When you're trying to lose weight, it isn't just structured exercise that matters. Your overall activity level contributes significantly to the amount of energy you burn throughout the day. It's referred to as NEAT: Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. While many people try to burn lots of calories through exercise, the calories we burn by just moving more throughout the day can make a huge impact.
Some people naturally activate NEAT and feel more energetic when they eat excess calories. In response, they tend to fidget more and feel the urge to move around more. But some individuals don't activate NEAT in the same way, and rather than burning off the extra energy, it's more likely to be stored as fat.
Some studies suggest that the ability to activate NEAT accounts for the difference between people who can eat similar diets but do not gain weight in the same way. Genetics may account for this. Those who tend to gain more weight show alterations in their hormonal activity, nervous system response, blood sugar response, and hunger/satiety signals. The good news is that behavior can override genetic dispositions.
You may not be the person who naturally can't sit still and always feels the urge to move more throughout the day. However, you can still consciously activate your NEAT by building the habit of moving more. Being more active in general is a painless way to lose excess weight and improve your health in many ways.
Because walking is a simple, low-impact activity, it's something that you can often do in small doses throughout your day. Some people like to track their steps throughout the day, aiming for a particular number goal, such as 10,000 or more.
Whether you choose to track steps or not, the goal is to make walking something you naturally do often, without even thinking about it. By gradually finding more ways to walk during your day, you'll increase your overall activity levels, contributing to your overall calorie burn. You'll also reap several other benefits, such as increased energy, improved mental clarity, better circulation, etc. Here are some ways to get in more walking as you go throughout your day:
1. Take walking breaks. We've all had those moments where we get so caught up in what we're doing that time speeds by, and suddenly we've been sitting for three hours straight. Long, sedentary moments like these make it harder to lose weight and contribute to poor circulation and increase the risk of blood clots. Try setting an alarm on your phone to take regular ten-minute walking breaks throughout the day.
2. Post-meal walks. The perfect time to take a walk is right after a meal. If walking for an hour at a time doesn't appeal to you, then taking a twenty-minute walk after each meal will improve your digestion while also burning calories.
3. Take the stairs. I know; this one has become something of a cliche. But if the goal is to move more, then taking the stairs is the perfect opportunity to work towards that goal. Taking the stairs is more challenging than walking on a flat surface, so your glutes, quadriceps, and core muscles have to work harder, boosting overall energy expenditure. According to Duke University, you can lose up to six pounds in a year simply by climbing two flights of stairs each day.
4. Create a walk-only range. Pick a distance from your home that's challenging yet doable, such as a half-mile or mile. If whatever you need to do is within this distance, choose to walk instead of driving or taking public transportation.
5. Drive partway to your destination. This one's perfect for those events that you're dreading. Park your car a half-mile away (or whatever distance you choose) and walk the rest of the distance. It'll give you time to breathe, calm your mind, and gather yourself before the event.
6. Choose the farthest parking spot. Most people clamor for the parking spots closest to the entrance. Make it a habit to do the opposite: choose a parking spot away from the fray.
7. Take many little trips. It's normal for humans to want to be efficient and conserve energy. That's why we're inclined to try carrying all twenty-five grocery bags at once instead of trying to make multiple trips. But with all the technological advancements we've made over the years, we've become efficient enough not to need to leave the couch much. Because of this, we have to make a conscious effort to move even when we don't necessarily have to. Instead of depriving yourself of movement, try taking in those grocery bags one at a time.
8. Invest in a treadmill desk. If you spend many hours a day on a computer, you probably don't get enough opportunities to move. So why not multitask? This mom of three lost fifty pounds by walking on a treadmill while working. This is an excellent way to painlessly incorporate more movement into your day if you work from home.
9. March in place. Most of us have found ourselves sitting on the couch binge-watching Netflix. Try standing up and marching in place for an episode. Marching in place may seem silly, but it can actually be quite beneficial, and it's much better than sitting still for hours.
10. Go on walking dates. Hanging out with a friend or family member? Instead of just chilling on the couch, why not go for a walk? You can walk when taking long phone calls.
Finding more reasons to walk throughout the day is the perfect way to increase your non-exercise activity. Our modern lifestyles have made it extremely easy not to move and eat way more calories than we need. This disrupts our metabolisms and puts our health at risk. To lose excess weight and promote good health, we need to move more, and walking is the perfect way to do that.
