How To Use Walking for Weight Loss

Because walking for weight loss beats running or jogging for many people.

When you decide 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, told Health. And those simple steps can significantly impact your overall health, cutting your risk of heart disease and depression.

You'll reap more results if you speed up rather than take a leisurely daily stroll. That doesn't mean you must pick up the pace to a race-walker speed. But you need to move at a more challenging rate.

"There is a strong relationship between the intensity of exercise and fat-burning hormones," said Weltman. "So, if you're exercising at a pace considered to be hard, you're likely to release more of these hormones."

Because of its simplicity, walking can also be a smart long-term fitness plan. To get you off the right foot, here's a complete primer on how to use walking for weight loss if you and a healthcare provider have decided it's the best option.

The Benefits of Walking for Weight Loss

Walking can help reduce abdominal fat, a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. And a benefit of walking quickly: 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," explained Weltman. "But during running, there's a floating stage where your whole body is lifted in the air. Then, you come back down and subject your body to the impact."

Some other benefits of regularly walking include:

  • Helps you think better
  • Improves sleep
  • Reduces your risk of chronic health conditions, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes
  • Improves your emotional well-being and reduces your risk of depression
  • Boosts bone strength and reduces osteoporosis risk
  • Helps prevent weight gain

How Fast and Often Should You Walk?

Aim for 30 minutes at power-walk intensity three days per week. You can complete that time all at once or break it up into spurts with recovery strides (stroll or brisk walk) in between, Tom Holland, exercise physiologist and author of Beat the Gym, told Health.

According to Holland, to ensure your pace is on point, use the following guidelines:

  • Stroll: Think window-shopping pace or intensity of four on a scale of 10, which burns about 238 calories per hour. 
  • Brisk walk: This means an effort of five or six on a scale of 10. It burns up to 340 calories an hour (at a 3.5 to four-mile-per-hour pace). While you can gossip, you need to catch your breath every few sentences.
  • Power walk: You're torching approximately 564 calories an hour (at a five to five-mile-per-hour pace). Moving at that clip, use your arms to help propel you forward. Take longer strides than a stroll or brisk walk. Your effort should be a seven or eight 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

The following program, designed by Holland, mixes a regular walking workout with interval routines. The interval routines help you reach your power-walking quota of 30 minutes three times per 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 four days of the week. If you cross-train (like power yoga or swimming), you'll help avoid exercise injuries.

Tempo Day

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

Long Interval Day

  • Warm-up: Stroll for five minutes.
  • Interval workout: Maintain a hard power-walk intensity (eight on a scale of 10) for five minutes. Recover at a brisk pace for one minute. Repeat for a total of six intervals.
  • Cool-down: Stroll for three to five minutes.

Short Interval Day

  • Warm-up: Stroll for five minutes.
  • Interval workout: Maintain a hard power-walk intensity (eight on a scale of 10) for two minutes. Recover at a brisk pace for one minute. Repeat for a total of 15 intervals.
  • Cool-down: Stroll for three to five minutes.

How To Perfect Your Walking Form

When it comes to walking, your body and brain know what to do. Makes sense since 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. Instead, focus on a point about 10 feet ahead of you. Keeping that focus will keep your stride longer and your neck comfortably in line with your spine.
  • Activate your abs: You automatically trigger good posture when you brace your core. Pull your belly button toward your spine.
  • Squeeze your glutes: Your backside propels you through your walk. Keep your glutes tight, so you can go longer and faster than normal. 

How To Take Your Workout Up a Notch

To get even more out of your walks, add a bit of challenge to your exercise by incorporating some of the following:

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

How To Safely Add Running to Your Routine

When adding more running to your exercise regimen, you might end up sidelined if you go from 0% to 100% effort on your first outing. Instead, if you'd rather run instead of walk, use the following guideline, designed by Holland, to transition from walking to running safely.

For the Running Newbie

Do a modified version of the short-interval day three times a week. Run for one minute, working up to two minutes throughout a couple of weeks. Then, walk for one minute and repeat for 15 intervals. 

Repeat that for a few weeks, then transition to the long-interval day, running for five minutes and walking for one. Repeat that for six intervals. 

Your goal is to tackle tempo day, running for 30 minutes nonstop.

For the On-and-Off Runner

Assuming you have some running experience, you can dive right into the long-interval day plan, subbing in the running for the power walks. 

The intervals should be challenging, and you should do the tempo day run at a challenging but comfortable pace.

For the Regular Gym-Goer

You can also use Holland's plan to cross-train, doing the same routines while on the elliptical, rowing, or stationary bike.

How To Add More Walking Into Your Day

Walking is a great way to get more active and lose weight. But if you don't have time to incorporate Holland's plan, you can do other small things to add more walking to your daily routine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), other ways to add more steps to your day include:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Plan physical activity breaks during the day.
  • Walk to work or on errands.
  • When you drive, park further away.
  • If you take the bus, walk to the next stop.

A Quick Review

Walking is a great way to lose weight if that's your goal. It's simple, requires no equipment, and confers many benefits, including managing healthy body weight and reducing your risk of chronic health conditions.

Additionally, power walking will help you burn more fat and can help you build up to running if you're looking to switch up activities.

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  2. Ljungberg T, Bondza E, Lethin C. Evidence of the Importance of Dietary Habits Regarding Depressive Symptoms and DepressionInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(5):1616. doi:10.3390/ijerph17051616

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