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Looking for an easy workout that doesn’t require equipment, a gym, or even an app? Take a walk!
We often assume you need to be doing super-intense workouts to shed a few pounds, but that’s just not suitable for everyone. The good news is that you can absolutely use walking for weight loss.
Ultimately, weight loss boils down to calories in and calories out. This means you need to burn more calories than you consume (a caloric deficit), explains Grayson Wickham, PT, DPT, CSCS, founder of Movement Vault. He adds that any type of movement that you perform throughout the day will help you increase your daily overall calorie expenditure. And, yes, higher-intensity activities like jogging or sprinting will burn *more* calories, but walking is still a super helpful practice, even though it is a low-intensity movement.
“Walking is a great exercise because almost anyone can do it, at any time, without any equipment,” says Wickham. “It is also low intensity, so it is easy on your joints. Long walks can also be used as thinking or meditation time.”
Here’s how you can get the most out of a simple stroll around the block or neighborhood.
Meet the experts:
Grayson Wickham, PT, DPT, CSCS, is the founder of Movement Vault.
Susane Pata, CPT, CGFI, is a content strategist for the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). She is also a master trainer for various fitness brands such as TRX, Life Fitness, ICG, and Trigger Point.
Alissa Palladino, MS, is a registered dietician and certified personal trainer.
How much walking do you have to do to lose weight?
This depends on a few factors, including where you’re starting out fitness-wise. “Less conditioned individuals who may weigh more will expend more calories per minute for that same walk,” says Susane Pata, CPT, CGFI, a certified personal trainer and content strategist for the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).
Over time, walking can make changes to the body’s resting metabolic rate, a.k.a. the total number of calories burned from breathing, circulating blood, keeping your organs running, and maintaining basic neurological functions when your body is chilling, because it can help increase lean body mass. That will, in turn, ramp up energy expenditure, she explains.
To figure out how much walking you need to do to lose weight, you also need to know what your resting metabolic rate (RMR) is and how many calories you need to be burning to be in that calorie deficit. You can use an online calculator like this one from the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
And if you’re curious about that common metric of 10,000 steps a day to help you lose weight, it is indeed the recommendation of many reputable public health organizations, like the CDC. That being said, it is somewhat arbitrary and may not always be appropriate, says Alissa Palladino, MS, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer. “Walking goals need to be tailored to an individual’s current fitness level, health status, and lifestyle,” she says. “You may want to set a lower or a higher goal for yourself depending on a variety of factors.”
To give you an idea, 30 minutes of walking a day (which could be broken up into two 15-minute or three 10-minute walks) should add up to roughly 100 to 200 calories burned. (You might cover one to two miles in that time frame as well.) “These numbers can add up in the long run and result in weight loss for someone who is overweight and was previously sedentary,” Pata explains. “Doing 30 minutes worth of walking for seven days can create a weekly caloric expenditure of 700 to 1,400 calories.”
How much weight can someone lose in a month by walking?
Based on those numbers, an individual can burn up to 5,600 calories a month from walking alone, which is roughly 1.6 pounds, according to Pata. However, that number is dependent on a person’s individual calculations that take weight, level of conditioning, and training capacity into consideration.
You should also know that you will not see results right away. Rather, establishing a consistent weekly habit of walking will definitely add up in weight loss over time. If you are looking to lose more weight in a shorter amount of time, Wickham suggests that you should not rely solely on walking as your only form of exercise, as it is a low-intensity exercise and burns fewer calories per given amount of time than a high-intensity workout.
“For example, if you only have 30 minutes to exercise and your goal is to burn the most calories during your 30 minutes, walking isn’t the best choice to accomplish this goal,” he says. “You will burn far more calories if you increased the intensity of your exercise with things like jogging, lifting weights, sprinting, a HIIT workout, or some combination of these.”
How To Add More Walking Into Your Day
Once you’ve determined your goals, try these ideas from Palladino for fitting more walking into your daily routine:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Get off the bus or subway early and walk a few extra blocks to your destination.
- Park farther away from the store entrance instead of looking for the closet parking spot.
- Shop on foot instead of ordering your groceries online and doing curbside pick-up.
- If you work from home, take phone calls while on a walk.
- Schedule personal calls with long distance friends and family members as “walk and talks.”
- For spending time with friends and family in-person, suggest meeting up for a walk instead of (or in addition to) coffee, drinks or a meal.
- If you have a sedentary desk job, consider investing in a treadmill desk or setting a timer every hour as a reminder to stand up, stretch out, and get in a few steps.
- Depending on your neighborhood, you may be able to walk to do errands, pick up coffee, or go out to eat. Maybe you even select a restaurant based on it being a walkable destination rather than one you have to drive to.
- Try walking for 10 minutes first thing in the morning, 10 minutes on your lunch break, and 10 minutes before or after dinner.
It may take a little planning and creativity, but there are plenty of easy ways to relatively effortlessly fit more steps into your day, and your body will thank you.
17 Tips To Maximize Your Walks For Weight Loss
Ready to lace up your sneakers and get going? Here are a variety of tricks and habits that will give your outdoor workout an extra boost.
