Walking for Weight Loss

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Walking for Weight Loss

Spring is here! Thoughts naturally turn to getting outside to enjoy warmer, beautiful weather and perhaps shedding some of the pounds that crept on over the winter months. Losing weight involves making changes to your eating plan (including controlling food portions), as well as fitting in regular physical activity.

When it comes to weight loss, research points to diet having more of an effect compared with physical activity. Physical activity, which includes exercise, “has a stronger effecting in preventing weight regain after weight loss,” says the Mayo Clinic. However, a combination of diet and physical activity may help with weight loss more so than diet or exercise alone.

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Why walk?

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommend walking as a form of physical activity for several reasons:

  • You don’t need any special skills.
  • You don’t need an expensive gym membership or equipment.
  • Walking improves sleep, memory, the ability to think and learn, and it reduces anxiety.

Also, people who walk regularly live longer, have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, and some cancers. And, walking helps control weight.

Here’s how to lose weight with walking

Many people take walking for granted and perhaps don’t give it enough credit. Walking the aisles of the grocery store or taking the dog for a walk often don’t seem to “count” as exercise.

But walking really can help with weight loss. For example, a study in the September 2014 Journal of Exercise Nutrition and Biochemistry showed that women with a BMI (body-mass index, a measure of weight that takes height into account) of 25 or greater who walked three days per week for 50-60 minutes (burning 400 calories per session) for 12 weeks had a reduction in abdominal fat, as well as reductions in fasting glucose levels. And it’s true — while any type and amount of movement is helpful, when it comes to weight loss and weight control, there are a few “steps” that you can take to increase the amount of calories and fat that you burn when you walk:

Step up your pace.

The faster you walk, the more calories you burn. Physical activity is measured in what is called metabolic equivalents, or METS. A moderate-intensity level of walking means that you are doing between 3 and 6 METS (that’s walking very briskly at about 4 miles per hour). For reference, jogging 6 miles per hour requires more than 6 METs. You can also gauge your pace by getting your heart rate in the 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. Use a fitness tracker or heart rate monitor to check your heart rate.

Increase the time spent walking.

While general guidelines advise at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, the American College of Sports Medicine bumps that up to 200 to 300 minutes of exercise weekly for weight loss and to maintain that weight loss. Build up to walking at least 30 minutes at a time.

Vary your terrain.

Walking on a relatively flat surface (think walking around the high school track or the mall) is a good way to get started with walking, but it won’t do you many favors when it comes to burning calories. Add some variety — walk up and down hills or, if you use a treadmill, increase the incline. Climbing stairs helps, too. Also, swap out the pavement or treadmill for walking along a trail or the beach.

Consider using walking poles.

Using walking poles (also called Nordic walking) not only improves balance and stability, says the Mayo Clinic, but they work your arms, shoulders, chest, and upper back muscles, giving you a full body workout and burning more calories. They can also take stress off your lower back, hips, and knees.

Try interval walking.

To increase the calorie burn, alternate walking at your regular pace with a burst of fast or “power” walking for 30-60 seconds. Warning: you may need to build up, so start with 10 seconds, at first. Repeat this sequence periodically during your walk.

Make time for strength training.

Strength training, also called resistance training, increases your muscle mass and strengthens your muscles, too. More muscle mass means that you’ll burn more calories, even when you’re resting. And, more muscle mass is important because as you lose weight, you will lose not just fat but some muscle, too. Strength training can include using hand weights, resistance bands, or kettlebells; weight machines; and calisthenics, using your own body weight. Try fitting in strength training every other day, which gives your muscles time to recover.

Important considerations

Walking is generally safe for most people. But the last thing you want to do is injure yourself or worsen an existing condition. Here’s how to be safe:

  • If you have certain conditions, such as heart disease, diabetic eye disease, arthritis, or back problems, for example, it’s important to talk with your health care provider before starting any kind of regular physical activity program.
  • If you take insulin or diabetes pills that can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), talk with your provider or diabetes educator about how to make adjustments in your medicines so that you can avoid or lessen the risk of hypoglycemia. Also, always carry a treatment for lows with you when you’re walking, such as glucose tablets or glucose gel. Invest in a shoe or sneaker that is designed for walking. A walking shoe needs to fit correctly. Also, choose socks that wick away moisture and that don’t have seams that can chafe your feet. For tips on choosing a walking shoe, visit AARP.
  • Speaking of feet, get in the habit of checking your feet after you walk. Look for cuts, blisters, and redness. Call your provider if an issue is worsening or isn’t resolving.
  • Dress in layers. It might be chilly when you walk first thing in the morning, but as you start to warm up, you might get overheated. Wearing two or three layers can keep you comfortable.
  • Consider wearing reflective clothing, especially if you are walking when it’s dark, raining, or foggy.
  • Keep your back straight, your head up, and your shoulders square. Let your arms swing from your shoulders. Keep your ab muscles tight. And roll from your heel to your toes — don’t land flat footed, says Harvard Health Publishing.
  • Track your progress and set goals for yourself. Using a fitness device or an app that tracks your progress can be motivating. Many smartphones have built in step trackers and also connect with fitness devices. Try an app such as Map My Walk — it’s free, and helps you track your distance, pace, cadence, and heart rate. Plus, it saves your favorite walks and suggests other walking routes, too. Map My Walk is available for iOS and Android.
  • Remember that weight loss is a journey, and for best results, should combine a healthy eating plan along with regular physical activity.

Want to learn more about the benefits of walking? Read “The Health Benefits of Walking” and “Diabetes and Walking Benefits: Quiz.”

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter,, and

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