November 15, 2021 4 min read
By Sharon Lehman, RD
Walking may not seem like much of a workout compared with more intensive and structured forms of physical activity, like hot yoga or crossfit, but taking a walk 100% counts as exercise.
Unlike our ancestors, most people don’t walk nearly enough in modern times — even individuals who log regular hours at a gym. Most of us rely on automotives to get around and we sit for long stretches of time while we commute, work at a desk or unwind in front of the television. Taking more walks and upping your daily step count is an easy way to boost overall health, increase your physical activity and help you meet weight-loss goals.
Walking is affordable, convenient, flexible and customizable. You don’t need any special exercise equipment or a gym membership to get started with walking. Because walking is a low-impact exercise, it’s easier on joints than jogging or running. It’s also entirely customizable to your fitness level.
Walking can be done any time of day that best fits your schedule, and you can choose to walk outdoors or indoors. If you’re a nature lover, you can log more hours outside by walking in parks and trails or choose to take a few laps around a local shopping mall. If you’re tight on time, you can squeeze in a walk right in your neighborhood or city block.
There’s a misconception that walking isn’t “hard” enough to contribute to weight loss, but it’s simply not true. Walking counts as physical activity. Any activity that increases the total number of calories your body burns in a day can help you lose weight.
Weight loss occurs when your body is in a calorie deficit. That is, you are taking in fewer calories than your body burns during natural metabolic processes and exercise. Your body breaks down stored fat to provide energy to make up for a calorie deficit, resulting in weight loss and changes in body composition.
However, it’s unlikely you’ll lose much weight walking without also making changes to your diet. Research supports combining walking with a calorie-restricted diet to accelerate weight loss. A 2017 study found participants who made dietary changes and walked 2.5 hours each week lost more weight than individuals who only restricted calorie intake.
Worried you’ll need to log long hours and tons of miles to see changes on the scale?
Although any step is better than no steps, taking one or two short walks a week probably isn’t going to lead to weight loss. That being said, there’s no magic formula for how much you should walk to lose weight. Everyone’s body works differently. The amount of calories your body will burn walking depends on your weight and how fast you’re moving.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends engaging in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like brisk walking, each week. This equates to taking a 30-minute walk 5 days a week. This is the same amount of walking the participants followed in the weight-loss study mentioned above.
This 2019 study compared two groups of women who either took one 50-minute walk 6 days a week or two 25-minute walks 6 days a week. Interestingly, the women who took two shorter walks per day lost more weight than those who took one long walk per day, even though the total amount of walking time was the same. It’s unknown if the total amount of walking time or simply taking more than one walk per day is responsible for the enhanced weight loss.
For maximum health benefits, the CDC also recommends pairing moderate-intensity aerobics with muscle-strengthening activities, like weight lifting or body-resistance exercises, twice a week.
If you’re new to exercising, consider getting started by taking short walks. Taking a 15-minute walk each day can help you create a new habit and build some physical strength without making you feel overwhelmed or too sore to keep going. As those shorter walks become easier, you can choose to challenge yourself in a variety of ways.
To make a walk harder, start increasing the length of your walk by five to 10 minutes. You can also walk at a faster pace. As you become an advanced walker, choosing paths or trails with more elevations and hills or wearing weighted ankle bands or carrying hand weights can increase the difficulty of your walks.
A pedometer is not a requirement to get started with walking, but if you’re someone who likes to log physical activity stats, it might be worth the investment. A lot of smart phones and watches have activity trackers and heart monitors built into them. These tech tools can help you track steps, distance, heart rate and more to chart your progress and set walking challenges for yourself.
This may sound obvious, but don’t forget to wear appropriate shoes when you’re walking. If you’re not comfortable, you’re not going to want to walk for long. Sneakers specifically designed for walking are the best choice for comfort and support.
Great Exercise for AllWalking is great exercise for all ages, body types and fitness levels.
If you’re trying to lose weight, daily walks can help you increase the total number of calories your body burns.
Any form of exercise — walking included — can also improve heart health, boost mood and help you sleep better.
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