It's free, uncomplicated and easy to work into even the busiest of schedules – but can you lose weight from walking? Unlike heart rate-spiking kettlebell training or marathon-style endurance running, walking doesn't tend to feature heavily as a weight loss exercise. But in fact, incorporating regular brisk walks into your workout regimen is a simple way to change your body composition.
If you want to lose weight from walking, how far, how fast and how often should you hit the trails? We reveal how many calories walking burns, examine the health benefits associated with making a habit of hitting the pavement, and share a selection of simple but effective walking tips from personal trainer and health expert Laura Williams:
Is walking a good way to lose weight?
Aerobic training such as walking is the best mode of exercise for losing weight, as confirmed by researchers from Duke University Medical Centre. In a large randomised study, they compared aerobic training, resistance training, and a combination of the two – and the former won out for its fat-burning abilities.
Walking at any speed will help you burn calories, and you need to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight. Generally a brisk pace is recommended for building fitness and burning calories – upwards of 3.5 mph (5.6 km/hr) is considered 'brisk', though it differs from person to person. You should aim for roughly 60 to 70 per cent of your maximum heart rate.
Weight loss may also be influenced by whether you walk continuously or in shorter bursts. In one study, women walked briskly for either 50 straight minutes or two 25-minute bouts each day while following a calorie-controlled diet. Those who split their exercises lost 1.7kg more than those who tackled their workout in one swoop.
Calories burned walking
The number of calories you burn while walking can be influenced by a variety of factors – including the terrain, the temperature, and your age – but it primarily depends on your weight and walking speed. The faster you walk and the more you weigh, the more calories you'll burn.
A person who weighs 70kg will burn 186 calories walking at a speed of 4.5 mph (6.4 km/hr) for 30 minutes, according to Harvard Health. Another who weighs 56kg will burn 150 calories, and a person weighing 84kg will burn 222. In one study of 'minimally to moderately obese' women, participants lost 10 per cent of their initial body weight on average after six months of brisk daily walking for up to an hour.
Interestingly, the women experienced little weight loss until they walked for at least 30 minutes each day. This is because, for the first half an hour of low-intensity exercise such a walking, your body is primarily burning stored carbohydrates for fuel. After the 30-minute threshold, your body starts to release stored fat from your fat cells to burn instead.
How much weight can you lose by walking?
While walking will help you increase your daily calorie burn, how much weight you can lose from hitting the pavement ultimately depends on your energy balance – whether you eat more calories than you expend each day. To lose weight, you need to burn more calories through exercise, decrease the number of calories you eat, or both.
In one study published in the Journal of Nutrition, people with obesity reduced their calorie intake by between 500 and 800 calories per day for 12 weeks. Those who walked for three hours per week at a speed of 3.7 mph (6 kph) lost an average of 1.8kg more than those who didn't.
Cutting your daily calorie intake too drastically can hamper your weight loss efforts. Eating significantly fewer calories than your body needs interferes with your metabolism, which refers to how much energy you burn at rest (known as your basal metabolic rate). Go too low, and you can expect to decrease your daily calorie expenditure by up to a fifth, with lasting effects.
Health benefits of walking
Walking has valuable health benefits beyond weight loss – and they're accessible almost immediately. After four days of walking more and sitting less, participants in a University of Maastricht study exhibited noticeable health improvements, such as improved insulin sensitivity, cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Other benefits of walking include:
Walking protects against dementia: The speed at which people over 70 can walk predicts their likelihood of developing dementia, research from Toulouse University found.
Walking strengthens your heart: Walking for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease by 19 per cent, the University of New South Wales concluded.
Walking halves your risk of brain cancer: Walking for 36-72 minutes every day gives optimal protection, the team at Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory discovered.
Walking makes you more creative: Research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition found that study participants were better at coming up with new ideas while walking, especially if they walked outdoors.
Walking regulates your blood sugar: Taking a 15-minute walk three times a day after mealtimes improved blood sugar levels more than taking a 45 minute walk at any time of day, according to The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.
Walking improves your wellbeing: Active commuters feel better able to concentrate and less under strain than if they traveled to work by car, the University of East Anglia found. Taking at least 20 minutes out of your day to stroll in nature significantly lowers your stress hormone levels, according to the University of Michigan.
