For most of human history, walking for weight loss wasn’t a thought that crossed Homo sapiens’ minds. Walking and running were merely transportation methods, the only means of getting from A to B. These days, that’s no longer the case for most of us. You’re more likely to rely on a car, train, or bus to get you where you need to go. And on top of desk jobs and long hours, there are even fewer opportunities in the day to walk anywhere for any reason—which is a big problem.
Why it’s important to walk—for weight loss and otherwise.
Approximately 2 million deaths per year are attributed to physical inactivity, according to the World Health Organization. Sedentary lifestyles can be attributed to countless health problems, including increased risk of:
- all-cause mortality
- cardiovascular diseases
- colon cancer
- high blood pressure
- lipid disorders
On the other hand, walking just 7,500 steps a day (of which 3,000 of those—the equivalent of 30 minutes—should be done at a brisk pace) could be enough to prevent type II diabetes, according to a review published in Frontiers in Endocrinology.
Walking comes in handy when it comes to preventing chronic disease, but if you’re also wondering can you lose weight by walking, the answer is also yes.
As for how much weight you can lose by walking, results will vary. However, one study found that participants lost an average of three pounds by walking. And it might be obvious, but the study also reported that the more you walk, the more weight you’ll lose.
Why you should be walking to lose weight.
Walking requires little in the way of equipment, it can be done more or less anywhere, and it’s less likely to stress the joints in the way that running can.
But just because walking upright is an easy, natural way for humans to expend energy from the food we eat, it doesn’t mean that we can’t learn to do it better—and increase the belly burn.
By following the tips below, you’ll learn how walking to lose weight is a low-impact way to reach your body goals.
Walking tips before you leave the house.
- Choose the right shoes. The only “equipment” necessary for walking (unless it’s on the beach) are shoes and chances are you have a pair suitable for the job already. “Walking shoes” have flexible soles and stiff heel counters to prevent side-to-side motion. Normal flat surfaces only require low-heeled shoes that are comfortable, cushioned and lightweight.
- Devise a great walking playlist. Before you even think about lacing up your sneakers, think of the songs you want to hear as you make strides towards a fitter you. Having a great soundtrack to your walk will motivate you to push harder and go farther and the best part is that you probably won’t even notice the extra effort that you end up putting in. Look for songs that are between 75 to 130 BPM—these tempos will help you synchronize your strut to the beat.
- Know your route. It’s good to have a clear idea of where you’ll be walking on any given day. You’ll feel comfortable and confident knowing what to expect as you walk and not waste any walking time figuring out a route on the fly. Try and devise a handful of routes that vary in length, grade, and terrain. Just a couple of route options can prevent your new belly blasting habit from getting repetitive.
- Find a walking buddy. Numerous studies confirm that having a strong support group is vital to achieving and maintaining weight loss success, with those who are part of a social support network losing more weight than their solo counterparts.
- Find that walking buddy amusing. It’s no joke: genuine laughter may cause a 10–20 percent increase in basal energy expenditure and resting heart-rate, according to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity. That means a 10-15 minute giggle fest could burn up 40 to 170 calories.
- Be prepared for weather conditions. We don’t all live in San Diego, which means that we have to deal with a dynamic climate. Don’t let a run of hot, cold, wet, windy or icy weather prevent you from walking off your belly. Get yourself kitted out with the right clothing for the sorts of weather your area can get in a given year. During a heat wave, walk before the sun gets too high in the sky, during a cold snap, do the opposite. A fair weather walker in Seattle or Fargo is going to miss out on a lot of belly blasting opportunities.
- Keep tabs on your strides. Some health insurance companies now offer financial incentives for members who can clock up a certain number of strides in a day. That’s because they know that walking is a great way to stave off obesity and illness. There’s no ideal number when it comes to how many daily steps is ideal but Japanese health officials advise 10,000 steps as a goal. There’s only one way to find out how many strides you’re clocking up: get a pedometer. They’re relatively inexpensive and could end up motivating you to shed some pounds.
- Keep a walking journal. Keeping a journal been shown to increase the effectiveness of a walking program by 47 percent, according to a Journal of the American College of Surgeons study! Keep track of the days that you performed your walking routine, the time of day or night that you performed your walking routine, the distance and time to complete each walking routine, the course in which you performed your walking routine, and your weekly weight.
