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.
While it's often recommended to aim for upwards of 10,000 steps per day, you can still reap health benefits with fewer steps. Even just 5,000 steps per day can be beneficial, especially if you're already participating in other forms of exercise. In fact, pushing yourself to walk more than 10,000 steps per day can cause more harm than good.
You can be flexible because walking is a fairly 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.
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.