Does Walking Help You Lose Weight?

Does walking help you lose weight?  A plump aunt of mine asked me this question last week. She was lamenting that her creaking and clicking joints was not going to be able to withstand the high impact of exercise.

Walking in itself is a form of exercise. And if you are one of those like my aunt who has that spent five decades of your life as a couch potato and has finally decided to stop making excuses not to exercise, I would strongly recommend that you get started by doing some walking. However it really does depend on how you walk, how long you walk and how often you walk that determines the effectiveness of your walking program. By effectiveness, I mean of course in the form of visible weight loss.

benefits of walking

How Does Walking Help You Lose Weight?

Like any other type of exercise you do, the purpose of physical activity is to burn more calories. This applies to walking. You do have to realize that an hour of walking expands much lesser calories in comparison to an hour of intensive tennis session or biking. This is because no doubt walking is considered lower intensity. That being said, a good walking program can certainly be very helpful to get rid of those extra weight  assuming you eat sensibly of course. Then the next question is, what constitutes to a good walking program?

Don’t forget the trackers, they are great motivators!

adjust your speed

5 Factors To Planning A Good Walking Program

1. Distance

Experts say that taking 10,000 steps daily provides tremendous benefits for both your health and the waistline. If you are a walking enthusiast or a gadget geek, you probably are already a proud owner of a pedometer or one of those device that attaches your iPod to your walking shoes (I could never figure those out) telling you exactly how many steps you are walk.

However, if you are less tech-savvy like me, I would say a decent estimation is 5 miles of walking. Just to give you an idea, most sedentary individuals walk between 1000-3000 steps everyday, which translates to 0.5-1.5 miles. I would suggest increasing your walking distance gradually. Aim to up your mileage by half a mile every week.  In no time, you will find yourself hitting 10,000 steps daily.  There are many fun ways to do so, one does not have to be strapped onto treadmill machine for daily torture sessions to hit the jackpot. Here are some suggestions:

  • Take a walk with your spouse, child, or friend
  • Walk the dog
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Park farther from the store
  • Better yet, walk to the store
  • Get up to change the channel (instead of using your controller)
  • Window shop
  • Plan a walking meeting
  • Walk over to visit a neighbor
  • Get outside to walk around the garden or do a little weeding

2. Duration and frequency

Continuing the conversation about my aunt who asked does walking help you lose weight, my second aunt (also rather plump looking) interrupted indignantly,’ Clearly it doesn’t, I’ve been walking every morning to the shops to do my groceries for the past 10 years and look at me, I’m putting on weight by the day. On further probing, turns out that by walking she meant 5 minutes of a leisurely stroll to and fro the stores.

As much as the focus is more on the distance you walk,  most of us are not Olympic speed-walkers whom by the way are the last people you would ever find struggling with a weight issue. Walking a decent distance will take at least 30-45 minutes. Also, your body only starts to burn up stored fat to release energy after a good 20 minutes of cardio activity. This means that you really need to put in some time to walk.

For starters, 30-45minutes 4 times a week is the least you should aim for. If you enjoy being out and about, you should not have any problems hitting up to 60 minutes a day.  Remember that you do not need to complete your walks in a stretch, accumulated walking time throughout the day works just as well.

3. Walking surface

I’m one of those girlie girls who prefers the treadmill to rough open surfaces. Based on the calculations of physicists and sports physiologists, movement on uneven ground burns up to 30% more calories than on smooth surfaces over the same distance. This comes from the additional energy that is needed to overcome friction generated over bumpy terrains.

However if you are like me who likes exercising in the comfort of the gym or at home, you can enhance the difficulty of your treadmill workout by increasing the inclination which also helps at the same time to tone your butt and leg muscles while burning extra calories. On a different note, research does show that open air exercise helps to promote build better lung capacity and stamina. But as I always say, if you are not training to be an Olympic champion, some exercise is better than none.

4. Walking speed

There is no argument that brisk walking is more helpful as compared to walking at the speed of my 90 year old grandpa when you are trying to lose weight. The proper way to adjust your speed is to start off slow for the first 5-10 minutes by waking your muscles and let them know you plan to be active for awhile and they can’t just sit back and burn up the available sugars, they need to call on the fat reserves. If you start off at full throttle, your muscles get the signal that this is a short term burst of activity in which they will only utilize your sugars.

Once your muscles get warm, quicken up your pace.  While you don’t have to be walking like a champ, a reasonable speed should get your breathing heavier but enough for you to still be able to carry on a decent conversation in complete sentences. Your heart rate should be at approximately 60-70% of your maximum heart rate (MHR). To calculate your MHR, simply use the following equation:

MHR = 220 – age

60-70% MHR is the optimal zone for fat burning. This also applies to any other cardio activity you are doing. Be it swimming or jogging.

5. Carrying extra weight

A 180 pound man will burn more calories than a 150 pound man even though they both walk the same distance. The heavier you are, the more energy is needed to move your body. This concept has been ingeniously integrated into fitness programs to trick your body into believing that it is heavier than it really is. When you walk, try carrying 2 extra water bottles in your backpack or mini dumbbells.  Alternatively, you can get one of those fanciful ankle or wrist weights.  For amateur walkers, I do not recommend anything beyond 3-4 pounds as this may affect your walking posture which can lead to muscle strains. When you do get stronger, the weight can then be increased.

One Step At A time

Walking is an excellent way to get yourself more active and healthier. It is low impact and suitable for most individuals regardless of their fitness levels. When combined with a healthy calorie-controlled diet, it is definite a yes to the question does walking help you lose weight.   So start walking your extra pounds off today!

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