What’s not to love about walking? It’s free, easy and offers tons of health benefits. But can it help you lose weight?
On the one hand, walking may help prevent weight gain over time, according to the results of a 15-year study.
However, it may be tough to shed weight through walking alone: “Without dietary changes, you [would] need to do a lot of exercise consistently for a number of weeks to see a shift in the scales,” says Shelley Keating, PhD. “But, of course, it is possible!” she adds.
Here’s how you can make it happen.
Your best bet for losing fat through walking is to focus on increasing the intensity, frequency or duration of your walks.
Boosting your walking pace (intensity), for example, is a simple way to burn more calories. To put things in numbers: A 155-pound/70-kilogram person who walks for 30 minutes at a pace of 3.5mph/5.6kph burns roughly 149 calories, according to estimates from Harvard Medical School. But, quicken that pace to 4mph/6.4kph and the total increases to 167 calories.
You can also increase the intensity of your walks by incorporating hills. Inclines add variety to your walking program and raise your heart rate in no time flat, says Keating.
Keep in mind: You may have heard that exercise — especially higher intensity exercise — produces an “afterburn” effect that keeps you burning fat hours after your workout. But, while brisk walking may burn more calories post-workout than a leisurly walk, the amount is minimal, or “the equivalent of one or two pieces of fruit,” says Keating. “The key for fat loss is how much energy you expend with each exercise session and how many calories you’re consuming via your diet.”
Consistency is also important for long-term fat loss, so try to make walking a regular part of your weekly routine.
If you’re new to walking, start by getting 2 1/2 hours of moderate-intensity cardio (i.e., brisk walking) every week, per recommendations from the CDC. Try to walk at an intensity that raises your breathing and heart rate, but is moderate enough that you can still talk. Gradually increase the intensity, frequency and/or duration so you keep seeing benefits.
To make walking a regular part of your routine, try to go first thing in the morning, “before you get busy doing anything else,” says Jason Karp, PhD. Make things easier by setting your clothes and shoes right next to your bed. This way, they’ll be the first thing you see when you wake up, Karp adds.
For the best results, combine your consistent walking routine with a healthy diet. A registered dietitian can help you figure out your daily caloric needs for fat loss.
A consistent walking routine offers benefits that go beyond fat loss.
For one thing, walking is good for your heart: According to a 2018 study, walking briskly for at least 40 minutes two or three times per week is associated with a near 25% drop in heart failure risk among post-menopausal women.
Additionally, research in people with Type 2 diabetes reveals increasing physical activity levels improves blood pressure, cholesterol and body weight. Even modest increases in physical activity — like walking an extra 1.2 miles, 30 minutes or 2,400 steps a day — may help you achieve these health benefits, according to research.
Overall, the CDC recommends doubling the minimum physical activity guidelines if you want to reduce your risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. To put things in numbers: That equals 5 hours of moderate-intensity cardio per week. Or, roughly 60 minutes a day, five days per week.
Make progress every day while you work on fitness and nutrition goals, like walking more steps. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app for daily coaching and easy-to-follow tasks to keep you motivated.