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Walking for Weight Loss: A Beginner’s Guide

Written by Melissa Mitri, MS, RD

Published on November 23, 2021

Walking is a popular form of exercise that is easily accessible for most people. But is it intense enough to help you lose weight?

Walking for Weight Loss: A Beginner’s Guide
Photo credit: iStock.com/Leonardo Patrizi

Regular exercise is a key factor in losing weight and keeping it off. But what if common weight loss exercises like running and high-intensity interval training are not for you?

To achieve successful weight loss, a combination of a healthy diet and exercise is essential. However, what if walking is your preferred method of exercise? Is walking enough for weight loss?

Something as simple as walking can be quite effective in dropping pounds.

In fact, a 12-week weight loss study showed those who walked regularly saw a more significant reduction in their weight and fat mass and had a lower risk for heart disease than those who didn’t.

The truth is that most of us are not active enough. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 2 million deaths every year are linked to physical inactivity alone.

This is a scary statistic, but it really emphasizes the importance of getting up and moving in any way you enjoy.

If you’re new to exercising, or just prefer walking over other workouts, it can be a great way to get more active, burn calories, and improve your health.

Benefits for Weight Loss

Walking is not just a way to get from place to place; it also has multiple health benefits, including assisting in weight loss.

And even though diet also plays a big part in weight loss, you will see more results by incorporating both diet and exercise into your routine.

I have seen this to be true with my own clients, where the ones who exercise regularly in addition to a healthy diet tend to see results more quickly. This includes my clients who walk as their primary form of exercise.

Walking can help you lose weight in several ways:

Improves Physical Fitness 

Walking strengthens your heart and lungs, which builds your physical fitness and endurance. And the more physically fit you are, the more calories you’ll burn for weight loss!

Improves Your Mood and Mental Health 

The act of walking is a natural mood-booster, and it does this by producing endorphins, which can put you in a better mood.

It can also ward off negative feelings that lead to poor eating habits.

There is a real stress-diet relationship, and so any activity that improves your mood can also support you in your weight loss efforts to eat better.

Burns Calories

On average, walking burns about 150 calories per 30 minutes. This calorie burn number can range depending on your pace, environment, and resistance level.

Just imagine if you walked for 60 minutes every day for a week, you’d burn over 2000 extra calories in a given week from that alone!

Reduces Body Fat

Walking is a form of cardio exercise that effectively burns fat. In particular, walking has been seen to target belly fat and reduce inches around the waistline.

In one study, those who walked for one hour five times a week lost more belly fat than others following a diet alone.

Increases Muscle Strength

Walking doesn’t just burn fat; it’s also a great way to improve the tone and definition of your muscles. It is a full-body workout and therefore targets most major muscle groups.

And when you have more muscle, your body burns more calories, which can support weight loss. Sounds like a win-win to me!

Additional Benefits

Reduced risk of heart disease or stroke: According to research, walking is one of the first steps recommended for heart disease prevention.

Regulates blood sugar levels: Whether you have diabetes or not, walking is a great way to keep your blood sugar in a healthy range. When walking at a brisk pace, your muscles will utilize the glucose (blood sugar) more effectively in your blood, so it doesn’t stay in your blood.

Convenient and accessible: Walking is one of the most convenient and accessible exercises there is. You can do it anywhere, and it’s one of the best exercises for beginners.

No equipment required: Another great thing about walking is there is no equipment needed! All you need is a pair of walking sneakers and possibly some headphones for music, if that strikes your fancy.

It is completely free: Walking is a completely free exercise if you’re on a tight budget or just don’t want to blow it on an expensive gym membership. You don’t have to spend money to get in shape, and so if your financial needs change, you can continue walking without worrying about the cost.

Low-impact: Walking by nature poses a low risk of injury, and this can be helpful for someone who is prone to injury or who was injured in the past.

Calories Burned During Walking

The number of calories you burn during walking is based on several factors – your weight, basal metabolic rate (BMR), sex, speed, and level of intensity.

Your BMR is a measure of your metabolism and defines how many calories you burn in a given day at rest. The higher your BMR, the faster your metabolism is.

There are different online calculators that can estimate your calorie burn based on your demographics, distance, and pace.

On average, you can expect to burn between 200–400 calories per hour from walking.

The best way to determine your actual calorie burn is to wear a heart rate monitor or fitness tracker.

You can record your walk with these devices, which will track your pace, heart rate, and the number of calories you burned so you can track your progress.

Wearing a tracker will also motivate and encourage you to keep going and give you something to compare to the next time you walk again.

How to Start Walking

If you’re ready to start a walking program to lose weight, congratulations on taking the first “step” in doing this!

Before You Start

Before you start walking for weight loss, there are a few things to make sure to do first.

Prepare what you need for walking.

Make sure you have comfortable weather-appropriate clothes and sneakers for walking. Get clearance from your doctor before you start.

Learn the proper form and walking technique.

Walking for weight loss requires a specific form and technique to maximize its effectiveness.

Effective walking means taking long strides, not slouching, and using your entire body by engaging your arms and legs. If not, you will lose out on some of the benefits.

Set a walking schedule.