- Walk in daylight to eat less. Go get some of that sunshine or even daylight on your walk. Why? Well, a study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology, showed that sleep-deprived adults who were exposed to dim light after waking had lower concentrations of the fullness hormone leptin while those in blue light (the kind from energy-efficient bulbs) had higher leptin levels. By letting some light into your life, you’ll get some life into your weight loss goals as you stride toward a slimmer, healthier future.
How to walk for weight loss.
- Hit the bricks before breakfast. According to holistic health coach Seth Santoro, the best strategy for lowering body fat percentage is to get your walk soon after waking up. “Your body is already in a calorie deficit, and it will ignite your body’s fat-burning ability,” he says. “Glycogen levels are depleted during sleep, so your body will utilize body fat as an energy source.”
- Walk briskly. Walk like you’re at the airport and you’ve cut it close for departing flight. If you’re 150 pounds walking briskly (around 3.5 miles per hour) will burn around 300 calories every 60 minutes. If you can fit in 30 minutes of brisk walking on a flat surface every day, you’ll have burned off 1,050 calories by the end of the week. Studies show that this sort of weekly calorie expenditure helps protect against heart disease and of course, you’ll probably start noticing that you look and feel different soon.
- But also vary your walking pace. Engineering researchers have found that walking at varying speeds can burn up to 20 percent more calories compared to maintaining a steady pace. The 2015 study from Ohio State University is one of the first to measure the metabolic cost, or calories burned, of changing walking speeds. While walking briskly for 30 minutes is a great idea, try and work in a few minutes in which you accelerate and decelerate your brisk walk.
- Swing your arms. See, vigorous arm pumping not only speeds your pace, it also provides a good upper body workout. What’s more: an arm swinging walking style will cause you to burn 5 to 10 percent more calories. Bend your arms at 90 degrees and pump from the shoulder. Swing them naturally, as if you’re reaching for your wallet in your back pocket. On the swing forward, your wrist should be near the center of your chest.
How to boost weight loss while walking.
- Go faster the right way. If you want to increase your walking pace there are two ways you can do it. You can take longer strides or you can fast strides. Experts say that it’s better to do the later because lengthening your stride can increase strain on your feet and legs.
- Vary the terrain. As well as altering your speed, a great way to burn more belly fat is to switch up the surface you’re walking on. See, walking on grass or gravel burns more calories than walking on a track while walking on soft sand increases caloric expenditure by almost 50 percent, provided that you can keep your pace the same.
- Add high-intensity walks to your routine. Do at least 20 minutes of high-intensity walking on 3 nonconsecutive days per week as you’ll burn more fat during and after these cardio-intensive workouts. On alternate days, do moderate-intensity fitness activity for about 30 minutes per session.
- Walk uphill. Walking briskly up a short hill is a great example of interval training when interspersed with flat terrain walking. Your leg muscles with thank you if you lean forward slightly when walking uphill and your knees will be even more grateful if you slow your pace, bend your legs slightly and take shorter steps when you descend those hills.
- Ski the streets. Enhance your upper-body workout by using lightweight, rubber-tipped trekking poles. If you’ve ever cross-country skiied, you’ll know the movement. If you haven’t, it goes like this: Step forward with the left foot as the right arm with the pole comes forward and is planted on the ground, about even with the heel of the left foot. Walking with poles while reducing the stress on your knees while working the muscles of your chest and arms as well as some abdominals.
- Use hand weights. Hand weights can boost your caloric expenditure, but they may alter your arm swing and thus lead to muscle soreness or even injury. They’re generally not recommended for people with high blood pressure or heart disease. If you want to use them, start with one-pound weights and increase the weight gradually. The weights shouldn’t add up to more than 10 percent of your body weight. Ankle weights are not recommended, as they increase the chance of injury.
- Try backwards or “retro” walking. Walking backward uses the leg muscles differently from walking forward and can be a great way of rehabilitating from a knee injury. Retro walking is safest on a treadmill but a deserted running track would be just as suitable. If you have neither of those settings available to you, walk outside—away from traffic, trees, potholes, etc.—with a spotter. Even a slow pace (2 mph) provides fairly intense training.To avoid muscle soreness, start slowly: don’t try to walk backward more than a quarter mile the first week.
Tips for post-walk.