Walking is excellent for your physical, mental, and emotional health. It's also one of the most effective and painless ways to achieve and maintain weight loss. So every couple hours or so, take a moment, stop what you're doing, and walk a little. Not only will you shed excess weight, but you may also find that you're more energized, more positive, and more productive throughout your day.
Many people underestimate how effective a consistent walking routine can be for weight loss. Strolling at an average walking pace is sufficient for achieving weight loss as long as it's long enough and frequent enough. Thirty minutes to an hour a day of walking can make a massive difference for most people. But if you've hit a plateau or want to burn more calories, you'll have to increase the intensity. Here are some fun and effective ways to get more out of your walk to achieve weight loss.
1. Take longer walks. The easiest way to boost the calorie burn of your walk while still keeping it low-intensity is to simply walk for longer. However, because longevity is the key, don't attempt to do daily hour-long walks if you know that you'll feel less motivated to do them in a couple of weeks. Remember, the most effective workout is the one you'll actually show up for.
2. Pick up the pace. If you aren't too keen on long walks, there's still a lot that you can accomplish in thirty minutes. Walking briskly and swiftly means expending significantly more energy than simply strolling. Walk fast enough to get your breathing and heart rate up a bit, but you're still able to carry on a casual conversation. Over time, you can push yourself to go faster to really break a sweat.
3. Walk to the beat. Put on a playlist full of high-tempo music that makes you want to dance and challenge yourself to walk to the beat. You can put in a serious amount of work in thirty minutes without even realizing it.
4. Power walking intervals. Interval training is an effective way to lose weight, even when walking. Adding short bursts of speedy power walking to your steady stroll can increase the efficiency of your walk. Try this: Every couple of minutes, speed walk for about thirty seconds. If your heart is pumping and your breathing is slightly labored, you're doing it right.
5. Take the hills. Adding an incline to your walk requires greater recruitment of your gluteal, quadriceps, and core muscles. This increased intensity boosts the amount of energy you expend, turning your walk into a muscle-strengthening, calorie-burning workout. Find some hilly terrain for a hike, or turn up the incline on your treadmill.
6. Take the stairs. Can't find any hills? You can instantly boost the intensity of your walk by finding a set of stairs and going up and down a few times before continuing along your way.
7. Add some calisthenics. Find a park bench or a sturdy, elevated surface and do some push-ups, dips, squats, and lunges. Add some high knees, jumping jacks, or mountain climbers for some high-intensity movement. Bonus points if you do these after a few flights of stairs!
8. Pile on the resistance. Your body weight is likely more than enough to do the job, but if you're looking to really boost the burn, try adding more weight. You can keep it simple with a set of two-pound hand weights, or if you're looking for a real challenge, add a weighted vest.
9. Go backward. Backward movement is becoming more popular thanks to the popularity of the Knees Over Toes Guy. Walking backward can help strengthen the joints and ligaments in your ankles and knees while also hitting muscles that may not get much attention during a regular walk.
10. Make it fun. Having a supportive friend with similar goals can push you to do more than you'd typically do on your own. Grab a buddy and turn your morning walk into a speed walking race! This is also a fun activity to do with a child. Challenge each other to keep up, and your walking session will feel more like playtime than exercise.
Remember, the best long-term weight loss plan is to find forms of movement that you love. Don't be afraid to boost the intensity of your walk now and then, but consistency matters more. Taking a simple thirty-minute stroll every day will benefit you much more than a power walk with calisthenics every couple of weeks. If you're looking to find the perfect balance, working with a coach can help you create a fitness plan that works best for you.
While I've tried and enjoyed numerous forms of exercise throughout my weight loss and fitness journey, walking has been the easiest, most consistent, and most reliable way to lose excess fat. It's such a simple and common task that most people don't realize how effective it can be as a weight-loss tool.
The biggest misconception about exercising is that it must be vigorous and soul-crushing to be effective. This belief often saps people's motivation to exercise before they've even begun. Overzealous and aggressive exercise also leads to injury, as people often earnestly attempt to "go hard" before their body is ready.
