Decided to get more active to help you shed some extra pounds? Walking is an excellent way to start building up your fitness and burning some calories.
If you’re planning on walking to lose weight, it’s key to set goals and actively work toward them. That means getting your nutrition on point, setting a walking schedule, and sticking to it.
Here are our top tips to start walking and losing weight. The best part is that you don’t have to wait to start making a change—you can start walking your way to weight loss today or tomorrow!
Why Walking Is a Great Form of Exercise for Weight Loss
You may be wondering… Why walk for weight loss when you can do other forms of exercise like running or rowing? Surely running is better than walking?
Not necessarily… In fact, walking has some noticeable advantages over running when it comes to weight loss.
One of the best reasons walking is a great form of exercise for weight loss is that it’s much easier on your joints than running. For those with some extra weight, this makes a huge difference in keeping you injury-free and comfortable.
Walking is also easy, accessible, doesn’t require fancy equipment, and has many health benefits. As long as you match your walking with a calorie-controlled diet, it’s a great way to lose weight!
The Benefits of Walking for Weight Loss
Don’t assume that walking offers less benefit than running. Aside from the weight loss benefits, you may be surprised at how much good walking can do.
So if you’ve been thinking of starting a walking routine, here’s what it offers:
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
- Can improve your blood pressure
- Lower chance of heart attack and stroke
- Less chance of developing diabetes
- Increases bone density, reducing chance of osteoarthritis
- Improved fitness and longevity
- Effective way of reducing anxiety and depression
- Improves your metabolic rate
- Maintains muscle strength and flexibility
- Can boost your mood
- Boosts energy and improves sleep
- Weight loss and weight maintenance
- Easy on the joints
- Easily scalable to suit your level
- Accessible to everyone!
How Does Walking Help You Lose Weight?
All weight loss comes down to one main factor: burning more calories than you consume. And no matter what exercise you do, you can lose weight if you follow that principle!
Walking burns a decent amount of calories. The exact number will be different for everyone and every walk. It depends on your body weight, the intensity of your exercise, and how long you walk.
Harvard Health did a study on the estimated number of calories burned in a 30-minute exercise period. Here’s what they discovered:
|Moderate walk (3.5 mph)
|Brisk walk (4 mph)
Using this data, you can fairly accurately estimate your own calorie burn. It’s also good to know that walking one mile—usually around 2,000 steps—burns 80 to 100 calories, depending on the intensity and body weight.
However, the faster you walk, the more calories you can burn relative to your own body weight. Pump your arms to increase calorie burn a little!
It’s important to know that if you’re using the treadmill to do your walking, the calorie counter on any treadmill is inaccurate. We recommend using a calorie calculator like this one to get the best estimate of what you’re burning overall—remember, you burn calories just existing!
The second important part of the equation is what you consume. You’ll only lose weight if you consume fewer calories than you burn. This is where it can get a little tricky.
It’s important to get a good idea of how many calories you’re burning throughout the day, NOT just during your walk. Again, this depends on your body weight and exercise, so using the aforementioned calorie calculator will give you an excellent indication.
Once you know your total daily energy expenditure—how many calories you burn on a daily basis—you can tailor your nutrition to make sure you’re consuming fewer calories than you burn.
You want to aim for a 20 to 25 percent deficit. For example, if you’re burning 2,000 calories per day, try to eat 1,500 to 1,600 calories to lose weight.
Combining exercise and a calorie-controlled diet is the best way to lose weight safely and sustainably. Try eating at a calorie deficit for 8 weeks and then bringing your calories up to the full amount of a week before going back to your deficit if you still have weight to lose.
Is It Better to Walk Outside or on a Treadmill to Lose Weight?
Let’s be clear: walking anywhere is better than not walking at all! But it’s a common question… Is it better to walk outdoors, or is walking on a treadmill okay?
Both have their pros and cons. Here’s a quick overview, if you’re trying to choose between the two!
Outdoor Walking Pros
Don’t have a treadmill? No worries—there are a ton of benefits to walking outdoors. Even if you have a treadmill, getting some outdoor walks in is a great idea.
- Walking in nature is proven to boost mood and lower anxiety
- Burns more calories as you work against wind resistance
- Strengthens your stabilizer muscles as you traverse uneven ground
- More affordable than a treadmill!
Treadmill Walking Pros
A treadmill (especially an incline treadmill) is a great tool to help you reach your weight loss goals. If you’ve got one, here are some benefits you can expect from it.
- More control of your workout parameters
- Can walk faster due to lack of wind resistance and obstacles
- Safer than walking outdoors, especially in certain neighborhoods
- Softer surface can be even easier on the joints
- Can exercise in all weather without missing a walk!
Ultimately, it’s up to you which one you choose, or if you want to combine the two. It comes down to your goals, what you have available, and your personal preference.
How Much Do You Have to Walk to Lose Weight?
The CDC recommends doing 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, which works quite well for walking. You’ll meet that target if you do a 30-minute walk 5 days out of the week.
That’s a good starting point. Once you’re used to that level of walking, you can increase it slowly until you walk an hour a day or more.
There’s no set time period for how long you should follow a walking program. But it is important to know that health, wellness, and weight maintenance are lifestyle things, not trends.
If you’re getting into walking for weight loss now, once you reach your weight loss goals, you should continue walking to maintain your weight. Once you reach your goal weight, if you stop your walking routine, there’s a high chance of gaining the weight back.
Aim for 12 weeks initially to reach your goal. The exact time it takes you to reach your weight loss goal depends on how much you’d like to lose, how often you’re walking, and your exercise intensity.