Figure out when, where, and for how long you will walk. Make sure you set realistic expectations, so you set yourself up for success.

Plug your walking dates/times in your calendar, so it’s automatically part of your day, not just something you’ll get to if there’s time.

You don’t have to start full force and walk an hour each day. Instead, you should start slow and establish a routine first.

Hold yourself accountable.

Consider enlisting a walking buddy or an accountability partner for your walks. This can be a friend or close family member with whom you share your walking goals.

Sharing your goals with someone else may make you more likely to stick to them because you know someone may be checking in on you.

Having a walking buddy also can make the walk more enjoyable and harder to bail on.

Steps to Start

When starting your walking routine, it’s okay to start slow and increase the intensity over time. Here are three easy steps on how to start your walking for weight loss program:

Step 1

Start with a goal of walking 10 minutes a day at a 3.0–3.5 mph pace. Do this for three weeks without changing anything.

By doing this consistently, you build the initial habit and make it part of your routine.

Step 2

Slowly increase the amount of time you walk by 5 minutes every week. Do this until you’re able to walk 30 minutes per day without stopping.

This helps to challenge yourself, increasing your chances of achieving weight loss and seeing the results you desire.

Step 3 

Once you are walking 30 minutes per day for at least three weeks, you can start to increase the time, pace, and level of intensity of your walks.

For example, you can speed up your pace or walk up hills instead of a flat road. Adding these extra challenges will bring more results.

When starting a walking program or any other exercise program for that matter, it’s easy to adopt the all-or-nothing mentality and dive in full force.

However, being patient with the process and taking it slow will help build an exercise habit that can last a lifetime.

How to Make Your Walks More Effective

If you’re walking regularly, you want your walks to be an effective use of your time. There are several fun ways to kick your walks up a notch and torch additional calories for weight loss.

Find Hills 

If you’re just walking on flat ground, you’re missing out on some serious fat-torching opportunities!

On average, walking on hills burns about 150 calories more per hour than on a flat surface.

Listen to Music 

If music gives you energy, try turning up the volume during your walks.

Because music brings on a lot of positive emotions, it may lead you to increase your speed and intensity without even realizing it.

It can also make the time go faster if you’re doing a long walk.

Add Weights 

As you get comfortable in your walking routine, you can try adding in some light hand or ankle weights.

Grab a set of 3–5 pound dumbbells while you walk, or strap on 3-pound ankle weights to challenge yourself.

This will help further increase your heart rate and calorie-burning potential and doesn’t take any extra time to do!

Do Intervals

Instead of walking at the same pace the entire time, try breaking up your walk into intervals.

For example, walking at 3.0 mph for 5 minutes, then 4.5 mph for 5 minutes, then repeating that pattern for the duration of your walk.

These intervals challenge your body and bring your heart rate up, which helps to burn more calories than staying at a steady pace.

Intervals are a great way to up the intensity of your walks and can be particularly effective for weight loss and targeting stubborn abdominal fat.

Track Your Progress

Track your walks daily using a fitness tracker or smartphone app and measure up your stats every week.

This will help you determine your baseline so you know where you’re starting from.

If you don’t know your baseline, it’s easy to continue doing the same thing every day. Your body will get used to always doing the same thing, leading to a weight loss plateau.

As you improve with your walks, you’ll be able to directly see your progress, such as walking faster or further and will be inspired to push harder.

Change Things Up 

You don’t always have to walk the same path every time. Mixing up your routine and location will offer additional challenges and keep things interesting.

Try different neighborhoods, terrains, locations, or walk with a friend, so there is always something new to see.

Walking in different areas and finding hills adds challenge, which can push you past your comfort zone when you’re ready.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you lose weight from walking?

    Absolutely. One 12-week study showed those who walked regularly lost more weight than those who did not. This was all while keeping the diet the same.

  • How many calories do you burn from walking?

    You can expect to burn between 200–400 calories per hour from walking, depending on your weight, pace, and level of resistance.

  • How often do I need to walk to lose weight?

    For best results for weight loss, it’s recommended to walk a minimum of 5 days a week for 30 minutes each day, for a total of 150 minutes per week.

  • How do I get started with walking?

    If you’re new to walking, don’t rush the process. Start with walking for 10 minutes a day five days a week, and gradually increase the speed and duration every 2–3 weeks.

  • Are there any risks associated with walking?

    Walking is a pretty safe form of physical activity. However, if you have an injury or arthritis, you may need to modify your walks or the type of terrain you walk on.

    Stretching is also important before and after your walks to loosen your joints up and prevent injury.

    If you have concerns about your ability to start walking, consult your doctor to determine what’s best for you.

The Bottom Line

Walking is a safe, convenient, and effective form of exercise to lose weight.

If you want to lose weight but aren’t a fan of high-intensity gym workouts, walking can help you burn calories and get in shape.

When it comes to losing weight and keeping it off, exercise is non-negotiable. But it has to be something you like. If you enjoy walking, chances are you will stick to it, and you will see results.

So, keep walking if you love it, but don’t forget the importance of a healthy diet to go along with it.

Always consult your medical doctor to get clearance before starting a new exercise routine.

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