But there is no need to risk injury to start seeing results. What's important is that you get yourself moving - consciously, mindfully, and frequently - and the easiest way to do this is by walking. So if you've got a lot of weight to lose, don't feel pressured to start running immediately; you can achieve a lot by simply going for a walk.
Benefits of Walking for Weight Loss
Walking is easy on the joints.
When many people think of exercise, they envision lacing up a pair of sneakers and going for a run. While running does have its benefits and burns a ton of calories, it isn't the best form of exercise for people whose bodies are just getting off the couch.
Running is a high-impact activity that requires good movement patterns and form. If you're carrying extra weight, the impact of running on your joints and ligaments increases exponentially with each pound. It's a good idea to start slow before you begin running. You don't want to develop knee or other joint issues that may sideline you and prevent you from doing any form of exercise.
Walking, however, is a low-impact activity that is gentle on the joints and ligaments while still providing a lot of the same benefits as running. The key to sustainable weight loss is longevity; you're more likely to find success with the exercise you can keep doing for years and years, not the one that leaves you achy and injured. If running is truly what your heart desires, then walking is the perfect starting point for building a foundation that can allow you to run with a lesser chance of injury in the future.
Walking increases energy expenditure (burns calories).
Not all calories are created equally, and weight loss is more complicated than "calories in vs. calories out." But it's nearly impossible to lose weight if you're taking in more energy (in the form of food) than you're expending through daily movement and exercise.
Walking is an easy, painless way to increase your overall metabolic rate or the amount of energy you use daily. Of course, the specific numbers will vary from person to person as each body is different, but the basic rule still applies - and it doesn't have to be complicated. It can be as easy as a daily 30-minute brisk walk.
One study followed adult women for 15 years and found that those who walked more gained less weight and were more likely to lose or maintain weight than those who didn't walk. The walkers gained a pound less each year per half-hour walked each week. Walking to stave off weight loss was especially effective for the women participants who were heavier at the beginning of the study.
The specific amount of calories you burn during your walk depends on several factors such as your body weight, your speed, how long you walk, inclines, and more. But you don't need to worry about the numbers. The general rule is that the more intense the walk, and the more frequently you walk, the more effective it will be at helping you lose weight.
Walking enhances your regular exercise regimen.
Weight training is an effective way to build lean muscle and improve body composition, making it crucial for any healthy weight loss plan. Many fitness trainers create weight loss programs that combine weight training with intense forms of cardio, and while this can be pretty effective, it often leaves clients feeling exhausted and burned out.
However, when lifting weights is combined with walking, you can experience excellent results with less pain. Not only does a daily walking habit add to your overall metabolic rate, but it does so without putting extra strain on your muscles, so you can easily do both. It isn't as exhausting and taxing on your nervous system as more intense forms of cardio. Walking also helps your muscles recover by boosting blood circulation, so it's a win-win.
Walking doesn't make you ravenously hungry.
If you've ever done a weight loss program where you exercised aggressively while also eating less, you know how tormenting that feeling of hunger can be. Some people find themselves overcompensating and accidentally eating more in response to an increased appetite which can slow or prevent weight loss.
Walking, however, can help you burn calories without struggling against that desperate feeling of hunger. One study on young men found that even an hour-long brisk walk did not boost appetite. Despite what one would expect, there was no increase in ghrelin, the hunger hormone, nor did the participants feel hungrier or eat more throughout the day. Personally, my daily hour-long walks don't boost my appetite, making it easier to resist the urge to overeat.
Walking With Good Form
Walking may seem like a pretty intuitive task since we all do it every day, but it's essential to have good form to get the most out of your walking routine. These days, most of us spend several hours each day sunken into chairs and hunched over phones and computer screens, which weakens muscles in our glutes, hips, back, and core. It's important to ensure that you aren't unintentionally carrying poor posture into your exercises. Here's what you should pay attention to while walking:
When's The Best Time To Go For A Walk?
The way you structure your walking routine is really up to you. Your daily movement should enhance your overall day rather than being a burden, so don't try to force something that doesn't work with your lifestyle.
Maybe you'd enjoy hour-long nature walks in the morning or walks around the neighborhood during your lunch break. Or perhaps you'd rather get your steps in on a treadmill in your garage or at the gym after work.
