Walking is one of the easiest forms of exercise to implement into your daily life and it comes with almost zero negative effects (we’ll touch on that in a second). But walking for weight loss? What if you could simply lose weight by doing nothing but adding some regular walking to your week?
If it sounds too good to be true, have no worries because walking is the most underrated form of exercise and you’re going to learn exactly why.
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Quickly, here are a few benefits of regular walking:
- Burns calories (mostly from fat)
- It’s an easy form of exercise
- It gets you outdoors
- Improves recovery from hard workouts
- Helps you relieve stress
- Improves mobility in the hips
How Does Walking Help You Lose Weight?
In short, walking burns calories and at the end of the day, weight loss is all about burning more calories than you consume.
Walking, on average can burn around 100 calories per mile. It will be slightly more if you run, but not by much. I prefer walking over running, and we’ll get to why in a bit. Your individual calorie burn will be dependent on many factors, so keep in mind the average.
Keep in mind that walking alone is not the key to weight loss because you can walk all day long while consuming very energy dense foods and you won’t end up losing weight.
However, walking can be an amazing addition to your weight loss plan because while it’s a very low impact activity, the calorie burn adds up over time.
In fact, it’s the main type of cardio I recommend to my personal coaching clients, as well as what I recommend in my fitness programs because of 2 reasons:
- It encourages recovery by improving blood flow to the entire body.
- Walking is a low-intensity activity so it doesn’t cut into recovery that’s required for weight training.
Oftentimes, I’m met with a little bit of pushback because walking is not as intense as long jogging, sprinting, or biking. And that’s kind of the point.
Certain forms of cardio such as long distance running and sprinting are what we call ‘high-impact’ activities meaning they can be very hard on your joints and muscles. As a result, these activities take longer to recover from than walking alone.
If you’ve ever gone on a long run or decided to sprint up some stairs, you’ve probably felt sore in the days following, similar to how you might feel after a hard weight training workout.
And when your main goal is weight loss, the process comes down to the following principles:
- Maintaining a caloric deficit
- Being able to recover adequately from your exercise of choice
- Being consistent over time (this is the big one)
Why Walking Works For Weight Loss
The body has two energy systems:
- Stored glycogen, reserved for intense activities (like weight training, sprinting, biking, etc)
- Body fat, reserved for low-intensity activities (pretty much everything outside of intense exercise)
Did you know that you’re burning body fat right now while you sit here reading this article? Your body is constantly burning fat for energy. The only time it’s not is right after a meal and during intense exercise.
Regular walking pretty much burns mostly fat, similar to how you would burn fat for energy while resting. The only difference is walking burns more energy over a given time period than sitting still.
When you couple regular walking with a caloric deficit, you will burn fat more quickly than dieting alone. And better yet, when you combine weight training 2-4 times per week with your regular walking, you turn into a fat burning machine.
And the best part is this type of weight loss plan requires no long runs, no hard sprinting routines, and almost zero risks of getting overuse injuries or joint problems from all the high impact that running on hard surfaces creates.
Not only will walking help you lose weight, it can be incredibly beneficial for your overall wellbeing.
I tend to walk around 30-60 minutes each day and I have a ton of notes on my phone from all the ideas that tend to come to me while walking. As a result of my research for this article, I found some interesting health benefits that come from walking, all backed by scientific research (although we don’t need studies to know that walking is good for us).
Random Health Benefits Of Walking
Walking Boosts Creative Thinking
“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” — Nietzsche
If you ever gone on a walk, especially a lonesome stroll, you’re likely to remember having come up with great ideas, or maybe you just had a good think about something that’s been weighing on you heavily.
It may come as no surprise to you (it did me), but walking has been scientifically studied and shown to give a boost to creative thinking (full study here). There’s an interesting body-mind connection and it seems for us to do our best thinking, it’s best we be moving.
Not even just walking, but any type of movement can be good for getting the brain going.
Walking Has Been Shown To Lower Blood Pressure
One study showed that 30 minutes of walking lowered blood pressure in postmenopausal women. If you’re not a postmenopausal woman, no worries. You’re a human just like them.
Walking could boost mood and energy
At California State University, Long Beach, they conducted a case study by giving students a pedometer to wear from the time they woke up to the time they went to bed. At the end of the day, before recording their steps, they’d fill out a self-assessment for their entire day recording their feelings about self-esteem, happiness, overall mood, depression, energy, and tension.
Over the 20 day period of the study, the students averaged around 9,000 steps per day. When students got more steps in, they tended to record higher than normal ratings for their health, mood, energy, happiness, and self-esteem. They even felt their diet was more nutritious when they walked more.
Moving More = Better Mobility And Function Overall
At the end of the day, our bodies have evolved for consistent movement. A quick way to prove this easily to yourself is to spend an entire 24 hours in bed. Not only will you begin to get achy and restless, but you’ll notice that you become stiff after too much time in one position.
The same can be said for long periods of sitting or standing, and any other form of being sedentary. Our bodies were not designed by nature to sit still for very long. The more you move your body through various planes of motion, the better you maintain the full range of motion and mobility to move freely. When you restrict movement, you will eventually limit your mobility and overall function.
How To Make Time For Regular Walks
Use gaps in your work schedule. Instead of sitting around on your break, take a 5-10 minute walk around the block or the building if possible. When I used to answer phones at a call center during college, I would walk outside during my 15-minute breaks instead of sitting in the snack room.
Walk for 10-15 minutes first thing upon waking. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just get out of bed 15 minutes earlier than normal, put on those walking shoes and head out the door. If you’re not having to wake up before dusk, you’ll get the benefit of morning sunlight, which can help wake you up.
