Walking to lose weight and stay healthy is free, requires no equipment or memberships, and easy to do.
We usually only think of walking as a way to take care of our daily chores — walking to work or school, or to a store to shop. But walking is about more than getting to where we need to go; it’s about exercise and keeping our body moving, which is especially necessary now that many of us are working, attending school, or having groceries delivered from home.
What are the benefits of walking?
Walking is important to your health, even if you aren’t trying to burn calories and lose weight. In fact, there’s a shocking 2 million deaths per year that are directly related to physical inactivity, according to the World Health Organization.
And it’s all about setting up your lifestyle with good habits. But how can you do this?
According to Alex Davis, co-creator of Ryan and Alex Duo Life, a wellness and lifestyle site for couples, “A 2019 study by the Penn Medicine Nudge Unit — the first behavioral health design team of its kind — found that people who track their daily steps in a competition continue to walk 600 more steps a day for the months prior. Walking… is a strong indicator of health.”
A recent study “concluded that adult dieters who lost 30 pounds and maintained or continued to lose weight tracked 12,000 steps per day.” Meanwhile, overweight adults only tracked 6,500 steps. Studies have even shown that walking can help prevent type II diabetes.
Walking for weight loss is a great opportunity to practice habit stacking.
Suggests Davis, “Before you head out on your walk, bring double the water you normally would and try to finish it all before your walk ends. Not only is a habit like drinking water easy to do while walking, but a study out of Humboldt University has shown that drinking two extra cups of water can increase metabolism up to 30 percent.”
Nadia Murdock, Mindset and Movement Expert and founder of Nadia Murdock Fit, says, “Walking is a great starting point for those new to fitness, ideal for those that might be suffering from an injury, or for the days you are looking for low-intensity movement options. Walking allows you to go at your own pace while reaping the benefits of mental and physical wellness.”
“Walking daily for about 20 minutes, or four to five times a week for 30 minutes, can help you burn calories, strengthen your heart, and boost your metabolism, which helps you burn more calories all day,” adds Lynell Ross, Certified Health and Wellness Coach.
Walking improves mood, relieves symptoms of depression, and boosts cognitive function and memory. Other benefits of walking include increased metabolic rate, improved mood, and better bone health.
“The National Diabetes Prevention Program encourages participants to walk daily to help them lose weight, lower blood pressure and blood sugars. Walkers are less likely to have cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses,” Ross concludes.
“Listen to your body and make sure you are being challenged,” Murdock suggests. “As your strength increases, opt for hills or add ankle weights, or even a weighted vest. Mixing it up with dynamic stretching before your workout and a soothing static stretch to the end will have you walking away with a complete workout.”
Can you lose belly fat by walking?
Walking is overlooked as a way to lose weight since it doesn’t leave you drenched in sweat or with a high calorie burn, but it’s actually a very effective way to be active and help you lose weight.
“You can lose belly fat from walking, and I will tell you why,” says Cameron “Cam” Byrnes, a fitness and transformational expert. It all comes down to the energy source. “When we do exercises — let’s say running — after the first 4-5 minutes, we move from anaerobic, which is stored energy, to aerobic, which is where the energy comes from oxygen; thus, this is why we breathe heavy.”
To burn up our stored energy, we want to stay anaerobic for as long as we can. “This means using the glucose in our muscles and bloodstream.”
When we deplete these stores, our body then realizes it’s running low and it does two things: “It signals the body to make you feel hungry so you will eat more energy; if that doesn’t happen, the body will release fat into the bloodstream to make up the shortfall in energy burn.”
But the fat release is a slower process. “So this is where your diet is key to all of it.”
“Walking at a moderate pace (breathing a bit heavier than at rest, but can still hold a conversation) does burn calories, and it burns a higher percentage of calories from fat,” adds Amy Carson, Registered Dietitian and Certified Personal Trainer. “Walking is also a convenient, low-cost activity that can be done anywhere. And getting outside (especially during the past few months) can help improve stress levels and sleep, which are both huge factors in weight loss.”
8 Tips on Walking to Lose Weight
Walking for weight loss is not the same as an average walk around the office. So, there are a few things to keep in mind when getting started.
1. Use a wristband heart monitor.
“Use one of the wearable wristband devices that monitor your heart rate so you can find a speed that will raise your heartbeat,” suggests Dr. Lev Kalika, owner of NYDN Rehab in New York City.
Using a heart monitor that you wear on your wrist helps you determine the level of intensity, ensuring you aren’t overexerting yourself. Plus, they are widely available, in every color, shape and size imaginable.
Consider these options:
2. Use your arms to propel yourself.
While it may feel easier to keep your arms at your sides, Dr. Kalika recommends using your arms to your advantage. “Walking with concurrent arm propulsion engages more muscle synergies, hence you spend more energy,” he says.