If you have a busy schedule and can't fit in long walks, you may find it easier to do multiple 10-minute walks throughout your day. Or, maybe you'd rather just move as much as possible throughout your day while tracking your steps on a watch or an app.
Integrating your walking routine into your schedule and customizing it for your lifestyle is key to making it a part of your daily life for the long term.
How Much Walking Is Necessary For Weight Loss?
Remember, each person is unique. What's necessary for one person may not work for another due to differences between them, such as genetics, diet, living environment, and other forms of activity they may be doing throughout the day. People also have different goals that will require different levels of effort.
Most people would probably benefit from doing longer or more frequent walks, upwards of 45 to 60 minutes a day. Some people prefer to count steps, aiming for 10-15,000 or more per day.
You can be flexible because it's such a low-impact activity that you can easily incorporate throughout your day. Start with what you can do, and increase how much and how often you walk each day. If you remain consistent and aren't eating in excess, you're bound to see results.
If you're being consistent with your walking but still not seeing results, there are several things you can do, such as increasing the intensity of your walks or making changes to your diet. Working with a fitness and nutrition coach can help you develop a customized weight loss plan to suit your schedule and your body's specific needs.
How To Enhance Your Walking Experience
Having an exciting, enjoyable, and soul-nourishing walking routine makes you much more likely to incorporate it into your daily lifestyle. Here are some ways to turn a boring walk into the part of the day you'll look forward to:
A Complete Weight Loss Plan
Walking is a great way to kick start and maintain weight loss, but it's only one part of the equation. While it's feasible to lose weight by adding daily walks to your routine, you'll likely have to change some of your eating habits to see results. But this doesn't mean that you need to go on a deprivation diet. Reducing fast food, processed food, and fried food in your diet and replacing those foods with whole, unprocessed foods is one way to reduce your caloric intake without counting calories.
Strength training (aka weight or resistance training) a few times per week can also help burn calories while increasing muscle, building bone strength, and boosting your metabolic rate. You don't have to train like a bodybuilder or a powerlifter. You can build strength with a single kettlebell, a set of resistance bands, a yoga practice, or some bodyweight calisthenics. When weight training is combined with walking and a balanced, nutritious diet, weight loss becomes more achievable and sustainable.
Coming up with a complete weight loss plan may seem daunting, but it doesn't have to be. Gradually making changes by adopting one new habit at a time is the key to building a sustainable, healthy lifestyle. Spending some time working with a certified coach can help you create a long-term nutrition plan and fitness routine while guiding you through the changes.
Customize Your Walking Routine & Be Consistent
Losing weight doesn't have to be complicated or painful. Rather than focusing on a number on the scale, first, focus on moving your body more regularly. Walking is an excellent way to do this and can serve as a starting point for building a more robust fitness routine as time goes on.
Remember: consistency is key. Find a distance and pace that's manageable for you, and do it as often as you can. And most importantly, don't forget to make it fun! Eventually, not only will you lose weight, but you'll also experience many improvements in your overall health and well-being.
When I was twelve years old, my mother signed my brother and me up for karate classes. My brother actually wanted to do karate; I had no interest in it at all at first. Still, because I was overweight, my mother felt that it would be beneficial for me to do it along with him.
I had a rough time. I felt out of place and was hyper-aware of the giggles from the other kids when I had awkward moments. I wasn't as fast, wasn't as athletic, and running laps around the dojo wore me out good. Going to those karate classes twice a week gave me terrible anxiety.
Over time, I got better, and I got fitter. I did well at sparring and loved the weapons classes. But the anxiety never subsided. It was hard to shake the feeling that I was being judged. Plus, one of my instructors was particularly hard on me, amplifying the anxiety.
Despite achieving up to a blue belt, I still desperately wanted to quit. And after asking for what felt like a million times, my mother finally allowed me to stop. At the time, I was elated. But in hindsight, I wish I'd had the fortitude to stick it out.
I wish I knew then what I know now. I would have taken more pride in how much I was evolving and growing athletically rather than focusing on the fears of not being as thin as my peers. I would have celebrated myself and how much I was achieving.
I wish I had known to enjoy the process, to say, "fuck what they think, I deserve to be here." I always regretted not making it to a black belt like my brother. To this day, I have this underlying itch to move my body in ways unique to the martial arts.