This is especially true during the colder months — nothing wakes you up faster in the morning than cold, crisp air. Grab a coffee and get it going.
Walk on your lunch break. Instead of sitting for the entire hour to eat your lunch, use the remaining time after you’re finished eating to get some walking in. Even if it’s just 10-20 minutes, you’ll break the monotony, get some fresh air, and burn some extra fat that you wouldn’t normally.
Walk before or after your workout. A great way to warm up for your training session is to do a 10-minute brisk walk to bring your core body temperature up, which helps your muscles get loose and ready for hard training. You can also do some walking after a hard training session and take advantage of the heightened calorie burn from training.
Go for long walks and/or hiking on the weekends. This is one of my favorite activities of all time. I love being in the woods and smelling the trees, grass and hearing the sounds of the wilderness.
If you’re near an ocean, walking on the beach is incredibly relaxing and if you’re like me, you’ll get your feet wet walking on the shore.
Something I do somewhat frequently is a stroll after eating dinner. A lot of people claim this helps them with digestion and there’s probably something to that. Also, it’s been shown in one scientific study that walking after a meal improves glycemic control. What this means is walking after meals can help you manage blood sugar levels. In the study I linked, it shows that people who walk for 15 minutes after each meal do a better job controlling their blood sugar and improving insulin sensitivity. So for anyone who is diabetic, or pre-diabetic, taking regular walks throughout the day could be a huge positive for their health.
Break up your work periods with 5-10 minute walks. If you’re like most working people, you probably spend the majority of your day sitting, whether in a car, on a train, or at a desk. So if you can, even if it’s only for 5-10 minutes, try to break up your work periods by routinely standing up, stretching out and going for a quick walk. Even if you just have 5 minutes of movement every hour, it’s a lot better than sitting for 3-4 hours with no activity.
Walking For Weight Loss Tips
1. Wear good shoes. Just because you’re walking for 10 minutes on your lunch hour doesn’t mean you shouldn’t change your shoes. Most of the shoes we tend to work in are stiff, uncomfortable and not made for walking long distances. We take our feet for granted most of the time because we use them every single day.
It’s only after we’ve injured ourselves, gotten blisters, stubbed a toe, or had something go wrong with our feet that we ever pay attention to how amazing it is we can just walk whenever we wish. So when you plan to walk for more than 10-15 minutes a time, wearing shoes made for activity and walking are ideal. I personally like Inov-8 235’s.
2. Remember: waking doesn’t have to feel like an intense workout. Going for a walk should be enjoyable. It can even serve as a form of relaxation. Not every activity you do for health and weight loss needs to be intense. Casual walking can help you burn fat, boost recovery from your weight training sessions AND improve blood flow throughout your entire body.
3. You don’t have to start logging tons of steps at the beginning. If you’re not used to walking much, you don’t need to start hitting 10,000 steps per day. While that’s a good goal to have, just like everything, you need to start small. Set yourself a goal of walking an extra thousand steps per day and leave it at that for a week. Then see if you can find a way to get more steps in.
4. Utilize technology you already have. Most of us have a smartphone and many smartphones will track your steps automatically. So if you want to get a baseline for how many steps you average daily, just check it out on your phone. Here’s a screenshot of my iPhone on a random day. If you don’t have a smartphone, buy a cheap pedometer to get an idea of how many steps you walk daily.
5. If you have the time + the route’s walkable, walk instead of driving. If you normally would drive to the post office, but it’s just a mile down the road and you can walk it, do it. Need to meet a friend for a movie? Can you safely walk there? Walk if it makes sense to. When I was in college, I lived about a mile from campus, so unless it was just pouring rain or snow, I walked every day.
Ways To Make Walking For Weight Loss Interesting
If you’re making walking a regular habit for weight loss, you want it to be a joy, not a chore. Any form of exercise that feels forced will eventually be put off. No plan, even the so-called perfect exercise plan will work if you’re not consistent and committed.
Here’s a quick list of ways to make your walking more enjoyable:
- Listen to your favorite music/podcast. Make a Spotify playlist, or pull out your old Sony Walkman and listen to throwback tunes — whatever gets your body out the door and walking regularly. Podcasts are great for walks, as well. You could catch up on the old shows of our FitSmart podcast (you really should).
- Listen to an audiobook. This is one of my favorite ways to learn something while I spend my time walking.
- Walk in nature. Get out to enjoy the space we came from with, or without, technology and enjoy the sights/sounds/smells of the great outdoors.
- Walk with friends. Pretty much every activity is enhanced when you have someone there to enjoy it with you. Plus, having a scheduled walk with a friend or loved one can be good for accountability.
- Take your dogs out. Dogs need to be out in nature. They need the activity, just like you do. Oh, they also gotta pee and take a dump.
- Take an alternate route. If you’ve been walking the same route for weeks on end, it can get pretty boring. So take an alternate route, or do your walking in a different area for a change of scenery if possible.
Walking For Weight Loss Action Plan:
Step 1: Think of 2-3 times during the day you can take a walk, even if you only have 10-15 minutes. It’s easy to walk out the door and go around the block a time or two.
Step 2: Commit to at least a dedicated hour of walking per week. Ideally, break it up into small manageable chunks like 10 minutes per day. I find it best to do this first thing in the morning, but any time will work.
Step 3: Do it. No excuses.
You’ll likely find that carving out 10 extra minutes per day to walk is relatively easy, and once you get started you’ll likely walk longer than this… but if you can only do 10 minutes, you’re done for the day.