Because running just isn't for everyone.

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When you make the decision to lose weight, simply adding walking into your daily exercise regimen may not immediately come to mind—but maybe it should.

"Fast-paced walking, when combined with healthy eating, is hugely effective for weight loss," Art Weltman, PhD, director of exercise physiology at the University of Virginia, tells Health. And those simple steps can have a big impact on your overall health, cutting your risk of everything from heart disease to depression.

But here's the thing: You'll reap more results if you speed up a bit, rather taking taking a leisurely daily stroll. That doesn't mean you have to pick up the pace to a race-walker speed—you just need to move at a more challenging rate. "There is a strong relationship between intensity of exercise and fat-burning hormones," says Weltman. "So if you're exercising at a pace considered to be hard, you're likely to release more of these hormones." The best part: When women walk, deep abdominal fat is the first to go. That's a scientific fact we can get excited about.

Another added benefit of walking at a quicker speed: Although you're moving faster, power walking is still easier on the joints than running. "During walking one of your feet is always in contact with the ground," says Weltman, "but during running there's a float stage where your whole body is lifted in the air. Then you come back down and subject your body to the impact."

That's why walking is a smart long-term fitness plan. To get you off on the right foot, here's a complete primer on how to use walking for weight loss, if you and your doctor have decided that's the best option for you.

How fast (and how often) should you walk?

To make sure your pace is on point, use these guidelines from exercise physiologist Tom Holland, author of Beat the Gym. Aim for 30 minutes at power-walk intensity three days a week. That time can be completed all at once, or you can break it up into spurts with recovery strides (stroll or brisk walk) in between.

  • Stroll. Think window-shopping pace, or an intensity of 4 on a scale of 10. It burns about 238 calories an hour.
  • Brisk walk. This means an effort of 5 or 6 on a scale of 10. It burns up to 340 calories an hour (at a 3.5 to 4 mph pace). While you can gossip about Mad Men, you need to catch your breath every few sentences.
  • Power walk. You're torching off approximately 564 calories an hour (at a 4 to 5 mph pace). Moving at this clip, using your arms to help propel you forward and taking longer strides, your effort should be a 7 or 8 on a scale of 10. Talking is possible only in spurts of three or four words, but you'd rather focus on breathing.

Give this walking plan a try

This program from Holland mixes a regular walking workout with interval routines to help you reach your power-walking quota of 30 minutes, three times a week. Aim to walk on three nonconsecutive days—doing one of the below plans for each day—and either rest or cross-train on the other 4 days of the week. If you cross-train (think power yoga or swimming), you'll help your body recover faster.

Tempo day

  • Warm-up: Stroll for 5 minutes.
  • Workout: Maintain a power-walk intensity for 30 minutes.
  • Cool-down: Stroll for 3 to 5 minutes.

Long interval day

  • Warm-up: Stroll for 5 minutes.
  • Interval workout: Maintain a hard power-walk intensity (8 on a scale of 10) for 5 minutes. Recover at a brisk pace for 1 minute. Repeat for a total of 6 intervals.
  • Cool-down: Stroll for 3 to 5 minutes.

Short interval day

  • Warm-up: Stroll for 5 minutes.
  • Interval workout: Maintain a hard power-walk intensity (8 on a scale of 10) for 2 minutes. Recover at a brisk pace for 1 minute. Repeat for a total of 15 intervals.
  • Cool-down: Stroll for 3 to 5 minutes.

How to perfect your walking form

When it comes to walking, your body and brain know what to do. Makes sense—you've been doing it since you took those first wobbly baby steps. But here are a few tips on perfecting your form, just in case.

  • Chin up. Your gaze shouldn't be aimed at your feet, no matter how snazzy your sneakers are. Instead, focus on a point about 10 feet ahead of you. This will keep your stride longer and your neck comfortably in line with your spine.
  • Activate your abs. When you brace your core—pulling your belly button toward your spine—you automatically trigger good posture.
  • Squeeze your glutes. Your backside literally propels you through your walk. To get the most oomph—so you can go longer and faster—keep your glutes tight. Bad visual, good strategy: Imagine squeezing a winning lottery ticket between your cheeks.

How to take your walking workout up a notch

  • Add hills. When you hit the hills on a treadmill or in your neighborhood, you automatically make your workout more challenging.
  • Go off-road. Head out for a light but brisk hike—the uneven terrain forces you to work harder. Sub this in for one of your weekly power walks.
  • Swing your arms. With elbows bent at 90 degrees and hands in loose fists, move your arms in an arc, keeping elbows tight to your body. This helps drive you forward, says Weltman, and helps build upper-body strength.
  • Make longer strides. Instead of taking more steps, "work on increasing your stride length," Weltman says. "You'll cover more ground."

How to (slowly) add in running to your routine

Let's face it: Some of us would rather just run. But if you go from zero to Usain Bolt on your first outing, you might end up sidelined. Use this guide from Holland to transition from walking to running safely.

For the running newbie: Do this modified version of the Short-Interval Day three times a week: Run for one minute (work up to two minutes over the course of a couple of weeks), walk for one minute and repeat for a total of 15 intervals. Do this for a few weeks, then transition to the Long-Interval Day, running for five minutes and walking for one, repeating for a total of six intervals. The goal is to eventually tackle Tempo Day—running for 30 minutes nonstop.

For the on-and-off runner: Assuming you have some running experience under your belt, you can dive right into the Long-Interval Day plan, subbing in running for the power walks. The intervals should be challenging, and the Tempo Day run should be done at a hard but comfortable pace.

For the gym-goer: You can also use this plan to cross-train, doing the exact same routines while on the elliptical machine, rowing machine or stationary bike.

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