How to walk to lose weight
Anyone looking to get fit and lose weight should try to incorporate more walking into their lifestyle. We all know that taking the car on short trips that we could walk is bad for our bodies (let alone the environment) but many people rely on the car too much, regardless.
Whether you’re completely sedentary now and want to ease into more rigorous training or are already making good strides in your fitness journey and want to switch things up, the benefits of walking shouldn’t be underestimated. But how much should you walk to lose weight? And what kind of walking is best?
How much do you need to walk to lose weight?
As with most things relating to health and wellness, the answer to this question is “it depends”. It depends on your gender, age, weight, diet and current level of fitness.
If you’re completely sedentary and/or overweight and quickly increase the amount of walking you do, you may find you can lose some weight in the first couple of weeks. Your body and your muscles and joints can really feel the difference. If you’re already quite fit, you may not see dramatic results just from walking, but it’s still an important part of overall fitness and will help you maintain your muscle tone and cardiovascular fitness.
To actually lose significant weight from walking, studies have shown that at least an hour of brisk walking per day is ideal, especially combined with a calorie restricted diet. Walking can only lead to weight loss if you’re expending more energy than you’re consuming.
Walking is important incidental exercise
Many people like to incorporate walking into their fitness routine because it’s relatively easy and can be slotted in with other daily activities. Walking can be incidental exercise.
Incidental exercise is the exercise most of us do while going about our daily lives. It’s taking the stairs, running to catch the bus, working our muscles while gardening and, yes, walking. We don’t normally see dramatic changes in weight or body composition through incidental exercise, but we can notice declines if that incidental exercise is taken away. Think about how muscles lose tone if we’re recovering in bed from sickness, or how lethargic many people felt after the Covid-19-related lockdowns of 2020. Walking is an essential component of incidental exercise.
What kind of walking should you do?
Any kind of walking is better than nothing, but there’s a big difference between a power walk and stumbling between the couch and the fridge.
Aim to elevate your heart rate while walking for the greatest benefits. You could do this by walking quickly or incorporating hills and steps. The “talk test” is a useful way to determine whether you’re walking briskly enough: you should be able to maintain a conversation but not necessarily to sing. Walk like you’re in a hurry to get somewhere.
Distance is also important, when you have the time. An easy or moderate three-hour hike at the weekend will burn more calories than a short brisk walk to work three times a week (although the latter is important too!) However, some studies have found that two shorter bursts of brisk walking per day lead to better weight loss outcomes for very overweight women than the same amount of walking in one burst.
Should you use a step counter?
Step counting instruments (pedometers) worn on the wrist, such as sports watches, can be a helpful tool when trying to increase your walking. You can monitor your speed, distance and heart rate while walking, as well as the number of steps.
By default, many of these counters are set to a goal of 8000 or 10,000 steps per day, which can be adjusted. These default goals are usually realistic but a slight challenge for people with sedentary jobs. Once you meet your goal you’re rewarded with a satisfying buzz of congratulations on your wrist. You may also earn badges in the phone app that your watch is connected to.
If you’re a competitive person, either with yourself or others, step counting goals can be a good motivator. It’s satisfying to see that you’ve met your goals for consecutive days or weeks. If you exercise with friends who have the same type of fitness watch, you can also set up friendly competitions.
Do keep in mind that a great number of steps doesn’t automatically mean a better quality workout. If you clock a high step count one day then you are likely to have burned more calories than on a day when you don’t reach your goal..
Use pedometers as one of many ways of tracking your walking and fitness, not the only one.
Walking for weight loss tips
• If you must drive to work, park further away than you normally would. If you take the bus, get off a stop or two earlier.
• Walk your kids to school. It’ll be good for them as well as for you.
• Don’t already have a dog that needs walking? Add a pooch to your family!
• Walk to the gym or fitness class. By the time you’ve arrived you’ll already be warmed up.
• When the weather’s good, go for an evening neighbourhood walk after work.
• Check out hiking trails in your area on the weekends.
• Wherever you’re going, take a scenic detour or walk up a hill to burn extra calories.
• Walk on uneven or textured surfaces like sand or grass for an added challenge that can lead to more calories burned.
• Walk with hand weights or a weighted backpack (with comfortable, appropriately positioned straps) to burn more energy.
• Count your steps with a step counter pedometer to motivate yourself.