Can Walking Really Help You Lose Weight?
Exercise is an important part of weight loss, but is walking enough to see results? We look at the health benefits of walking including how it can help you lose weight.
Can you lose weight by walking? Yes! Walking is great exercise that almost anyone can do. But it will take more than a few extra steps here and there to help you see results. Making diet changes coupled with walking more can help you lose weight.
“Always keep in mind that walking, or any physical activity, is just one half of the equation. Diet is equally important,” Liz Sanders, M.P.H., R.D., director of research and partnerships at the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC) says. “Studies show that combining diet and exercise, like walking, is key for not only losing weight, but keeping it off. Walking is a great way to fill in one half of that weight-loss equation.”
Learn more about how much walking you should do and how to get started.
How much should you walk to lose weight?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 2 1/2 hours of moderate physical activity or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous activity each week for health benefits.
“Brisk walking counts toward this goal, and you can break up the 2 hours and 30 minutes a week in any way that works for your lifestyle,” Sanders says. “Even an extra 10 minutes of brisk walking here and there can add up.”
But if you want to lose weight, you’ll have to do more. “Just walking for 15 to 30 minutes per day is not sufficient to make much of a difference in the amount of weight lost and is not sufficient for most people to help maintain weight loss,” says James O. Hill, Ph.D. director of the University of Colorado’s Center for Human Nutrition.
He recommends one hour of exercise per day if your goal is to lose weight or maintain weight loss. The National Weight Control Registry, a group of men and women who have maintained weight loss for more than one year, reports that 90 percent of its members exercise, on average, for at least one hour per day.
Additionally, it’s important to monitor your heart rate while walking in order to start seeing the results you want. The American Heart Association advises reaching 50-70% of your maximum heart rate when engaging in moderate intensity exercise. Click here to find your range. Once you’ve found your target range, try to stay in it for the majority of your workout. Purchasing some form of an activity tracker or heart rate monitor is the easiest way to ensure you’re hitting your target. And remember, listen to your body! If you’re just starting or getting back into a fitness regimen, it might be best to reach 50-60% of your maximum heart rate at first and slowly work your way up.
Health Benefits of Walking
Body weight is made up of fat and muscle. Walking is beneficial because it can nix fat while preserving muscle. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that when men reduced the number of steps they took for two weeks, they lost muscle mass in their legs and gained visceral fat, aka the dangerous kind in your abdomen that wraps around your organs. Walking also improves blood sugar and blood pressure control, maintains bone mass, improves mood, protects the heart, and decreases cancer risk.
There are practical benefits, too. “The biggest benefit is probably how easy it is to incorporate walking into daily life,” says Lauren Koch, R.D.N., registered dietitian at The Family Foodnag. “You don’t need special equipment, a gym membership, or to be in great shape to do it.” Simply lace up your shoes, head out the door, and you’ll be on your way to a healthy weight.
When to Switch Up Your Walking Routine
If you aren’t seeing the results you desire, it may be time to mix up your routine. After a while, walking won’t be enough for big weight-loss benefits. Your muscles will be acclimated to the activity, and you’ll need to boost your movements to burn more calories.
“Walking is a good foundation for exercise, but it also helps to do some resistance exercise, such as carrying weights, especially as you get older,” Hill says. That’s because you lose muscle mass as you age, and the less muscle you have, the fewer calories you burn. Strength training is good for your bones, too.
“As with any exercise program, it is important to continually challenge your body in new ways,” Koch says. “You can do this by making slight changes in the type of activity you do, the time you spend doing it, or how intense it is. With walking, this means adding a few extra minutes, increasing your pace or changing up the route to add a few hills.”
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can also help. “Add short bursts of more intense activity between easier recovery periods,” Koch says. “You can also up the intensity of a walk by adding weight. Carry a backpack filled with water bottles (bonus, no excuse for getting dehydrated!), put small children in a carrier instead of pushing a stroller, or wear a weighted vest. Even simply tightening your core and swinging your arms can add an extra challenge.”
Why Walking for Weight Loss Works
Walking can help you lose weight if you’re also eating a healthy diet. Start with 10 minutes at a time and increase as you’re able. Work up to 60 minutes per day if your goal is to lose weight or maintain weight loss. If you can’t fit in an hour a day, don’t sweat it. Any amount of walking offers health benefits. Try a higher-intensity workout if you’re short on time. “The most important thing is to find ways to exercise that you like and that you will maintain,” Hill says.