36 Tips When You're Walking to Lose Weight, According to Experts
For most of human history, walking to lose weight wasn't a thought that crossed Homo sapiens' minds. Walking and running were merely transportation methods, the only means of getting from A to B. These days, that's no longer the case for most of us. You're more likely to rely on a car, train, or bus to get you where you need to go. And on top of desk jobs and long hours, there are even fewer opportunities in the day to walk anywhere for any reason—which is a big problem.
Why it's important to walk—for weight loss and otherwise.
Approximately 2 million deaths per year are attributed to physical inactivity, according to the World Health Organization. Sedentary lifestyles can be attributed to countless health problems, including increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, and depression.
On the other hand, walking just 7,500 steps a day (of which 3,000 of those—the equivalent of 30 minutes—should be done at a brisk pace) could be enough to prevent type II diabetes, according to a review published in Frontiers in Endocrinology.
Walking comes in handy when it comes to preventing chronic disease, but if you're also wondering can you lose weight by walking, the answer is also yes.
"Taking up walking on a regular basis can help reduce weight while also improving joint, hip, and knee pain," says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, a Registered Dietitian at Balance One Supplements.
"This is because walking increases joint lubrication and strengthens the muscles that support and protect them. You will improve and strengthen your respiratory system. Improvements in this area can decrease your risk of getting sick with respiratory illnesses. These side effects combined can ultimately improve your immune health. All of these benefits will ultimately lead to weight loss as you are able to walk with more endurance and greater incline," adds Best.
As for how much weight you can lose by walking, the results will vary. However, one study found that participants lost an average of three pounds by walking. And it might be obvious, but the study also reported that the more you walk, the more weight you'll lose.
Why you should be walking to lose weight.
Walking requires little in the way of equipment, it can be done more or less anywhere, and it's less likely to stress the joints in the way that running can.
But just because walking is an easy, natural way for humans to expend energy from the food we eat, it doesn't mean that we can't learn to do it better—and increase fat burn.
By following the tips below, you'll learn how walking to lose weight is a low-impact way to reach your body goals.
Walking tips before you leave the house.
Choose the right shoes.
The only "equipment" necessary for walking (unless it's on the beach) are shoes and chances are you have a pair suitable for the job already. "Walking shoes" have flexible soles and stiff heel counters to prevent side-to-side motion. Normal flat surfaces only require low-heeled shoes that are comfortable, cushioned and lightweight.
Devise a great walking playlist.
Before you even think about lacing up your sneakers, think of the songs you want to hear as you make strides towards a fitter you. Having a great soundtrack to your walk will motivate you to push harder and go farther and the best part is that you probably won't even notice the extra effort that you end up putting in. Look for songs that are between 170 to 190 BPM—these high tempos have been proven to enhance workout performance, even for walkers, according to a 2020 Frontiers in Psychology study.
Find an audiobook you like.
Listen to a captivating audiobook on your own or join The Walking Book Club. "This global virtual community is designed to make exercise and activity more enjoyable, productive, and fun. The only 'rule' is you have to be moving to listen," says Julie Kaminski, MA, NBC-HWC, a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach and ACE personal trainer and founder of The Walking Book Club.
"We listen to an audiobook while walking, running, cycling, or even doing otherwise-mundane chores around the house. Then we meet online to discuss the book — what we loved, what we learned — and inspire each other to keep moving," Kaminski shares.
Pick a podcast.
"Listening to your favorite podcast may help you walk for longer as you are engaged and interested in the topic," says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, the author of Finally Full, Finally Slim, and nutritionist in private practice.
Know your route.
It's good to have a clear idea of where you'll be walking on any given day. You'll feel comfortable and confident knowing what to expect as you walk and not waste any walking time figuring out a route on the fly. Try and devise a handful of routes that vary in length, grade, and terrain. Just a couple of route options can prevent your new belly blasting habit from getting repetitive.
Grab a snack.
"I recommend clients time their pre-workout meal when exercising for weight loss. If someone is exercising or walking for more than 60 minutes, they need to make sure they eat at least an hour before exercise," says Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Morgyn Clair, MS, RDN of Sprint Kitchen. "If skipping a pre-workout meal, you run the risk of low blood sugar and muscle breakdown," Clair adds.
Find a walking buddy.
Numerous studies confirm that having a strong support group is vital to achieving and maintaining weight loss success, with those who are part of a social support network losing more weight than their solo counterparts.
"I recommend joining a walking group that can help you stay active and socially connected," says David Sabgir, MD, a cardiologist and founder of Walk With a Doc (WWAD). "Visit WalkWithaDoc.org to find a group in your area. We have virtual 'races' like the upcoming WWAD Grand Canyon Adventures, which is a fun way to jump-start a new walking routine as well as pick up tips on nutrition. Events like these are a great way to foster teamwork (or fly solo) plus friendly competition helps us all stay motivated."
