Walking for weight loss: The bottom line
- Exercise and physical activity are essential components of a healthy lifestyle and weight loss journey.
- Walking alone is probably not enough to promote weight loss. But walking alongside a healthy diet and lifestyle would likely promote sustainable weight loss and other health benefits.
- Walking and cardio exercise have many health benefits, from a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes to improved mental health and productivity.
- Walking is accessible and can be done anywhere, but accessing nature as part of a walking habit can give you an extra boost compared to walking in urban areas.
- Walking can also act as a great ‘gateway’ activity to you trying new and different types of exercise in the future.
Physical activity is an essential consideration for weight loss. Walking more is one of the easiest ways to increase our daily physical activity.
Walking is an accessible exercise suitable for all fitness levels, including beginners. Increasing our daily steps is a great way to kickstart your weight loss goals.
Walking can also improve our emotional and mental wellness in a variety of ways, which indirectly aids weight loss.
At Second Nature, we don’t prescribe a specific exercise programme or regime for you to stick to.
We pair you with a registered dietitian and nutritionist trained in exercise science to support you in increasing your physical activity to suit your preferences and lifestyle.
If you’d like to join over 150,000 others who’ve lost weight sustainably with Second Nature, click here to take our health quiz.
Otherwise, keep reading as we unravel the science of walking for weight loss.
Is walking enough to lose weight?
Walking can support weight loss but is usually insufficient to significantly reduce body fat. The most effective exercise for fat loss is more high-intensity exercise, such as high-intensity interval training or resistance training.
However, walking should be included as a single piece of the weight loss puzzle, alongside diet, resistance training, and behavioural change. This holistic approach to health is much more effective for long-term weight loss.
Engaging in any physical activity is beneficial for our physical and mental health, for example, by lowering our blood pressure.
To lose weight, we aim to burn more calories than we consume. Walking is a simple, free way to burn extra calories and improve our health.
If you are new to exercise, walking can also be a significant first step to incorporating exercise into your routine.
- Walking is fantastic for our overall health.
- Walking alone is not enough for significant weight loss.
How can walking aid weight loss?
Brisk walking is a moderate form of aerobic activity. Aerobic exercise uses oxygen to provide energy for our muscles. Benefits of this form of exercise include increased stamina and reduced risk of heart disease.
So by brisk walking for an extended period, you are burning energy. This happens relatively slowly, but if you walk a lot over time, it can aid weight loss by increasing your energy.
Brisk walking can be characterised by warming you up while increasing your heart rate and breathing to the point where you can still talk but not sing. A brisk pace varies between individuals but is roughly three mph.
Science shows that full-body strength exercises are beneficial at least a few times per week on top of brisk walking.
Benefits of strength training include increased strength, making it easier to do daily tasks such as carrying shopping or running around with your children and reduced visceral fat (hidden internal fat), which is associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and type 2 diabetes.
- Brisk walking can certainly aid weight loss but is not enough alone to lose a significant amount of weight.
How much should I walk for weight loss?
A commonly cited guide of how much to walk is 10,000 steps per day.
Government bodies use this number as a guide to try and encourage you to reach their recommended 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, alongside strength exercises.
However, there is little scientific backing for the 10,000-step claim. It was initially born from the invention of an early pedometer in Japan named the ‘Manpo-Kei’. This translates to a ‘10,000 steps meter’.
They arrived at this number, in essence, by guesswork. The point of having a number goal is to motivate to increase physical activity, but it’s by no means a rule.
It’s challenging to keep tabs on how long or far you have walked. To help you track your movement, a fitness tracker can be beneficial.
Keeping an eye on how much you are moving can be educational and motivational. Remember that the 10,000 steps goal is an incentive to move more rather than a rule.
As with any healthy habit, building a sustainable walking routine is key to seeing the long-term benefits of regular walking. For example, a daily walk will confer many more benefits than a walk now and then.
- 10,000 steps is an arbitrary number.
- Shorter but brisk walks are more beneficial to health and weight loss.
- A fitness tracker can help you keep tabs on how much you’ve moved.
Why you should up the intensity of your walk
Strength exercises should be included alongside walking and other moderate aerobic activity for significant weight loss.
Strength exercises, like squats, fall under the category of anaerobic exercise. A year-long study comparing the effects of aerobic and anaerobic exercise demonstrated that the combination of both resulted in the most fat loss.
To increase the intensity of your walk and work your muscles harder, try the following:
- Walking uphill
- Including power walking intervals (where you walk very quickly for short periods)
- Incorporating bodyweight exercises, such as walking lunges.
- Anaerobic exercise can reduce our blood sugar levels and make it easier to lose weight.
- Increasing muscle tissue can increase our metabolic rate, helping you burn more calories.
- We can engage our muscles while walking in a variety of ways, such as walking uphill.
Other benefits of walking
If our mindset is positive and in control, it is much easier to implement healthy lifestyle changes.
Walking not only aids weight loss directly by increasing physical activity but also indirectly by providing significant emotional and mental health benefits:
Having trouble concentrating? A walk will gently re-energise you and help you focus afterwards.
Reducing stress levels
A brisk walk stimulates the release of endorphins, which help to reduce our stress levels and make us feel happier.
A trial of middle-aged women demonstrated that two sessions of brisk walking per week, alongside two other aerobic exercise sessions, significantly improved participants’ sleep quality.
The benefits of nature
Enjoy the benefits of being outdoors, such as fresh air and increased vitamin D. In Denmark, they focus on well-being by encouraging people to go outside at lunchtime in the summer for some fresh air, vitamin D and a proper break from our desks!
- Walking can improve our emotional and mental well-being in a variety of ways, which indirectly aids weight loss.
Top 3 practical tips for walking more
Finding time to do everything in life can be difficult, and people often make excuses that they don’t have enough of it. However, what it usually comes down to is prioritisation. Fit walking into your daily routine by:
- Leaving your house 10 minutes earlier adds 10 minutes of walking into your journey.
- Going for a 10-minute walk in your lunch break rather than sitting indoors.
Make small changes
The key to creating new habits is to make small changes one at a time; for example, start by gradually increasing the number of steps you do each day. That way, our new habits will be long-lasting and sustainable. Some examples are:
- Walking to the shops instead of jumping in the car.
- Getting off the bus one stop earlier to walk the last part of your journey.
- Taking the stairs instead of the lift or escalator.
- Walking your dog for an extra 10 minutes a day.
Mix things up
Like everything in life, it’s sometimes good to mix things up. Fun ways to do so include:
- Try changing your typical walking route about town, whether going to the shops or to work, with a new street or two. It can lead to the discovery of new places and keep things interesting.
- Catch up with friends and family on the weekends by going on long walks instead of having a sit-down coffee.
- Join a local walking group. Not only are groups enjoyable, but they can provide you with extra support and advice. There are lots of organisations and information online to help you do so.
- Get a walking buddy! Ask a friend or family member if they would like to commit to going on regular walks with you. This creates accountability and can be a fun activity.
- Find a podcast or playlist you love and save it for your walks. That way, it can act as extra motivation to get walking.
- Prioritise walking time by using 10 minutes here and there.
- Make small changes, such as taking stairs instead of lifts, one at a time.Mix things up when you have time; for example, get yourself a walking buddy.
Take home message
- Brisk walking is fantastic for our overall health and can aid weight loss.
- Aiming for 10,000 steps a day is recommended, but the exact number is arbitrary and purely serves as an incentive to move more.
- Aerobic exercise combined with walking is much for effective for weight loss than walking alone.
- Prioritise walking time and make small changes one at a time to your routine.