The fitness industry is seriously innovative, but with that comes confusion. With so many new workouts, kit, and supplements, it can be pretty mind-boggling trying to decipher what will work for you. With gyms currently closed, it makes sense to take advantage of these somewhat simpler times and get back to basics with your exercise.
Walking is free, easy, and doesn’t require any special skill. You simply put one foot in front of the other. According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), "Walking is a great way to get the physical activity needed to obtain health benefits… A single bout of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity can improve sleep, memory, and the ability to think and learn. It also reduces anxiety symptoms."
The CDC also notes that the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults incorporate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination each week. And you might be surprised to hear that walking counts—you just need to be a bit more mindful of how much effort you’re putting into your steps. Walking is great for improving general health, but if your aim is to lose weight with walking, you’ll need to move at a faster pace and with purpose.
To get the lowdown, we called on five fitness experts to share their advice on how much walking you need to do to burn calories.
The Benefits of Walking
Besides being free and a way of traveling from A to B, walking has some pretty great health benefits, too.
"Believe it or not, walking is one of the best exercises you can do for weight loss! Put simply, walking briskly will elevate your heart rate which, in turn, will improve your fitness and help you to lose weight when combined with a healthy diet," says Alex Parren, Personal Trainer, Ultra-Marathon Runner, and writer for eco-friendly activewear brand Sundried. "Not only this, walking is low impact, which means it is suitable for those who would perhaps be prone to injury when running or doing other high impact activities."
Fitness and life coach Lisa Olona, adds that running, "tones your legs, is great for your cardiovascular system, helps lower your blood sugar, strengthens your immune system, increases your energy (thanks to better blood flow)."
But it's not just your body that benefits—walking is tonic for the mind too. "Walking allows you to get out into the fresh air which can boost your mental health, not to mention the added health benefits of sunshine and its glorious Vitamin D," says Parren "Add a furry friend to your walk and you’ve got the recipe for the perfect exercise!"
Even if you don't have a dog to walk, Olona notes that walking "helps boost your mood and can even help with creative thinking."
Right now, walking is especially impactful on our mental health. David Birtwistle, Movement and Nutrition coach and founder of performance coaching program Endeavour Life, explains that getting out for a walk can reduce the stress of being in one place. "Normally we don’t have this as we have the freedom to move, but for now, this has been taken away," he says. "We all know cabin fever can increase stress, anxiety, and agitation. Getting out of the house, in nature and not in the confines of your own four walls will help to reduce these negative feelings and increase your happy hormones."
Is It Really Possible to Lose Weight By Walking?
Both Olona and Parren agree that walking can help you lose weight, but that you need to keep your diet in check if you want to see optimum results. "While walking helps you burn calories, which helps with weight loss, you must also incorporate a sensible diet. If you are reducing the number of calories you take in and you incorporate waking, then yes, you can lose weight," says Olona.
Parren adds that "at its heart, weight loss occurs when we are in a calorie deficit, either through eating less, exercising more, or both. Added factors such as stress, lack of quality sleep, and dehydration do also come into play, but you could still lose weight even if you are stressed—it is just less likely."
"It’s not possible to lose weight if you are walking but still eating in a calorie surplus," says Parren.
Nail Your Walk
Pace, distance, and the technique that you adopt all play a part in walking for weight loss. "Walking briskly elevates your heart rate and burns calories, which in turn will help you to get into a calorie deficit which is what will make you lose weight," says Parren.
Walking isn't necessarily the most time-saving way to burn calories. For instance, Parren tells us that "a 120 pound person could burn around 65 calories per mile of walking. This would mean a 30-minute brisk walk could burn around 130 calories, but for comparison, a 30-minute run would burn around 300 calories." However, if injury means walking is one of the only exercise options available to you while sports centers are closed, it will still help you burn calories and there are some tweaks you can make to up the burn.
Olona recommends keeping your heart rate between 120-150 bpm while you walk. "So, do a solid power walk," she says. "The main thing is to get that heart rate up. Get your arms involved, with elbows at a 90-degree angle, and focus on a power walk so you are getting and maintaining [that elevated heart rate]."
The main thing is to get that heart rate up. Get your arms involved, with elbows at a 90-degree angle, and focus on a power walk so you are getting and maintaining [that elevated heart rate].