1. Perform a short mobility routine before your walk.
“Stretching out and activating specific muscles before your walk will help you decrease your chance of pain and injury during and after your walk,” says Wickham. “If you have pain during your walk, this is your body telling you that you really need to start dedicating time to your joint mobility. Everyone should be able to perform a basic life task such as walking without pain.”
2. Wear a weighted vest or backpack during your walks.
Adding weight to your walks will increase the demand on your body and your intensity during your walks, says Wickham. “Typically, anything that makes an exercise more challenging will lead to an increase in calories burned,” he adds.
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3. Use a smartwatch or phone app to track your steps.
“Data tracking can help motivate individuals via successful goal accomplishments and help make up for any deficits throughout the week,” says Pata.
4. Add in short jogs or runs during your walk.
Jog or run for as little as 10 seconds and then walk for two minutes and repeat. “Adding in short jogs or runs during your walk will help you increase the intensity of your walking workout, which can help you accelerate your weight loss,” Wickham says.
5. Create a fun playlist.
Just like listening to the right songs pumps you up on the treadmill, playing uplifting tunes while you’re out and about can make the experience more enjoyable. To fully immerse yourself, Pata suggests creating a list of your favorite music that lasts the length of the walk.
6. Bring a water bottle on longer walks.
“Staying properly hydrated is key for optimal health,” says Wickham. “The healthier and more hydrated you are, the better your weight loss journey will be.” Not to mention, the H2O will keep your energy up and help you log more miles.
7. Use a food tracker.
If you’re already taking stock of what you eat with a food diary app, make sure you jot down how many calories you’re burning by walking. It helps keep you aware of your actions and how it measures up against your goals, says Pata. Bonus: It shows you that you can crush your goals and serves up some major motivation.
8. Stay consistent.
To reap the full benefits, you have to commit to walking at a regular schedule, whether that’s once a day or a week. “Health is a lifestyle, not a quick fix,” says Wickham. “Find ways that you can add in your walks that will help stay consistent. The more often you walk, the more weight loss you will have.”
9. Purchase a good pair of shoes.
Pro tip from Pata: Get nice sneakers that you only use for walking. “This creates a ‘get-in-the-zone’ attitude when you put them on and an enjoyable walking experience.” (BTW, if you need a little help, here are the 15 best walking shoes, according to a podiatrist.)
10. Plan out your walking route.
“You can use Google Maps to plan out your walking route so that you know exactly where you will be walking and the distance you will be walking,” says Wickham. That means you know how many calories you will be ditching too.
11. Schedule your walks.
Penciling it in your calendar will make it that much more likely that you’ll follow through with your walking goals. “You know what they say, schedule it or you won’t do it. Choosing one time every day to perform your walks will help you stay consistent,” says Wickham. “You can also prioritize your walks and plan around them to ensure you get them in every day.”
12. Have a rainy-day back-up plan.
Bummed you won’t be able to get your walking done because of miserable weather? To make sure you still engage in some form of exercise, have a rainy-day back-up plan, like keeping a bag packed for the gym or go to the nearest mall and do some laps, says Pata. You’ll be less likely to forget working out altogether if you have a plan B in place.
13. Invite a friend or family member on your walks.
Asking someone to keep you company while you get some steps in is a great way to maintain relationships, and it will help keep you consistent with your walks, as the other person will also be planning to walk with you, says Wickham. Yep, a workout buddy is important even when your chosen physical activity is a less intense.
14. Plan catch-up calls with friends.
Another way to include a loved one on your outdoor adventure? Schedule some calls with people you’ve been meaning to catch up with for forever. Besides rekindling or maintaining relationships, they’ll make time go by more quickly and the walks may begin to become enjoyable over time, says Pata.
15. Add in walking lunges on your walk.
“Performing a set of 10 walking lunges every so often can help you build stronger legs, and gain muscle mass,” says Wickham. “Gaining lean muscle mass will increase your resting metabolic expenditure, which means you will be burning more calories at rest. This all leads to increased weight loss.”
16. Weather-proof your walks.
Equip yourself with the right apparel for rain, cold, or hot weather, etc., says Pata. This will help you be prepared and less likely to miss a walk session. No excuses!
17. Walk backwards, if you are in a safe place to do so.
“Walking backwards will work different muscles than walking forwards,” says Wickham. “Walking backwards works your quadricep muscles more than walking forward, which can help you maintain healthy and strong knees.”
Emily Shiffer is a former digital web producer for Men’s Health and Prevention, and is currently a freelancer writer specializing in health, weight loss, and fitness. She is currently based in Pennsylvania and loves all things antiques, cilantro, and American history.
Lauryn Higgins is a freelance journalist whose work focuses primarily on public health. Her work tracking the coronavirus for The New York Times was part of a team that won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. When she’s not working she loves spending time in her kitchen and garden, taking barre classes and cuddling with the love of her life, her 90-pound bernedoodle, Gus. Her work has also appeared in NPR, Salon, Teen Vogue and Well + Good.