Walk it Off: The Benefits of Walking for Weight Loss

Dr. Christopher McGowan
November 13, 2020

It can seem like there aren’t many easy wins in life. This is particularly true of losing weight. If you are like many Americans, you have probably contemplated starting many an exercise routine but given up. This might have been due to the challenge of getting a gym membership, finding people to work out with, scheduling classes, or just finding the time to get serious about getting in shape. 

If you find yourself in this camp, there is a chance you may have overlooked one of the easiest, most accessible ways to start getting in shape. It turns out you can lose weight by just doing more of something nearly everyone does every day—walking.

Can You Lose Weight Just by Walking?

It turns out you can, in fact, lose weight just by walking. Studies have shown that walking 50-70 minutes three days a week can help you lose weight when paired with a restricted calorie diet. Walking for just one hour can burn between 250-350 calories depending on your pace, weight, and other factors like terrain. 

The important lesson here is that any physical activity that helps you burn calories will bring about health benefits over time. Even if you are not doing the most intense cardio workout imaginable, getting your heart rate up for as little as 30-60 minutes a day can get you started down the path to your weight loss goals. 

How Much Should I Walk a Day to Lose Weight?

The amount you need to walk to lose weight varies, and as you might expect, the more you walk the more you could possibly lose. There is a minimum amount of exercise required for your efforts to be effective, though. Research suggests you need to maintain an elevated pace for at least 30 minutes at a time for a walking workout to start helping you lose weight. Walking between 30-60 minutes several times a week is generally considered the minimum you need to do to see serious weight loss.

Walking for Exercise and Building Muscle 

There are few things more discouraging than getting part way through a weight loss program  and finding that you have plateaued. You started out by losing weight rapidly, but now it seems that things have leveled off. What gives?

Though you may not think of it immediately, as you lose body fat, it gets easier for you to do the same amount of exercise. A brisk walk that used to get your pulse up when you started trying to lose weight will now burn fewer calories for two very good reasons. The first is that you now weigh less! Your body has less work to do while you are walking, so you are not going to burn calories at the same rate you did initially. The second reason is your body adapts to exercise, and as you build muscle it takes less relative effort to do the same amount of work. 

Thankfully, this second reason is the foundation of easier weight loss down the road. The more lean muscle mass you build up, the faster your body will burn calories. Though fat weighs less than muscle, it also uses energy much less efficiently. This is one of the reasons some health experts are moving away from focusing only on the number on the scale to see how healthy you are. 

Even if you are exercising and maintaining a caloric deficit, there may be points where the strict calculations of calories burned to pounds lost may seem a bit off. This is because your body composition is changing, since you gain muscle mass when you exercise. Though it may seem counterintuitive in the short term, your actual body weight may level out even though you are losing fat. Don’t let these fluctuations discourage you. Having more muscle will make it easier to meet your weight loss goals later on. 

What are Some Health Benefits of Walking?

Dropping pounds is not the only reason to start walking for exercise. Walking can have significant impacts on your overall health. Studies consistently show that increased amounts of nearly any form of exercise, even just walking at a brisk pace, will significantly lower your risk of heart disease, problems with high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and other serious health concerns that are highly correlated to obesity. 

Even if you are not looking to lose weight, or if you have met your weight loss goals for now, keeping up the habit of a 30-60 minute walk several times a week can provide benefits that could help prolong your life. Studies have even shown that moderate-intensity walking after meals can help lower your blood sugar, which has a direct effect on how your body stores fat. 

How to Get Started Walking

Like any other form of exercise, having a plan and solid goals for walking are keys to success. Keeping to a walking plan can help you start slow and build up the intensity over time to avoid injury. Once you have established a walking routine, it is time to build up to moderate-intensity walking. After that, increasing your walking pace and even adding in other strength training to your routine will keep you moving down the path to better overall health. 

Blasting out the door on the first day is not really the best way to get started with a walking workout routine. You may be anxious to see results, but starting slow, beginning each workout with a few minutes of warm up, and steadily increasing your walking speed over time will help your body grow stronger in a healthy manner. This helps you avoid injuries that can happen if you start a workout routine too quickly. 

Do you Need Any Equipment to Start a Walking Routine?

One of the best parts about walking for exercise is that it requires almost no specialized gear to get started. Unlike cycling, swimming, or going to the gym, all of which can involve significant expense, walking requires nothing more than a good pair of shoes you might already have. 

Some people do find that as they progress, wearing a pedometer or using a smart device like a watch or phone can help keep track of the amount of exercise they are getting in a day. Counting the number of daily steps you take is a good way to understand how much exercise you are getting, and to keep you motivated if you find it hard to keep up with your walking routine. Beyond shoes and a pedometer, and maybe a good set of headphones with your favorite playlist or podcasts, there is really nothing more you need. 

Shaking Up Your Walking Routine

If you have begun to see some results, are feeling stronger, and want to take things to the next level, you may believe that running is the only logical option. It turns out there are other ways to help your body burn calories faster without having to run. This is great news for people who may have knee or joint issues that prevent them from running. 

Interval training is a great way to increase the intensity of your workout. In this workout, you alternate power walking with periods of lower-intensity walking. This allows you to spend a few moments near your maximum heart rate followed by a few minutes rest. This kind of training can burn a much higher number of calories than simply walking at a steady pace, as well as provide positive stress to help strengthen your cardiovascular system. 

No matter what level of exercise you currently maintain, you should always seek medical advice before you start increasing your level of physical activity. Anyone who has been carrying extra weight, and especially people who have a body mass index (BMI) high enough to be considered obese, are likely to be in a position of greater risk for heart disease. 

Your heart is already working harder if you are overweight, so care must be taken if you are going to stress your cardiovascular system by adding exercise into the mix. If you have been carrying extra body weight, especially belly fat that is associated with a higher risk of several deadly diseases, consulting your doctor before you start exercising is a must.

Getting Help With a Walking Routine

Starting a walking program for wellness may not seem like much in our social media-filled world where people can broadcast every athletic achievement. If you are starting a workout plan that focuses on walking, don’t be discouraged. As long as you are maintaining a calorie deficit by burning more calories than you take in, you are headed in the right direction. 

Long walks are great for your mood and for your overall health, but ensuring you are losing weight means pairing your new training plan with a diet that cuts your overall number of calories. For some people, all they need is to get the plan in place. Others may find that keeping to a strict diet is more challenging than they thought. It is even possible you may discover you need some outside help in constructing and maintaining a dietary routine that will help you see gains from your exercise program.

If you are in this position, medical nutrition therapy could be something to consider. This process of working closely with dietitians and doctors can give you the data, and the support, you need to pull a holistic wellness plan together that can get your diet in line with your goals. If this is you, don’t feel bad. There are very few people who have the resources, knowledge, and resolve to come up with and execute an exercise and diet program in a vacuum. There is nothing wrong with asking for a little help, especially if getting that help is all that stands between you and better overall health. 

At True You Weight Loss, we began our medical nutrition therapy program for people in this position. Though bariatric surgery, or even minimally invasive weight loss procedures are considered the ultimate answer for people who have struggled to lose weight, there can be negative side effects from these surgeries and procedures. Additionally, not everyone is a good candidate for surgical intervention to reverse weight gain. 

At True You, we know what it takes to see real weight loss results, even if you are convinced you have tried everything without success. If you want to know more about what medical nutrition therapy could do for you as you try to find freedom from excess body weight, request a consultation today. Sometimes, all it takes is having someone help you take the first step.

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan
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