Before You Get Started
Here’s what to do before you set foot on the road or treadmill to start your walking plan. Setting these things in place will help you to settle into your walking plan faster and start seeing results sooner!
Set SMART goals. This is the best framework for setting goals that truly work for you. Here’s how to do it for your walking practice:
- Specific: What exactly do you want to accomplish? Ex. “Lose 10 pounds.”
- Measurable: How will you measure progress and know when you’ve achieved your goal? Ex. “Use a smartwatch and running journal to track progress.”
- Attainable: Are your goals within your grasp? Are they realistic for your current fitness level, and are you willing to work hard to reach them?
- Relevant: Make sure your action steps to reach your goal will take you closer to the end result you desire.
- Time-based: Set a date of when you’d like to achieve your goal. This is the best way to make sure you’re progressing enough on a week-by-week basis. Eg. “12 weeks from the day you start walking.”
Put them together into a single goal statement: “I will lose 10 pounds within 12 weeks by following this walking plan and tracking my progress in a running journal.”
Find and Wear the Right Shoes
This is far more important than you think. If you’re an overpronator—which almost 60 percent of the population are to some degree—you may be better off with a stability shoe. Overpronation means your foot rolls inwards more than it should when you step.
If your overpronation is very mild, you may be able to get away with a “neutral shoe.” But it might serve you better to wear a shoe with built-in support for the arch, which will limit that rolling motion and help reduce your chances of injury.
Wear Comfortable Clothing
It’s crucial to be comfortable on your walks. Choose light, comfortable clothing that allows you to move through your full range of motion. It shouldn’t limit your movement or cause you discomfort.
Also, it’s a good idea to choose moisture-wicking clothing. These draw sweat away from the skin to the material’s surface so it can be evaporated easily, keeping you cooler and dry. Avoid cotton if possible—it holds onto moisture.
Choose Your Walking Routes
Deciding on your routes ahead of time—if you’re walking outdoors—means you can prepare yourself better. You should know what terrain you’ll be tackling, potential hazards along the way, and how long it takes to walk it.
You can vary your routes, but knowing where you’re going, how far the walk is, and what to expect along the way is invaluable for having a smooth walk.
Keeping Track of Progress
We highly recommend using a running or walking journal to track your progress. There’s something about physically writing down your stats and thoughts! Alternatively, you can use a fitness tracker or some sort of walking app, like Map My Walk.
Monitor things like time, distance, and pace—if you have a watch that tells you your pace—the weather, how much water you drank, how you felt, and if you had any aches, pains, or unusual experiences along the way.
You can also jot down your weight here. Although we recommend taking a weekly average at the end of every week and using that average to compare and see how you’re losing.
Choose the Right Drinks… And Bottle
Water is the best thing to drink on your walks. Avoid sugary drinks—not only will they add to your daily calorie intake, but they’ll also make you feel thirstier, and they contribute negatively to your health.
It’s also a good idea to decide exactly how you will carry your water. Is a handheld water bottle comfortable for you to carry for 30 minutes or more? Or would you benefit from a running vest or hydration belt where you can place a bottle or two? Comfort is key, but make sure you’re also carrying enough water.
Find a Walking Buddy or Join a Local Walking Group
Walking alone can definitely work, but walking with someone else can be more motivating. Not only does it mean you have someone to push you with some friendly competition, but you’ll also have someone to be accountable to on the days when it gets a little harder.
You can ask a friend, a family member, or join a local walking group to meet like-minded people who will support you.
Tips to Get You Started On Your Walks
Ready to start walking and shedding those extra pounds? Here’s our best advice to get started on the right foot!
Warming up is essential. Do some dynamic stretches and a light, easy, 3 to 5-minute walk before getting into your normal walk.
Work on Your Walking Form
Keep your head up and your back straight, as if you have an invisible string pulling you up. When you walk, ensure your front foot lands underneath your pelvis, not out in front of you!
How Fast Should You Walk When You Start?
The best way to gauge your pace is to monitor perceived effort. Aim for a brisk pace, at which your breathing is a little heavier than usual, but you’re not out of breath. You should be able to still hold a conversation, but it shouldn’t be easy!
Gradually Increase the Intensity, Distance, and Frequency
Don’t increase too fast. You should aim to increase by 5 to 10 percent every week. For example, if you’re walking 1 mile, you should increase it to 1.05 miles to 1.1 miles next week. Also, don’t jump from walking twice a week to 5 times a week! Increase that gradually too.
Keep It Interesting by Varying Your Routes
You can walk the same route every time if you want to. But if you find that you’re getting bored, vary your route a little to keep things interesting. Try to choose routes of a similar distance each time, though.
Don’t Avoid the Hills or Inclines
Hills add intensity! Walking on an incline also helps you to build some lower-body muscle. You can set an incline on the treadmill or walk up a flight of stairs a few times if there are no hills on your route!
Plan Your Recovery
Boost your recovery by foam rolling sore muscles, icing any sore spots, or using compression gear to increase circulation. Plan your recovery routine, and don’t forget to include healthy nutrition and hydration!
Add Cross-Training to Your Schedule
Break up your walking routine and build extra muscle by cross-training. This means 2 to 3 times a week, on your off days from walking, do a different exercise. Cycling, swimming, or bodyweight exercises are good choices.
Stay the Course
Change doesn’t happen overnight! It can be tempting to give up after a few weeks if you haven’t seen drastic changes… But don’t. Be consistent, stay the course, and you’ll reap the benefits.
Find a way to stay motivated! You could reward yourself with a small gift every time you reach a milestone, or find someone to be accountable to. But keep going—imagine what could happen if you don’t give up.