Whether you’re trying to lose weight, exercise more, or just boost your overall health, walking is for you. The low-impact means of getting from point A to point B remains one of the best ways to safely raise your heart rate and burn calories. But is it possible to lose weight by walking? To find out, we asked Michele Stanten, the ACE-certified fitness instructor behind My Walking Coach, and the author of Walk Off Weight and Walk Your Way to Better Health.
“Walking can definitely help you lose weight, but you really need to combine exercise and diet,” she says. “Diet plays such a big role in weight loss. Even calorie-burning exercise is no match for the high-calorie foods and large portion sizes available to us.”
Duly noted. Exercise alone isn’t enough to counteract an unhealthy diet. But, if you’re eating right, then walking is a great weight loss strategy—even if it’s your primary form of exercise.
Walking is for everyone.
“Anyone can benefit from walking,” says Stanten. “It’s a great activity for people who are sedentary and very overweight. Everyone knows how to walk. So when you start with an activity [that] you know you can do, you’re more likely to stick with it.” But, walking can also benefit someone who is already fit. And best of all: the only equipment you need is a good pair of shoes.
Stanten notes that lots of people love to walk. But when they want to lose weight, they feel like they have to run or do some other form of high-intensity activity. That can lead to injury. Or, if you simply hate the exercise, you’ll be less likely to stick with it. And, whatever your exercise of choice, doing it consistently is the key to seeing results.
How to Start a Walking Regimen
Most of us spend our days behind a desk. All that sedentary living can negatively affect our bodies at the cellular level, putting us at risk for a host of troubles, from diabetes to heart disease. So, any walking is better than no walking, but daily activity is what you want to shoot for.
Ten thousand steps is a common goal when people want to move more. But, according to Stanten, it’s important to assess your personal baseline before setting a benchmark. “Track your steps for two days during the week and one day on the weekend to figure out your average daily step count. If you’re at 5,000, bump it up to 7,000. Keep working up.”
If you have an active job, you might already be walking plenty of steps throughout the day. So, in that case, to make an impactful change, Stanten suggests increasing your pace or adding intervals to increase the calorie burn.
Stanten notes that our bodies were designed to walk at the most energy efficient pace possible, so we often get into an energy-conserving groove—which means a lower calorie burn. So if you want to lose weight by walking, get out of that comfort zone, and pick up the pace. To make it happen, Stanten likes intervals. Walk faster for 30 seconds, then recover for 60 seconds. Or use landmarks. Speed walk for a block, then return to your normal pace for two blocks. Keep it up, and after a while, you’ll have completed quite the workout.
A pro tip for speeding up: “When trying to go faster, people often try taking longer steps,” says Stanten. “But, the secret is taking shorter, quicker steps, and to bend your arms when you walk.”
Measure your progress.
Like all exercise, walking should be tailored to the individual. So, rather than adhering to any one-size-fits-all strategy, try to find your baseline, and move past it.
The scale is not always the best way to measure the benefits of what you’re doing. Lots of other factors—apart from exercise—can affect your weight. So, if your daily steps improve, great, that’s a step in the right direction. If the duration of your fast-paced intervals increases, well done. That means you’re able to work harder for longer. If breathing becomes easier during moderate and higher-level effort, your cardio is improving.
Keep walking, note those changes above, and—we can’t forget this part—eat a healthy, balanced diet. With these steps, you’ll be on the right track to a healthier lifestyle.