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