If you’ve found this article you must be wondering, “can you lose weight by walking?”. Well let me tell you, the answer is an emphatic YES. Humans were made to move, although it’s easy to forget that as we’ve progressed from hunter-gatherers to working desk jobs and commuting by car from door to door.
Walking covers a wide range of activities – all with varying effects on weight. Strolling around the supermarket is in a different category to a brisk walk along the beach or even a short uphill hike. They’re all great options though! I’m going to explain how to get the most out of your walking routine for weight loss.
The basics of walking for weight loss
In simple terms, if you want to lose weight you need to expend more calories than you consume. First of all, calculate your “TDEE” i.e. Total Daily Energy Expenditure. This number is the amount of calories you need to eat to stay at your current weight – no loss, no gain. For example, my TDEE is around 1600 calories per day.
When you eat less than your TDEE, your body burns your excess fat to get the extra energy it needs. To make your body burn 1 pound of fat, you need to have a deficit of 3500 calories. If you remove 500 calories a day from your diet, you will lose 1 pound a week. Here are some examples of foods which add up to 500 calories. It’s quite a significant amount.
Exercise makes weight loss easier
Luckily there is a way to make the dieting process less painful, as cutting out too much food can leave you hungry. Instead of eating 500 calories less per day, you can eat 200 calories less (this is much easier, it’s about the same as cutting out 1 chocolate bar per day) and exercise to burn another 300 calories. You will still lose 1 pound per week but you get to eat more.
Don’t worry if you’re completely out of shape. You can start gently with walking and still see results. Walking burns around 100 calories per mile. It can be significantly more than that if you are heavier (it expends more energy to move more mass) or if you are walking uphill.
Make walking part of your routine
The only problem with walking a mile is the amount of time it takes, especially if you’re not particularly fit. It takes around 15 minutes to walk 1 mile at a leisurely pace, and you will most likely want to walk further than that if weight loss is your goal. It’s hard to make time.
Rather than feeling like walking is a chore that you have to rush before dinner or work, make it part of your lifestyle. If there’s a short journey that you presently make regularly by car, why not walk instead? Walk the kids to school or to the post office. It all adds up. If you live somewhere where amenities are too far from your home to ditch the car – walk part of the way. You can probably save on parking fees too.
Other health benefits
Apart from helping you shed pounds, walking has many other health benefits. You may be surprised that you don’t need to do intense workouts to improve your heart and lung fitness. A study found that even 75 minutes of low level exercise per week improved the fitness level of previously inactive women significantly (source). Some other great reasons to start walking include:
- It releases endorphins which improve your mood
- It keeps your bones healthy and reduces risk of osteoporosis
- Helps with conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, joint pain, muscle stiffness and diabetes
- Improves muscle strength and endurance
- Improves balance
How to get more from your walk
After a few weeks of walking, you’ll find it will no longer be challenging as your body has adapted and become fitter. Hopefully you’ll have lost a few pounds too. To keep fat burning at a maximum, you’ll want to up the intensity. The faster you walk, the more calories you burn, so time yourself and try to improve your personal best each week.
You can also start including hills in your route and walk longer distances if you have time. Some people use hand or ankle weights to push their muscles even harder. When you feel ready, and once you’ve had the go-ahead from your doctor, you might want to start a beginner’s jogging program such as “Couch to 5k”. (source)
Tips to keep it interesting
Walking in circles around the block is boring and you’ll end up quitting if you don’t find ways to keep it interesting. Here are some suggestions: (source)
- Listen to music or podcasts
- Find a route with interesting scenery, e.g. beach, riverside, park…
- Join a walking club or walk with a friend
- Walk the dog, or a neighbour’s dog
- Walk at different times of day – sunrise is my favourite
- Get a pedometer or fitness app to track your walks – try to beat your personal records
If you’re very out of shape, have knee problems or other health concerns, talk to your doctor before starting a walking routine. Walking is low-impact and safe for the majority of people but in some cases – for example those carrying a lot of excess weight – something like swimming could be more suitable as it puts less pressure on the joints.
Don’t expect weight loss miracles from walking 30 minutes a day. The most important factor when it comes to losing fat is your diet. You shouldn’t loosen the reigns on your food intake and expect your exercise to cancel it out. It may take you 30 minutes to burn 250 calories but you can eat a chocolate bar for 250 calories in under 1 minute. Don’t make that mistake.
If your local region has poor weather or is unsafe, you can still benefit from walking. You can join a gym and use a treadmill, or even invest in one for your own home if you think you’ll use it long term. Another alternative is “water walking”, i.e. walking in chest-deep water in a swimming pool if you have one nearby.
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Hopefully after reading this article you know the answer to the question “can you lose weight by walking?”. It’s a great idea, whether you have 10 or 100 pounds to lose (or more). My favourite part about my daily beach walk is that it’s 40 minutes to myself. I use the opportunity to clear my head, think about the tasks ahead and even meditate! I can feel negative impact if I skip my walk for a few days in a row.
Walking is a healthy habit that most people should take up. Even if you don’t have weight to lose and are simply maintaining, it’s still got a hoard of health benefits. Make it a social thing and bring your family or friends. You’ll be glad you made the decision.