Invest in a fitness tracker
We're personal fans of the Apple Watch, as it's widely available, has multiple pricing tiers, and syncs across your Apple devices. There are other devices you can invest in as well, like FitBit and Whoop. "I like the Whoop fitness tracker. It provides a more comprehensive approach to tracking overall health and fitness while maintaining accountability. Whoop provides 24/7 fitness, sleep, and recovery data to the user. It monitors your heart rate and has the ability to offer more insights and data than other devices. It's not distracting since there is no screen on the band," says certified personal trainer Derek DeGrazio, CPT, Partner, Barry's Miami.
Try the 'Time to Walk' feature on Apple Watch.
Another reason why we like the Apple Watch is because of its new "Time to Walk" feature for Fitness+ subscribers. It's specifically designed to encourage you to walk more often by providing thoughtful stories, photos, and music for you to listen to on your walks. Each Time to Walk episode ranges in time from 25-40 minutes and comes to you from influential people such as musician Dolly Parton, Emmy Award winner Uzo Aduba, NBA player Draymond Green, and author Ibram X. Kendi. (By the way, if you also happen to have an iPad, it's an awesome way to track all your fitness goals as well as display Fitness+ workouts.)
Keep tabs on your strides for accountability.
Some health insurance companies now offer financial incentives for members who can clock up a certain number of strides in a day. That's because they know that walking is a great way to stave off obesity and illness. There's no ideal number when it comes to how many daily steps is ideal but an American Journal of Health Promotion study advises 10,000 steps as a goal. There's only one way to find out how many strides you're clocking up: get a pedometer. They're relatively inexpensive and could end up motivating you even more to shed some pounds. And if you're looking to improve every aspect of your day-to-day life, be sure to sign up for our newsletter to get daily recipes and food news in your inbox!
Keep a walking journal.
Keeping a journal been shown to increase the effectiveness of a walking program by 47 percent, according to a Journal of the American College of Surgeons study! Keep track of the days that you performed your walking routine, the time of day or night that you performed your walking routine, the distance and time to complete each walking routine, the course in which you performed your walking routine, and your weekly weight.
Walk in daylight to eat less.
Go get some of that sunshine or even daylight on your walk. Why? Well, a study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology, showed that sleep-deprived adults who were exposed to dim light after waking had lower concentrations of the fullness hormone leptin while those in blue light (the kind from energy-efficient bulbs) had higher leptin levels. By letting some light into your life, you'll get some life into your weight loss goals as you stride toward a slimmer, healthier future.
Bring your pup!
"Walking with a friend is a great idea — and make sure to remember the 4-legged ones too! According to the 2018 National Pet Obesity Survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 55.8% of dogs are overweight or obese. Taking your dog for a walk is a great way to help yourself and your best friend get in shape," says Nora Saul, RD, LDN, CDE, Diabetes Clinical Lead at Silver Fern Healthcare.
How to walk for weight loss.
Carve out time in the afternoon.
While the morning is a great time to get outside and go for a walk, don't beat yourself up if you're not a morning person—the a.m. isn't the only time you can get your heart rate up. A new Physiological Reports study shows that there may be an even better time to walk: the afternoon. The small study was small, but researchers found that when obese men exercised in the afternoon, they lost more body fat, had better blood glucose control, and less insulin resistance over the course of 12 weeks compared to morning exercisers. Researchers believe that blood glucose levels tend to rise later in the day as people eat more, so doing more physical activity when blood glucose levels tend to be higher may help lower them when they most need to be lowered.
Keep in mind, exercise is good for us at any time of day, so whenever you have time to walk, you should!
Walk like you're at the airport and you've cut it close for departing flight. If you're 150 pounds walking briskly (around 3.5 miles per hour) will burn around 300 calories every 60 minutes. If you can fit in 30 minutes of brisk walking on a flat surface every day, you'll have burned off 1,050 calories by the end of the week. Studies show that this sort of weekly calorie expenditure helps protect against heart disease and of course, you'll probably start noticing that you look and feel different soon.
To help you to gauge whether you're walking briskly enough, take "the talk test." "A lot of times people think they are walking briskly but are acting in slow motion. To determine if [you] are walking fast enough to be useful for weight loss, use the talk test," recommends pediatric dietitian nutritionist Ilana Buchbinder, RDN. You should be able to talk, but your heart rate should be high enough that you can't sing. "This is a good tool to encourage people to use to make sure their walking 'counts' for weight loss."
Use a fitness tracker to measure your heart rate.