- Drink green tea after walking. A Nutrition study found that participants who consumed three cups of the beverage every day for a week had fewer markers of the cell damage caused by resistance to exercise. That means that green tea can also help you recover faster after a brisk walk. In another Journal of Health Science study, participants who paired drinking a sports beverage with the equivalent of four to five cups of green tea with a 30-minute jog three times a week for 8 weeks increased their ability to burn fat during exercise as well as while they were sedentary.
- Or drink plain water. Rapid weight loss doesn’t get easier than this: Simply drinking more water may increase the rate at which healthy people burn calories, according to a study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. After drinking approximately 17 ounces of water (about 2 tall glasses), participants’ metabolic rates increased by 30 percent. The researchers estimate that increasing water intake by 1.5 liters a day (about 6 cups) would burn an extra 17,400 calories over the course of the year— that’s a weight loss of approximately five pounds. Now imagine maximizing that water weight loss hack with metabolism boosting walk.
- Just as long as you forgo sports drinks. Ever see someone consuming a Gatorade or Vitaminwater while walking? Unless they’re walking up a sharp incline in a hurry, they’re doing it wrong. “Many people feel they need these sugar-dense drinks after shorter or less intense workouts,” says nutritionist Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN, CDE. “The truth is, these drinks often have more calories in them than what’s actually being burned off.” Her advice is not to consume such drinks unless you work out with an elevated heart rate for at least an hour. “Oftentimes these drinks are needed due to the risk of dehydration,” she says, but cautions that if you’re walking in mild temperatures or for less than an hour, they’re largely unnecessary. Plus, those sugary drinks are terrible nutrition for runners and walkers, anyway!
- Snack on almonds. An International Journal of Obesity study demonstrated that a low-calorie diet that is rich in almonds could help increase weight loss. Not only do the good monounsaturated fats in almonds have an effect on insulin levels, say scientists, but also give dieters a full feeling, meaning that they are less likely to overeat. So bring a small bag of almonds on your walk if you begin to feel hungry.
- Make your walk a part of your life. At first, anything new can be difficult to keep doing, simply because it’s not part of your routine yet. Once it becomes a habit, it will become a part of your day-to-day flow. Remember that motivation is what gets you started and habits are what keep you going.
- Do more incidental walking, too. Walking for weight loss is one thing, but walking has other benefits, as well. Bonus belly fat burning opportunities await you if you can leave the car at home, take the stairs instead of elevators and escalators or if you can walk the mile or two to a friend or relative’s house. If you take mass transit to work, walk to a bus or train stop a little further along the route.
- Don’t starve yourself after your walk. “Post-workout nutrition is crucial to any fitness goals,” says Santoro, who maintains that pre- and post-workout nutrition are the two most important meals of your day. It’s important to refuel your body immediately after a workout or brisk walk because it helps replenish glycogen levels, decrease protein breakdown, and increase protein synthesis and the ability to build muscle.
- But don’t eat more than your walk burned. A whopping 70 to 75 percent of the calories we expend each day is needed for our “basal metabolic functions:” Everything from keeping your heart beating to making your fingernails grow. When we exert a lot of extra energy in the gym, our bodies call out for more fuel with hunger pangs and a rumbling belly. At this point, people tend to undermine their efforts with foods that actually make them hungrier or superfluous amount of food, says Lisa Jubilee, MS, CDN. “When exercise-induced hunger sets in, only increase your calorie intake up to 20 to 30 percent of what your calorie tracker says you burned,” she says.
- Pair your walking with some resistance training. Even when you’re at rest, your body is constantly burning calories. In fact, 75 percent of the calories that you burn each day are being used up just keeping you alive. “Resting metabolic rate” is much higher in people with more muscle, because every pound of muscle uses about 6 calories a day just to sustain itself. If you can pack on just five pounds of muscle and sustain it, you’ll burn the caloric equivalent of three pounds of fat over the course of a year. Pair that extra brawn with 30 minutes of brisk walking once a day and you’ll start cutting down on your extra fat deposits in no time.
- Walk to de-stress. Walking briskly or jogging really does calm you down by sparking nerve cells in the brain that relax the senses, research has shown. And that’s good news for your weight loss goals. See, stress can actually cause the body to metabolize food more slowly, according to research published in the journal Biological Psychiatry. To make matters worse, the food we crave when we’re stressed out tends to be fatty and full of sugar. Researchers say that the combination of high-cal cravings and a stress-induced, snail-paced metabolic rate can result in significant weight gain. So, by walking to lose weight and reduce stress, you won’t be stress eating as much: it’s a win-win.