loss?
Yes. Walking helps you lose weight when it contributes to a calorie deficit. By increasing your activity and decreasing the number of calories you eat, you force your body to dip into your fat stores to fuel you. You need to create around a 3,500-calorie deficit to lose about one pound, so a daily deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories yields a loss of one to two pounds per week, notes the American Council on Exercise. You create a deficit by eating less, walking more or combining the two.
Most people can afford to cut 250 to 500 calories from their meal plan without taking in too few calories, which can slow your metabolism and cause nutritional deficiencies. Cut the fancy coffee drink, a second helping at dinner or the cookie from the break room instead of skipping meals or eating just a bowl of lettuce. (In an August 2016 Obesity study_,_ researchers looked at the effects of extreme calorie restriction on people who participated on the television show The Biggest Loser and found that the deprivation led to long-term metabolic adaptation. The participants burned far fewer calories each day, making weight hard to keep off.)
Combine a daily 30-minute walk with a healthy diet, and you’ll lose some of those unwanted pounds. Ramp up your speed and do a few small hills along the way.
From there, the Department of Human Health and Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, such as brisk walking, for significant weight loss.
How Many Calories Do You Burn Walking?
The number of calories you burn while walking depends on your speed, the terrain and your size. According to Harvard Health Publishing, a slow, 2-mph pace burns 204 calories per hour for a 180-pound person. But if that same person doubles their speed to cover 4 miles in an hour, she can burn 409 calories. Take the walk uphill for the entire hour and burn 490 calories.
Smaller people burn fewer calories: A 125-pound person burns 270 calories in an hour-long, 4 mph walk. Larger people burn more: A 185-pound person burns 400 calories walking for an hour at 4 mph.
Does Your Speed Matter?
Any kind of activity, even a leisurely stroll, burns calories, but the faster you walk, the more you burn. A slow walk takes less energy so it makes sense that you burn fewer calories per hour.
Running is another option for weight-loss exercise. You can cover a lot more ground with a speedy run than you can with a walk, even if it’s at a brisk pace. Running requires more energy, too, so it elicits a higher calorie burn. For example, a 185-pound person running a 10-minute mile (or 6 mph) burns 444 calories in 30 minutes. So, if you’re looking to save time with your workout, crank up the speed from a walk to a run to maximize your efforts.
But don’t discount walking, especially if you’re recovering from a joint injury, accident or another physical ailment that might lead to restricted physical performance, says Harvard Health Publishing. If you’re new to exercise, walking is much more accessible, too.
An April 2013 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise showed that although running produced greater weight loss than walking, you can still lose significant weight with walking.
Any Other Benefits of Walking to Lose Weight?
Any physical activity that burns calories helps with weight loss. What makes walking valuable is its ease and accessibility. Walking isn’t super stressful on your body, so it’s perfect for almost all fitness levels. Most people can walk, and they don’t need more than a pair of supportive, well-fitting shoes to get started.
Doctors often prescribe walking to patients who need to lose weight and increase physical fitness because it’s low-impact and provides all the necessary benefits of physical activity. Regular exercise can also help get your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check and may reduce your risk of chronic disease — specifically, heart disease and type 2 diabetes — explains MedlinePlus, and it’s easier on your joints than jogging.
How to Lose Weight Walking
If you’re new to physical activity, start gradually with just 10 to 15 minutes of walking a day. Slowly increase the amount of time you spend walking and pick up your speed when you feel more comfortable doing so. Walk outdoors if the conditions permit; if you need to head indoors due to weather, lack of acceptable sidewalks or trails or because of personal preference, choose a treadmill, a shopping mall or an indoor track.
Your enthusiasm for walking for weight loss may be great at first but sticking to an ambitious walking routine can be a challenge. August 2014 research published in Obesity Facts found that women prescribed 30 minutes of walking per day were able to stick to the routine pretty consistently. But when the prescription increased to 60 or 90 minutes per day, the women were less able to keep up with their walking routine. The women in this study who walked for 60 to 90 minutes per day also compensated by slowing down other activity, so the extra walking had less impact on their actual daily steps.
Thirty minutes of walking a day may be best for weight loss. You’re more likely to stick to this routine and keep up with other activities that burn calories. A modest 30-minute-per-day walk may yield slower weight-loss results compared to more lengthy daily bouts, but you’re more likely to achieve long-term weight loss (and maintenance) and stay committed to exercise.
And you don’t need to do all of your walking at once. Instead, break your walks up into 10-minute increments so you can easily schedule walking into your day.
Support Your Walking Habit
Wear supportive shoes that are designed for walking. This will help protect your feet and joints so discomfort doesn’t stop your walks. Also, wear workout clothes made of fabrics that wick sweat from your body.
Change up your walks to keep your body challenged, too. Add an incline to burn more calories during your walks. You can also walk your dog or push kids in a stroller outside to help boost your burn. Find a neighbor or family member to walk with: A walking buddy will help keep you accountable.
You can even add interval training to your walks. Alternate one minute of brisk walking with 30 to 60 seconds of speed walking, right below a jogging pace to burn more calories.
You burn more calories while going uphill than if you walk where it’s flat. You can also increase the intensity and burn of your treadmill workout by walking on an incline.
Don’t Ignore Your Diet
Controlling portion sizes and minimizing your intake of sugary and fatty foods support walking as an exercise to lose weight. If you watch your calorie intake, your walking workouts have more impact.
You should eat fresh vegetables, whole grains and lean protein for most meals, not fried foods, soda and other sweets. Small portions of nuts, fresh fruit and yogurt make solid snacks when you’re trying to slim down.
In addition to walking, add two strength sessions per week. This involves at least one set of an exercise for each major muscle group. Muscle-strengthening helps hone your ability to do day-to-day activities, such as to move furniture or carry grocery bags. Adding muscle also improves your walking stamina.
Strength training also slows the loss of muscle that can occur during aging and weight loss. When you lose muscle, your metabolism decreases, which makes it harder to lose weight. And introducing strength training into your routine also benefits your posture and, in some cases, your flexibility, which can help you lead a healthy, active life.
Put in the walking work and you’ll see results, but don’t have unrealistic expectations. It’s possible to lose significant weight by walking 30 minutes most days of the week, but if you have 20 or more pounds to lose, it may take several months to see results. Be patient with small progress and know that you’re losing weight in a healthy way that can be sustained for the long-term.