This isn’t the only way to get more from your walking workout, though.
3. Push the ground through your feet rather than your hips.
“Pulling through the hips is an energy-saving strategy where you use the energy conserved by your ligaments, which is released by elastic recoil properties of your tendons,” Dr. Kalika reveals.
Even though it’s the correct way to walk, you can still push through your calves, which will expend more energy, therefore resulting in weight loss. However, don’t forget to switch back to the normal style of walking, as pushing through the calves for too long may result in injury.
4. Wear clothes that make you sweat.
“Heat exchange is something that cools the body. If you use polyester clothes, you will obstruct heat exchange, which will result in a rise in body temperature and excessive perspiration,” warns Dr. Kalika.
This will cause fat decomposition by expiration through the lungs, as well as local loss of fat through sweating. Because sweating, especially when exercising, can cause dehydration, it’s important to drink water.
Consider these options:
5. Incorporate stairs into your walking routine.
To boost your heart rate and burn calories, running or briskly walking up stairs can promote weight loss by burning more calories in a shorter amount of time than just brisk walking.
“According to the Harvard Alumni Study, men who climbed stairs regularly significantly reduced their risk of stroke. A 2009 study of about 5,000 adult men and women found that those who walked regularly gained less weight over time than their counterparts who did not walk,” says Nina Norfass from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
“Start slow. Instead of bolting up the highest flight of stairs you can find, walk up at your normal pace first. You’ll still find you’ll break a sweat, and then you can work your way up to a faster pace.”
6. Pay attention to your form.
“Just as you would with any form of exercise, paying attention to your posture and the quality of your movements is key to preventing injury and promoting a healthy physical body,” adds Norfass.
According to the Mayo Clinic, to get the most out of your walking exercise, it’s important to keep your head up, keep your neck and shoulders relaxed, slightly pump your arms, engage your abs slightly, and walk smoothly heel to toe.
7. Get gear that makes you excited to walk.
“Wearing clothes and shoes that aren’t just comfortable, but also make you feel confident, can go a long way in helping you keep up with your exercise routine,” Norfass concludes.
And consistency is important when it comes to weight loss. “No need to spend a fortune; start small. Get pieces that are easily layered so you can mix and match depending on your mood and the weather.”
8. Keep yourself motivated.
There are a few ways you can do this.
For one, you can get a walking partner. Says Ross, “Asking a friend to be your walking buddy will help you stay on track on days that you may not feel like going out.” Plus, who is going to say no to their close friend? Consider them a person to also hold you accountable.
You can also use a fitness tracker to help you keep track of your steps.
Above all, stay positive and remember the benefits of walking. Adds Ross, “Walking boosts self-confidence and helps you focus on healthy weight loss. Walking is a safe, healthy, effective and enjoyable way to take extra weight off.”
How much do you have to walk to lose weight?
If you’re eating a diet higher in fat and protein, with lower carbs (not no carbs), your body will be energy deficit, and your body fat will be used to supplement your energy intake.
But you want to burn more energy than you’re consuming. And you have the same eating habits each day, you will keep being in a deficit.
“The frequency is also important because the rule of energy in and energy out could not be more correct,” Byrnes says. “So, walking every day will keep your energy burn consistent. The body loves structure and routine when it comes to dropping body fat.”
How many steps should you take a day to lose 2 pounds a week?
According to the CDC, adults should exercise for 150 minutes per week (or 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week). And the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends losing 1/2 pound to 1 pound per week. Studies also say that 10,000 steps per day is a good place to start and indicates your level of activity.
So, doing a little math can give you the answer here.
If the average person burns 100 calories for every 2,000 steps, walking 10,000 steps would burn 500 calories. Walking 50,000 steps total per week would be equal to 3,500 calories, equal to one pound of body fat. That means 10,000 steps per day would equal losing one pound per week.
Says Jason Falcon, Certified Personal Trainer, Precision Nutrition Coach, and Founder of Falcon Nutrition, “Walking falls under NEAT — Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis — which is responsible for about 25 percent of our day’s total calorie expenditure… Much higher than expenditure via exercise, which comes in around 10 percent of our day’s total.”
You can absolutely lose belly fat by walking, so long as it’s done within the confines of a daily calorie deficit.
Adds Falcon, “The average adult walks around 2,200 steps per mile and burns around 100 calories per mile walked, so aiming to lose belly fat solely via walking would mean having to walk huge distances. A much more effective and sustainable approach would be quantifying one’s intake while at the same time gradually walking more and more over time.”
With this method, both sides of the energy balance equation, calories in and calories out, are getting a fair look, so neither will have to be extreme. Falcon suggests aiming for 10,000 steps per day, and gradually grow that by 500 to 1,000 steps every couple weeks, until the rate of weight loss is at desired amount week over week.