Walking strengthens your immune system: People who walk at a moderate pace for 30 to 45 minutes a day experience 43 per cent fewer sick days, research published in the BMJ found. Walkers also contract fewer upper respiratory tract infections, and when they do become ill, their symptoms are less severe, the study revealed.
Walking makes you live longer: Even just 15 minutes of walking per day is enough to extend your life expectancy, according to researchers at the Taiwanese Institute of Population Science.
Generally, a brisk pace is best to reap maximum benefits, particularly for adding years to your life. Analysis of more than 50,000 walkers by the University of Sydney revealed that a faster pace is associated with lower risk of death from any cause.
7 ways to lose weight from walking
If you want to lose weight from walking and don't do any other exercise, it's important to start slowly and progress over time. Start by walking for up to 15 minutes a few times a week at a pace that feels comfortable, and increase your duration and intensity from there.
And if you already know all the local public pathways like the back of your hand? There are ways to increase your calorie burn with each lap of the block. Follow Williams' tips to make the most of your efforts to lose weight from walking:
1. Practise interval walking
It's not just brisk walking that burns more calories – changing pace will hike up calorie-burn too, researchers from Ohio State University found. In their study, walking at varying speeds burned up to 20 per cent more calories compared to maintaining a steady pace.
✔️ Try this: We tend to walk faster when we cover longer distances, contrary to what you might think. Once a week, plan a longer interval-based walk of 40-plus minutes to really notice a difference.
2. Walk on lunch
Walking burns around four calories a minute – give or take a calorie or two – so if you walk at least 15 minutes as part of your usual routine, you could lose almost 0.5kg in eight weeks. In a study published in the BMJ, people who had active commutes had both lower BMI and body fat than their desk-bound counterparts.
✔️ Try this: Jogging and running pretty much doubles your calorie burn, so try breaking out into a gentle jog for a minute or two at a time. Nothing so tough you sweat over your office paperwork, but enough to spike your heart rate and get you a bit out of breath.
3. Change gradient
You can expect to burn around 30 per cent more calories by adding even a small gradient to your walk. As well as expending more energy, you'll work your hamstrings and glutes more, too.
✔️ Try this: Taking smaller steps can lessen the impact on joints as you climb uphill, as helping you to keep your balance. You may find yourself naturally leaning in as you tackle the hill – a small tilt's okay, but always try to keep your torso positioned over your hips.
4. Take the stairs
If whittling your waistline down is one of your goals, include as many flights of stairs into your daily routine as you can. Just over 10 minutes of stair-climbing per day will burn off between 60 and 90 calories, depending on your weight. When it comes to your heart health, pace doesn't matter – research shows that sprinting up the stairs will do the same as opting for a slower pace.
✔️ Try this: Taking stairs two-at-a-time will help to work your butt and thigh muscles. Remember to keep good posture while climbing – and if you feel as though your form is flagging, don't hesitate to use the handrail.
5. Add bodyweight exercises
Incorporating simple bodyweight exercises into your walk will help you achieve weight goals in two ways: you'll burn a higher number of calories in the moment and boost your metabolic rate, so you burn more calories once you're back at your desk.
✔️ Try this: Stick to compound moves, which multiple muscle groups, to get the most calorie-burning bang for your buck. Walking lunges work the entire lower body and can be seamlessly integrated into the shortest of walks.
6. Ditch the tracker
Your fitness tracker might be sabotaging your efforts. In a study published in JAMA, participants who didn't use a tracker lost 2.2kg more, on average, than those who did. The gap between recording information and changing behaviour is substantial, the authors said.
✔️ Try this: Avoid viewing your walking data as 'extra calories'. See your steps as an added bonus that will enhance your weight loss efforts, and don't beat yourself up if you don't reach your target – just do what you can.
If you're ditching your digital motivator, find a workout buddy. Researchers from the University of Aberdeen found that enlisting the support of a gym buddy actually increased the amount of exercise their participants completed.
✔️ Try this: Start a walking WhatsApp group with friends and family to spur one another on. Set step goals and exchange walking pics (scenic as well as selfies). Creating your own supportive and motivational exercise community will be rewarding on many levels.
Last updated: 19-02-2021
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