Does Walking for Weight Loss Really Work?

Walking. It’s an activity most of us do every single day—a function as natural to our bodies as eating or breathing. Beyond getting us from point A to point B, walking uses calories; but is its slow burn enough to achieve weight loss?

For years, there’s been debate around how regular strolling can fit into a fat-busting action plan. Even if it doesn’t result in immediate weight loss, taking up walking will do your health a favor. Below, we’re putting our best foot forward to evaluate the effectiveness of walking for weight loss.

Benefits of Walking for Weight Loss  

As simple as walking may be, it encompasses multiple elements that promote weight loss. For starters, it burns calories. A 150-pound person will burn about four to six calories per minute, depending on their speed. It also tones your muscles and raises your heart rate, two factors that can help with weight management.

Plus, walking regularly is an excellent habit for overall health and well-being, strengthening your heart, lowering your blood sugar, and even fine-tuning your balance.

Scientific Evidence for Walking and Weight Loss

Multiple studies have examined the effects of walking on weight loss, many with positive results. A 2017 study in The Journal of Nutrition, for example, found that walking enhanced the weight loss effects of a 12-week energy-restricted diet. Subjects who included walking in their weight loss plan lost 1.8 kg (or nearly 4 pounds) more body weight on average than those who didn’t walk.

Another 12-week study found a slight reduction in weight, BMI (body mass index), body fat, waist circumference, and hip circumference when women with obesity walked 10,000 steps a day.

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Step count may be especially important for helping you drop pounds. Research shows an inverse linear relationship between the number of steps people take per day and obesity levels. In other words, the more steps people take, the less likely they are to develop obesity.

On the other hand, not every study has linked more walking with greater weight loss. Older research from 2002 found that, in people on a low-calorie diet, walking 30 or even 60 minutes didn’t result in more weight loss than diet only.

Body Mass Index

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a dated, biased measure that doesn’t account for several factors, such as body composition, ethnicity, race, gender, and age.

Despite being a flawed measure, BMI is widely used today in the medical community because it is an inexpensive and quick method for analyzing potential health status and outcomes.

Factors to Consider

Walking may be good for weight loss, but only if done right. Going for a simple stroll around the block probably isn’t enough to get your heart pumping and calories burning. Instead, it’s important to intensify your walks to create more of a burn.

If you’d like to use walking as exercise for weight loss, consider the challenge level of your sessions. Increased speed or added weight can help you burn more calories. Incorporating bursts of extra cardio, such as a light jog or stair climbing, can also do so. Increasing the duration of your walks is another way to make them more conducive to weight loss. The longer and further you go, the more calories you’ll use as energy.

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To know exactly how much you’re burning, wear a fitness tracker or track your workouts in a walking app. Entering your height, weight, age, and other details allows an app to calculate the number of calories you’ve burned per walk.

Some fitness trackers and apps can also calculate your speed. Try setting a speed goal to make your walk more challenging and, ultimately, more weight loss-friendly.

And, of course, don’t forget that successful weight loss programs typically don’t revolve only around added physical activity. Modifying your diet will likely be necessary to achieve optimal results.

Tips for Effective Walking for Weight Loss

Still want to walk your way to weight loss? With the right approach, it’s definitely possible. Try these strategies.

Set Realistic Goals

If you’re new to walking for weight loss, you may not want to hit the pavement too fast. Instead, it’s probably best to start small, working your way up to more challenging walking workouts. Set realistic goals for yourself, considering how and when you can make time for walking, what speed you can achieve, and how far you can go.

Use a Tracker

Keeping tabs on your workouts not only shows you how far you’ve walked (and at what speed and calorie burn), it also is a great way to track your progress. As you increase your speed and duration, you can see how far you’ve come over time.

Get a Workout Buddy

Nothing boosts motivation like working out with a friend. Research shows that getting a buddy promotes better adherence to an exercise program and creates feelings of emotional support. Ask a friend to join you for a regular walk-and-talk. Or search for walking meetup groups in your area.

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Increase the Intensity

Walking may not sound like the most difficult exercise, but by ramping up its intensity, you can work up quite a sweat. Use a light, weighted vest to make your muscles work harder. Or increase your speed, select an uphill route, or choose a spot that includes stair-climbing. (If walking on a treadmill, you can always adjust its incline.)

Interval walking also boosts your ability to burn fat. This practice involves short bursts of faster walking interspersed with more moderate speeds. 

Pair It With a Nutritious Diet

Again, for most people, walking probably won’t be the only key to lasting weight loss. Making adjustments to your diet will definitely aid the process. Don’t miss our tips on healthy nutrition to support walking for weight loss.

Other Considerations

Though walking can help expend calories and burn fat, it may not be the path to weight loss for everyone. If you have mobility issues like back, knee, or foot pain, walking might not be your top exercise choice. If this is the case, talk with a physical therapist or another healthcare provider about whether walking for weight loss is a possibility for you. Other workouts may be a better option.

Even if you do decide to focus on walking as your primary form of physical activity, it’s helpful to incorporate other types of exercise, too. A blend of cardio and strength activities supports overall fitness and well-being.

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