If you’re trying to jump-start your weight loss, you don’t have to resort to extreme solutions like juice cleanses or tremendously strenuous workouts.
Walking is one tried-and-true activity that supports healthy weight loss, requires no equipment and costs nothing.
Before digging into how much walking you need to do to lose weight and how many steps a day you need to take to lose weight, let’s cover the basics first.
Can you lose weight by walking?
The simple act of putting one step in front of the other and moving your body is one of the easiest things you can do to support your weight loss journey. Although dietary choices are key to weight management — along with factors like sleep and stress management — walking can still be very impactful.
In fact, the results of one study showed that, after 6 months of walking, women lost 10% of their weight without even changing their diet.1 In another study involving obese women, results suggest that walking is an effective way to manage obesity as well as lose belly fat (visceral fat).2
Finally, in a review evaluating 20 studies, researchers found that combining a weight loss diet with physical exercises, like walking, results in greater long-term results versus dieting alone.3
Medical literature certainly suggests that walking can support weight loss, regardless of the situation.
Why walking specifically for weight loss?
There is no shortage of options when trying to incorporate physical activity into your healthy lifestyle. Although options like swimming, weight lifting, and yoga certainly have their benefits, walking offers many highlights that are hard to beat.
So, why walking? Along with it being a low-impact option that is fun to do, walking is a fantastic option for the following reasons:
- Walking can be social, which makes it an enjoyable activity for extroverted people. It’s also an excellent activity to do solo if you need some time to yourself.
- Walking may reduce your risk of coronary heart disease, making it an excellent heart-healthy workout.4
- A 15-minute walk may reduce sugar cravings.5
- Aerobic exercise — like walking — may help reduce swelling in your joints as well as joint stiffness.6
- Walking may improve your mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.7
Does walking burn fat?
The million-dollar question is whether walking can burn body fat. Good news: Most research indicates it can.
According to a study evaluating postmenopausal women, results show that regular exercise, such as brisk walking, results in reduced body fat.8
And in one review, results show that regular physical activity, like walking, helps people experience fat loss.9
How walking supports fat loss is quite simple. Fat is essentially stored energy. Like other exercises, walking burns calories. Since burning calories can result in the body breaking down stored energy (or fat), walking can certainly offer some benefit in the fat-burning department.
Taking a 30-minute walk can burn as many as 189 calories (for a 185-pound person) if you are walking a 15-minute mile.10
Plus, aerobic exercise like walking can help your body maintain lean muscle mass.11 Muscle mass requires your body to use more calories for maintenance, and in turn, can help your body burn fat.
How many steps do you need to take to lose weight?
There is a lot of advice out there telling you how many steps you need to take to support weight loss. If you are wearing a step-counter or tracking watch, you likely know exactly how many steps you are taking on a daily basis.
Generally speaking, experts suggest that people should shoot for 10,000 steps every day. For overweight individuals, taking 10,000 steps a day may lower body weight and waist circumference.12
However, this number is not set in stone — and research indicates that healthy adults take anywhere from as little as 4,000 to as high as 18,000 steps per day.13 Factors like gender and diet can also influence how many steps a day you need to maintain your weight. Your walking pace can impact your weight loss success as well.
Steps can add up throughout the day and can equate to burning some major calories. In the example of a 160-pound woman, she can estimate the following levels of calories burned if she is walking at a pace of three miles an hour:14
- 1,000 steps would burn 37 calories
- 2,000 steps would burn 74 calories
- 3,000 steps would burn 112 calories
- 4,000 steps would burn 149 calories
- 5,000 steps would burn 186 calories
- 10,000 steps would burn 372 calories
- 15,000 steps would burn 558 calories
Photo by Leonardo Patrizi on iStock
Distance and time
While the number of steps you take is important for weight loss, there are two other factors to consider for maximum results: distance and time.
If 10,000 steps are being used as a guideline, typically, when people achieve this step-count, they end up walking around 5 miles. However, in many cases, walking even more than this amount can help people reach their goals.
When focusing on the amount of time needed to spend walking, recommendations are a mixed bag. However, the faster you walk, the more calories you likely will burn.14
The timing of your walk may play a role too. One study found that walking at a brisk speed for 30 minutes immediately after lunch or dinner may be more effective for weight loss than walking for 30 minutes an hour after a meal has been consumed.15
Enhancers (weights and inclines)
Two additional factors that can take your walk to the next level and help you burn even more calories are walking on an incline and using weights during your workout.
Waking on an incline, like up a hill instead of on a flat surface, can help you burn more calories, even if you are walking the same distance.16
When it comes to giving your walk a little more “oomph” in the calorie-burning department, walking with hand weights can be a wonderful addition. Adding weight to your exercise makes your muscles work harder and grow stronger which, in turn, can support weight loss.
However, working out with added weights does come with some caveats. Since wearing ankle weights while walking can support the quadriceps (front of the leg muscles) and not the hamstrings, overuse can result in an imbalance in your leg muscles.
And if you have a habit of swinging your arms too aggressively while you walk, using arm weights may cause strain on your joints.
As long as you are using your equipment safely, including them in your walking plan can be a way to take your workout to the next level.
Walking: An effective addition to any weight loss plan
The simple act of walking can be a surprising enhancement to any health journey and can help people lose weight in a healthy and enjoyable way. If your goal is to lose weight, starting a walking plan is an excellent first step.
As long as it is paired with a reduced-calorie, healthy diet, walking can certainly help you lose weight. Taking around 10,000 steps a day at a reasonable pace, and adding an incline or light weights if want more of a challenge can be a simple way to support your health goals.
So, lace up your walking shoes and head outside for a brisk walk. The hardest part of including this exercise into a lifestyle is taking the first step!
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