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Exercise is a crucial part of any weight loss journey and healthy lifestyle really. (So. Many. Perks.) But if you assume you'll need to sweat it out with super-intense workouts at the gym to start dropping pounds and that's really not your thing, here's some great news: 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, the founder of Movement Vault. He adds that any type of movement that you perform throughout the day will help you burn more calories. Higher-intensity activities like jogging or sprinting will burn more calories, but walking is still a valid way to burn fat, 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."
It's also a great option for those just starting out, and for people who are de-conditioned, sedentary, or obese, says Susane Pata, CPT, CGFI, a certified personal trainer and content strategist for the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).
Now that you know walking is a legit form of exercise and offers mental as well as physical benefits, here's how you can get the most out of a simple stroll around the block or neighborhood.
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," explains Pata, who is also a master trainer for various fitness brands such as TRX, Life Fitness, ICG and Trigger Point.
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 organ 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 are consuming to determine 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.
Pata recommends that you can start with two 15-minute walks throughout the day, or one 30-minute walk every day, which would add up to roughly 100-200 calories. "These numbers can add up in the long run and result in weight loss for someone who is overweight/obese and was previously sedentary," she 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 someone can 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, Dr. 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."
17 Tips to Maximize Your Walks for Weight Loss
Ready to lace up your sneakers and get going? Here are 17 things 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.
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 their 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 Dr. 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 you quadricep muscles more than walking forward, which can help you maintain healthy and strong knees."
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