Parren agrees that you should be walking briskly and with purpose. "You should feel your breathing become a little more labored and you might even feel your heart beating faster," he says. "Be sure to wear appropriate footwear so that you don’t get injured—you will need your feet to be well supported. Remember to keep it fun and enjoyable—do this by trying new routes, taking the family with you, or walking with your dog."
It's well worth monitoring your progress—Parren recommends that if you are walking specifically for weight loss, "it is certainly advisable to monitor stats like pace, distance, and heart rate."
Surprisingly, a straightforward pedometer might not be the most useful gadget to invest in if you're serious about walking to lose weight. "One of the best stats to monitor is your heart rate, and many fitness watches these days can tell you your heart rate from your wrist," he explains. "The higher your heart rate, the more calories you will burn.
"If you spend 30 minutes walking briskly with a heart rate of 130bpm, you will burn more calories than if you were walking slowly for 45 minutes with a heart rate of only 90bpm," he says. "Walking up and down hills is a great way to increase your heart rate without having to increase your pace—you could get your heart rate as high as 170bpm walking up hills, which is what you could expect when running."
Are 10,000 Steps Per Day the Ultimate Goal?
10,000 steps is considered the daily goal for walking. Dr. Deborah Lee, Dr Fox Online, tells Byrdie that a 2016 study in the Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy, followed 35 overweight subjects who were recruited to a 12-week pedometer walking program – consisting of 10,000 steps per day.
After the study, significant health benefits were noted. "Those who had achieved the 10,000 steps per day had lost weight, had a reduced BMI, a smaller waist circumference, and a reduction in blood pressure," she says. "They also reported lowered levels of fatigue, depression, confusion, and overall mood distress."
But it's not the only way to tackle walking. Michael Mosley, the founder of thefast800.com, explains a study he conducted with Prof. Rob Copeland from Sheffield Hallam University. "Our aim was to compare the benefits of doing 10,000 steps against something called, 'Active 10,' he says. "With Active 10, you don't need to count steps. You simply aim to do three brisk 10-minute walks a day."
His team recruited sedentary volunteers and split them into two groups. One group was asked to hit the 10,000-step target—around five miles—a day, while the other group was asked to do three sessions of 'Active 10,' which adds up to around 1.5 miles—more like 3,000 steps.
"The Active 10 group were told that their aim was not to amble but to get their pace up so that they would be working their heart and lungs," he says. "Professor Copeland told them, 'You are aiming to walk fast enough so that you can still talk but not sing'."
The results of the study found that the Active 10 group was more likely to hit their targets. "[They] also did 30 percent more 'moderate to vigorous physical activity' than the 10,000-step group, even though they moved for less time."
Whether you aim for 10,000 steps over the course of 24 hours, or you break up the monotony of lockdown with three 10-minutes bursts of walking, picking up the pace and boosting your heart rate is key to walking for weight loss.
How to Monitor Your Diet When Walking for Weight Loss
It's important that you take a holistic view into your health when factoring in walking into your weight loss goals. Olona recommends a diet of "whole foods, such as lean proteins, fresh veggies and fruits, and good fats that are nutrient-dense."
Then, you need to look at calories in versus calories out. "If you want to lose weight, it is definitely advisable to monitor [this]. Most people either over or underestimate how many calories they consume in a day and this can lead to frustration when trying to lose weight," warns Parren. "It’s very easy to track your intake using apps like MyFitnessPal—just make sure that the foods you’re inputting are labeled correctly as many are created by users and are inaccurate. The best way to avoid this is by checking nutrition labels and inputting the data yourself."
Counting calories has got a bad rap in recent years, and while it's never good to become obsessive about tracking them, it's a good idea to understand the caloric-quantities of foods so you can fuel your body right.
Monitoring Your Walking for Weight Loss Progress
Most iPhones these days track your number of steps, but if you want to keep an eye on your heart rate, it's worth getting a monitor designed for that purpose. Generally speaking, the heart rate monitors you strap to your chest tend to be more accurate, but the watches are more comfortable and convenient.
So there you have it. You can lose weight by walking, but just be sure to elevate your heart rate and be mindful of what you're eating to fuel those steps.