If you’re looking to introduce more physical activity into your life, you might consider going for a walk. With so many of us being stuck inside and no longer able to go to our usual gyms or fitness classes, strapping on a pair of walking shoes and hitting the road is a good way to get your body moving again.
But because walking is a relatively gentle exercise, some may have their doubts about its effectiveness in a weight loss routine. Does walking actually help you to lose weight?
How walking can be an effective weight loss tool
To understand how walking can help you to lose weight, you should first understand the basic mechanics of weight loss. At its core, weight loss is about burning more calories than you eat – in other words, you want to be eat a caloric deficit. When you do this, your body starts to break down and “burn” your stored fat to use as energy, eventually leading to weight loss.
One of the best ways to burn more calories is to add exercise into your routine. Incorporating walking into your daily routine will allow you to burn more calories, though the amount that you burn will vary based on several factors including:
- Your height and weight
- Level of physical activity
- Intensity of your walks
Walking can burn a moderate number of calories. According to research conducted by the National Institutes of Health, walking for one hour at a rate of 3.5 miles per hour will burn approximately 314 calories. In contrast, more high-intensity exercises like running, elliptical training, and hiking burn more, while a leisurely bike ride will burn less.
So walking isn’t the most intense exercise, but it can definitely help. You can easily get more out of your walk by upping its intensity – for example, by walking faster or for longer distances. It’s also crucial to be doing your walks consistently if you want to lose weight, since they don’t burn as many calories as other exercises.
It’s important to note that your diet plays a crucial role when you are on a mission to lose weight. The old saying “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet” is especially true when you consider that walking does not burn as many calories as other exercises. In fact, one study that evaluated the effectiveness of pedometer-based walking programs found that participants who did not change their diet but walked an additional 20-40 minutes a day lost only roughly five pounds over the course of the year.
Can walking reduce belly fat?
Yes, walking can reduce belly fat, but it’s not quite that simple.
You can’t “spot-reduce” when it comes to weight loss – in other words, you can’t choose where your body loses its fat stores. Fat loss happens when you burn more calories than you take in, and your body breaks down fat stores for energy – but this can happen anywhere in your body. You can focus on toning different muscles in your body to make them more defined, but fat loss will be more universal.
The reason that walking helps you to lose weight is because it burns more calories, not because it is targeting specific fat stores.
So walking can help you to reduce your body fat overall if done consistently and paired with enough resistance training and a good diet, but there’s no guarantee that walking on its own will deliver a toned stomach.
Can walking build muscle?
On the other hand, consistent walking at any intensity can help you to build muscle strength. Walking for longer distances can strengthen your muscles and help you develop lean muscle mass all over your body.
As you walk, you’re working a whole range of leg and lower body muscles, including your:
- Gluteus maximus
- Calf muscles
In addition, walking will also engage your core muscles as you work to keep yourself stabilized and upright.
Walking consistently will likely help you strengthen and tone these important muscles, rather than build their size. With endurance activities like walks, you build more of your slow-twitch muscle fibers, leading to leaner and stronger muscles.
On the other hand, strength-based exercises like resistance and weight-training lead to bigger, more powerful muscles because they work your fast-twitch muscle fibers instead. You may be able to build bigger muscles by increasing your workout intensity – for example, hiking uphill or incorporating some sprints throughout your walk can help.
How much should you walk to lose weight?
The amount of weight you can lose from walking will depend on how much you walk and at what intensity.
Again, walking is a relatively low-intensity exercise compared to others. You need to burn roughly 3,000 calories in order to lose one pound. If you burn 314 calories per hour during your moderately-paced walk, it would take roughly ten hours of walking to lose one pound.
You can increase the intensity of your walks by walking at a faster speed, introducing weights into your exercise, or walking more difficult terrains (for example, walking uphill requires more exertion than walking on a flat surface).
Again, you can’t discount the importance of a proper diet when you are looking to lose weight, especially if walking is your only form of physical activity. Eating slightly fewer calories can increase the rate at which you lose weight, so be sure to pair your walking regimen with a healthy and properly portioned diet. As you decrease your caloric intake, your body will burn its stored fat more quickly.
On the other hand, if you don’t pay closer attention to your diet, you may find that the weight loss results are slow. Remember: walking only burns 314 calories per hour, which can easily be overshadowed by a poor diet.
It’s also important to note that muscle weighs more than fat, and gains in your lean muscle mass from walking might mask your progress on the scale. It might be a good idea to take measurements or have a body composition test done to see how much fat you’re losing, rather than focusing on weight alone.
How to start walking for weight loss
Luckily, walking is one of the easiest forms of exercise to take up if you’re looking to lose weight.
All you need to start is a good pair of walking shoes, weather-appropriate clothing, and a good route. As with any weight loss program, you should also have a plan in place. This will depend on your current physical activity and the amount of weight that you are looking to lose.
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that most healthy adults get 150 minutes a week of moderate activity, so this can be a good place to start as you evaluate your own fitness.
For the best results, try walking paths that present some incline challenges, or try speed walking to increase the weight loss results.
Moderate levels of walking can be a good way to increase the amount of calories that you burn, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you depend on if you’re looking to lose weight. Stay consistent, eat a proper healthy diet, and consider introducing more high-intensity walks and workouts to burn more fat.