Walking is one of the most convenient and often underrated forms of exercises. Studies continue to support that walking is effective at boosting heart health, improving mental well-being, helping with weight management and even reducing your chronic disease risk.
But before you lace up those sneakers and hit the pavement or trail, here's everything you need to know to make strides toward your goal of walking for weight loss.
Health Benefits of Walking
"There are numerous benefits to beginning a walking regimen," says April Hartsook, master coach, personal trainer and founder of the Want Different Do Different movement.
Aside from the visible changes that will become physically evident with a regular exercise program, some of the other benefits include:
Improving Heart Health
According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Research suggests that getting active is one of the most effective things we can do to increase our cardiovascular health, and walking is one of the easiest forms of exercise to get moving.
In addition to improving cardiovascular health, losing weight can also help with decreasing our risk of other chronic diseases like diabetes and certain forms of cancer.
Reducing Chronic Disease Risk
In addition to these life-changing benefits, Hartsook adds that the incentives don't stop there: "Walking can help stop bone loss, boost immune function, ease joint pain, lower blood sugar, improve your overall mood and burn calories for weight loss." In fact, a recent study found that walking just 20 minutes per day can help you live longer!
What to Know Before You Start Walking for Weight Loss
Hartsook says, "Before beginning any exercise regimen, be sure and discuss your goals with your doctor to ensure you are given a green light to begin."
It's also worth looking into your maximum heart rate for your age. According to Hartsook, a popular calculation is 220 minus your age = Maximum Heart Rate (MHR). "Once you have calculated your MHR, you will want the intensity level of your walk to put you at 60 to 70% of your MHR. In other words, it's not necessarily about how fast you walk, it's about getting your heart rate up. Swinging your arms, increasing your steps per minute and consistent forced-exhale breathing helps push that heart rate."
Getty Images / AJ_Watt
Tips for Walking for Weight Loss
Set a Goal
"Make it about more than just the scale," says Hartsook. "Sign up for a local 5K event for a good cause. Having an end goal will keep you on task."
If you are just starting a walking exercise routine, don't be unrealistic and set out to walk 10,000 steps in one go. Increase incrementally to remain motivated and successful. For example, if you are comfortable walking for 30 minutes, consider bumping that number up to 45 minutes and becoming comfortable with that benchmark before increasing again.
The human body is largely comprised of water. Therefore, it's especially essential that you remain hydrated throughout the day and rehydrate after returning from your walk. If you're going on an extended walk, consider carrying a water bottle or wearing a hydration pack. (FYI: These are our 9 favorite reusable water bottles!)
One of the biggest benefits of walking is that it requires the least amount of gear to get started. However, a good pair of walking shoes is essential to preventing injury while providing adequate support and cushion for your feet.
Hartsook adds, "If you are unsure what shoe to buy, visit your local running store for proper fit, size and shoe selection."
Check the Weather
Changes in weather can easily derail your plans so stay on task. To avoid this, check the weather each morning and plan accordingly. Download a local weather app that will allow you to gauge the weather trend for your workout window.
Also, dress appropriately for the weather. Hartsook suggests choosing lightweight fabrics and light-colored apparel for the warmer months while not forgetting to apply sunscreen and wearing a hat or visor to protect your face.
Get a Walking Buddy
Leash up your pup or "enlist a neighbor, friend or family member who will help keep you accountable and committed to reaching your goals," Hartsook says.
Make a Playlist or Download an Audiobook
"Make yourself a good playlist by choosing songs with a high tempo (170 bpm) and motivating lyrics to help you push farther longer," exclaims Hartsook. "Think about songs that make you smile and feel good. In other words, let the music help put a little pep in your step." Or, consider downloading an audiobook or podcast to listen to while you walk.
Plan and Vary Your Route
Walking in your neighborhood can be convenient, but consider choosing a different route once or twice a week to avoid monotony. Also, downloading a fitness app to your phone or wearing a fitness tracker is a great way to track your progress.
Stretching before and after your outing can prevent injury and increase flexibility. Search on YouTube for an easy (and free!) stretching routine that'll make you feel limber.
Walking for Weight Loss Plan
Hartsook says, "Every person is different. That makes it difficult to prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach, as calorie burn and weight loss will occur based on overall effort, nutrition and starting weight."
Therefore, it's important to discuss with your doctor or dietitian a plan that caters to your specific needs and goals.
Walking for weight loss should begin with an easy to moderate plan of time, pace and distance as well as the number of days of walking each week. And remember, consistency is the key to a successful plan.
"In general, individuals who are not used to walking more than 20 minutes at a time should begin with 10 to 15 minute walks two to three times a week at a brisk pace," says Hartsook. "As mentioned above, your pace should be determined by your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR). An easy calculation is 220 - your age = your MHR. Once you have your MHR, you should walk at 60 to 70% (denoted as 'brisk' below) of that MHR. This ensures maximum calorie burn."
She adds, "In order to maximize your effort to lose weight, your calorie burn has to be high enough to offset your total caloric intake. So, an overhaul of your nutrition will help speed up the efficiency of your walking efforts to lose weight." (Want to eat healthier but don't know where to start? Try our Easy Mediterranean Diet Plan for Beginners or Clean Eating Meal Plan for Beginners!)
Here's a basic plan from Hartsook for anyone looking to begin their journey to losing weight with a walking plan.
Walk three times a week, allowing a rest day or two in between to allow the body to acclimate to new movements.
Monday: 10-minute brisk walk
Wednesday: 10-minute brisk walk
Saturday: 10-minute brisk walk
Monday: 15-minute brisk walk
Wednesday: 12-minute brisk walk
Friday: 15-minute brisk walk
Saturday: 12-minute brisk walk
Monday: 18-minute brisk walk
Wednesday: 15-minute brisk walk
Friday: 18-minute brisk walk
Saturday: 15-minute brisk walk
Sunday: 15-minute brisk walk
Monday: 20-minute brisk walk
Tuesday: 15-minute brisk walk
Wednesday: 20-minute brisk walk
Thursday: 15-minute brisk walk
Friday: 20-minute brisk walk
Saturday: 15-minute brisk walk
Walk for 25 minutes each day except for Sunday, which is your rest day.
Walk for 30 minutes each day.
The Bottom Line
"The most important thing to remember when beginning any weight-loss journey is that it takes time," says Hartsook. "Walking for weight loss is an excellent way to improve your overall health and wellness; however the scale cannot be the only determining factor of your success. Take note of how you feel, how your clothes fit, how much less you get out of breath and use those self-esteem boosters to help keep you moving forward."
For a little final motivation, Hartsook adds, "In order to achieve the results we are seeking, our efforts must equal our expectations."