I regret that I found it too difficult to shake the stigma of trying to be athletic in a bigger body. As far as I was concerned, I simply wasn't thin and fit like the other kids, and therefore, this activity just wasn't meant for me. No matter how much I achieved, I always saw myself as lesser, as if I didn't deserve to be there.
I also regret how unhealthy I became after I quit karate. The evenings that would've been spent being active in class were spent in front of my computer - usually with some fast food nearby. At the time, I felt like I was doing what was best for me. All I knew was that I'd been released from the stress those classes gave me. I literally felt like a weight had been lifted off of my chest.
But I had no clue what I was giving up. I was giving up the one form of physical activity I had in my life at the time. I was also giving up the opportunity to build a relationship with my body that respects movement as a necessary part of my physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being.
This is an important lesson that I wish I could have learned back then. Instead, I would have to go through many years of struggling with obesity and related health issues. A healthy relationship with my body and prioritizing movement in my life would have saved me a whole lot of physical and emotional pain.
We all need to move. Our bodies have been uniquely, intelligently designed for movement, and our health suffers when we don't get enough of it. Americans spend way too many hours sitting and not enough time moving, and it's taking a toll on our collective health.
It doesn't help that society in many ways promotes the idea that only athletes and people who are trying to lose weight need to exercise. It's also a problem that exercise is often perceived as grueling or painful. So many exciting and enjoyable forms of movement are mistakenly tainted with this perception of exercise being some sort of punishment.
I also think it's a shame that "play," especially in the form of movement, is considered something only children do. Because when many adults grow up and "put away childish things," they stop moving around - putting their physical and mental health at risk.
None of this is healthy; bodies operate at their best with daily movement. There's no reason for it to be grueling and painful, and it should never be a source of anxiety, no matter your body size or age. Most importantly, movement should be seen as a regular, necessary part of remaining well - and no one should ever feel shamed, judged, or mocked for exercising.
Though it took many years of trial and error, I'm happy that I've shaken the fear of moving in ways that make me happy. Yes, I have lost weight, and I'm fitter than I've ever been, but these aren't the only reasons I make the conscious decision to move every day. I've been able to remain consistent because the forms of exercise that I incorporate into my life all pour into me in important ways.
Swinging and lifting heavy kettlebells reminds my body and mind that I am strong and capable. My long walks help me calm my spirit, clear my mind, and connect with nature. Each time I jump rope, it literally brings back the joy I felt when I did it as a child. And doing yoga challenges me and centers me in ways that nothing else does.
I do all of these things each week, not just because they help me keep off excess weight and stay fit, but because they contribute so much to my overall well-being. It's not about what anyone else thinks of me; it's about how movement makes me feel.
The actual act of doing karate made me feel good. The judgments of my peers and my own lack of self-confidence made karate anxiety-provoking for me, not the karate itself. Yes, I struggled at times, but I would've been content to struggle and suffer in private - away from the judgmental eyes of the other kids. I wish I knew then that all that mattered was that I loved how doing karate made me feel.
The confidence-killing life experiences that we go through have caused many of us to forget what it means to really feel alive. We allow ourselves to be put into boxes, become self-conscious, and cling to the negative judgments of others. We get so wrapped up in our stresses and fears that we deprive ourselves of the necessary nourishment that comes with movement.
I let the fact that I felt out of place cause me to quit karate, but I unintentionally deprived my growing body of so much. And I know that I'm neither the first nor the last person to allow life's challenges and the judgments of others to keep me from doing what's good for me and what makes me feel good.
But I've learned to reject the social constructs that keep us immobile and unwell. Moving our bodies in the ways they intuitively and inherently want to move is what it means to feel alive. This isn't something that can be achieved sitting down.
So I encourage you to find ways to move that makes your heart sing, and do it! And fuck what anyone may have to say. As long as it feels good and brings you true enjoyment, then you should do it - no, you deserve to do it.
Niv Mullings is a Plant-Based Nutrition & Fitness coach from the Bronx, New York. After years of struggling with obesity, anxiety, depression, painful menstruation, and other chronic health complaints, Niv changed her life for the better through fitness and a healthy plant-based diet. Now she helps others to do the same.