“If one were to walk 5 miles a day, that’d mean burning 500 calories a day via walking. Over 7 days, that’d be 3500 calories of expenditure via daily walking,” Falcon adds. “To lose 2 pounds solely via walking, we’d need double, which is about 10 miles per day, over 20,0000 steps for most. That would take a lot of time and effort, further pointing toward combining walking with an intake/nutrition plan that has us in a caloric deficit so walking wouldn’t need to create the deficit on its own.”
Can you get a flat stomach by walking?
Multiple studies have shown that taking daily brisk walks reduces total body fat, as well as the fat around your midsection. Another study found that walking for 30 to 40 minutes per day, or about 7,500 steps, causes a reduction of stomach fat and a thinner waist.
With this in mind, getting a flat stomach will also take time and consistency. Though it may seem daunting, It can be done. Set a goal or reason, then a date, and make it your lifestyle.
“Like anything in life, if you really want it, you need to put some focus and commitment behind it,” says Byrnes. “Remember, you are trying to change your body, so you need to change your mind, which means you have to enjoy the process. You need to stick to it for at least a month to see good results, and think about a few months if you’re aiming for that flat stomach.”
Adds Falcon, “A flat stomach for most will come down to body fat levels, so if body fat is low enough to start to see abs (12-14 percent, on average), at that point one’s stomach would be flat. It’s doable via walking, but it would take lots of walking, more than is realistic for most. This points back to a much more life-friendly approach of combining a methodical nutrition plan with walking, so it’s a lot more doable within the time constraints most adults are working with.”
How to Get a Flat Stomach from Walking
Walking is one of the best, most accessible forms of steady state cardio you can do. As a result, “It’s also a fantastic way to make room in your diet for a caloric deficit, thus leading to losing weight,” advises Michael Julom, founder of This Is Why I’mFit.
However, there are a few things you can do to maximize that effort and get a flat stomach.
1. Increase time.
This is an obvious one, but it should be considered by everyone looking to lose weight by walking.
“The more time you spend walking — or, realistically, the further you walk — the more calories you will burn,” advises Julom. As it takes a daily deficit of roughly 500 calories to lose 1 pound per week, this is a welcome addition.
2. Increase intensity.
Intensity is another variable often manipulated to make a workout harder.
“If you want to expend more energy (in the form of calories, of course), you will want to make your exercise harder.” So, suggests Julom, try picking a harder route with more hills and/or rough terrain. Or, you can also try wearing ankle and wrist weights, or a weighted backpack.
Consider these options:
3. Increase frequency.
“The final variable for manipulation with walking is increasing frequency, which will obviously increase the amount of distance you walk in any given week.”
Instead of going for a walk three times per week, try to do so every day. This will lead to greater overall energy expenditure, according to Julom, helping you to hit that much-needed caloric deficit.
4. Think of weight loss as separate from exercise.
Finally, it is always a good idea to divorce the idea of weight loss from the idea of exercise. “It takes a daily deficit of 500 calories to lose 1 pound per week. It is far easier to find this deficit from eating less than from doing more,” says Julom.
A two-hour walk can burn around 500 calories for most people, so simply skipping dessert can help you burn these 500 calories much more easily. “Of course, a combination is good: walk off 200 calories per day and eat 300 calories fewer.”
However, remember that weight loss is made primarily through diet, not exercise.
How to Put Yourself in the Right Mindset
Walking is a wonderful way to start training your body and mind into a regular routine of being active. “Habits, practice and mindset are the things that are the foundation stones of achieving our goals,” says Kortney Olson, certified personal trainer and CEO of clothing company GRRRL.
But walking is not the most effective way to lose weight on its own. “The most effective way to lose weight, is to incorporate weight training and good nutrition,” she says. “The number one thing that trips people up in a journey of chasing weight loss is the feeling of restriction. If we approach weight loss as a chore, the energy is constantly pushing back against us subconsciously in some kind of negative way.”
Almost all of us have limiting self beliefs that were created during adolescence, triggering us to feel like failures. “Something as simple as a teacher telling us in the third grade that we’ll never be a good reader can impact us as adults. So we often get started, thinking at the back of our minds we are going to fail,” advises Olson.
One of the easiest ways to interrupt these subconscious beliefs is to create awareness around our thoughts (mindfulness). Using the period of walking to do this is an ideal time.
Spend the time being present in the moment by intently shifting your focus on real time things, such as: smelling the air around you, feeling the brisk breeze as fall starts to envelop the sky, hearing the cacophony of the city buzz, and staying present when your mind starts to wander.
“Getting our mind right can be as simple as making a conscious decision (telling someone else about it and writing it down on paper) to focus on what your body can do, and not so much on what it looks like,” Olson concludes.
Aly Walansky is a NY-based lifestyles writer who focuses on health, wellness, and relationships. Her work appears in dozens of digital and print publications regularly. Visit her on Twitter or email her.
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