"Walk at a consistently brisk pace at your heart rate fat burning zone (which could be 117bpm-130bpm depending on your height and weight) for no less than 30 minutes. This is because when your body recognizes that you are walking at a consistent pace for a prolonged period of time, it will go to your fat stores for energy instead of going to muscle glycogen. You can track your heart rate during your walk using an Apple Watch, or Fitbit to get a somewhat accurate measurement of your heart rate zone based on the speed you walk," says Ellen Peker, a certified Pilates Instructor and Wellness Coach.
Vary your walking pace.
Engineering researchers have found that walking at varying speeds can burn up to 20 percent more calories compared to maintaining a steady pace. The 2015 study from Ohio State University is one of the first to measure the metabolic cost, or calories burned, of changing walking speeds. While walking briskly for 30 minutes is a great idea, try and work in a few minutes in which you accelerate and decelerate your brisk walk.
Walk outside when you can, rather than on a treadmill.
"When given the opportunity, walk in nature as opposed to on a treadmill for even more benefits," recommends Monisha Bhanote, MD, FCAP, a quadruple board-certified physician with expertise in integrative medicine and pathology.
"Walking in nature can have an impact on your overall well-being by improving mood, reducing stress and anxiety, and even decreasing cortisol levels. This is important because elevated cortisol levels stimulate fat and carbohydrate metabolism, resulting in increased appetite and cravings for nutrient-poor food choices, ultimately causing weight gain. So if you are going to walk, take that nature trail for an added boost," says Dr. Bhanote.
Dr. Young agrees and points to another recent study published in the American Psychological Association's journal Emotion: "Noticing your surroundings and enjoying scenery may improve your mental health, mood, and outlook."
Keep your posture in mind.
"Think about your posture when you walk – shoulders back, core engaged, and walk with a purpose, like someone has a hand on your lower back and is propelling you forward. Engage your whole body to improve strength and muscle tone," says Stephanie Nelson, MS, RD, MyFitnessPal's In-House Nutrition Expert.
Swing your arms.
See, vigorous arm pumping not only speeds your pace, it also provides a good upper body workout. What's more: an arm swinging walking style will cause you to burn 5 to 10 percent more calories. Bend your arms at 90 degrees and pump from the shoulder. Swing them naturally, as if you're reaching for your wallet in your back pocket. On the swing forward, your wrist should be near the center of your chest.
How to boost weight loss while walking.
Vary the terrain.
As well as altering your speed, a great way to burn more belly fat is to switch up the surface you're walking on. See, walking on grass or gravel burns more calories than walking on a track while walking on soft sand increases caloric expenditure by almost 50 percent, provided that you can keep your pace the same.
Add high-intensity walks to your routine.
Do at least 20 minutes of high-intensity walking on 3 nonconsecutive days per week as you'll burn more fat during and after these cardio-intensive workouts. On alternate days, do moderate-intensity fitness activity for about 30 minutes per session.
Walking briskly up a short hill is a great example of interval training when interspersed with flat terrain walking. Your leg muscles with thank you if you lean forward slightly when walking uphill and your knees will be even more grateful if you slow your pace, bend your legs slightly and take shorter steps when you descend those hills.
Use hand weights.
Hand weights can boost your caloric expenditure, but they may alter your arm swing and thus lead to muscle soreness or even injury. They're generally not recommended for people with high blood pressure or heart disease. If you want to use them, start with one-pound weights and increase the weight gradually. The weights shouldn't add up to more than 10 percent of your body weight. Ankle weights are not recommended, as they increase the chance of injury.
Try backward or 'retro' walking.
Walking backward uses the leg muscles differently from walking forward and can be a great way of rehabilitating from a knee injury. Retro walking is safest on a treadmill but a deserted running track would be just as suitable. If you have neither of those settings available to you, walk outside—away from traffic, trees, potholes, etc.—with a spotter. Even a slow pace (2 mph) provides fairly intense training. To avoid muscle soreness, start slowly: don't try to walk backward more than a quarter mile the first week.
Go faster the right way.
If you want to increase your walking pace there are two ways you can do it. You can take longer strides or you can fast strides. Experts say that it's better to do the latter because lengthening your stride can increase strain on your feet and legs.
Weight loss tips for when you're done walking.
"Staying adequately hydrated is also important in your weight loss efforts through walking. Because the body contains more water than any other element staying hydrated is important to just about every body system. Proper hydration impacts our cognitive function and energy in a major way. Studies have found that even a mild form of dehydration, 1-3 percent, can impair brain function. This includes mood and energy which are vital to efficient and effective walking," says Best. For tips, check out This Is How Much Water You Need to Drink for Weight Loss.
Drink green tea after walking.
A Nutrition study found that participants who consumed three cups of the beverage every day for a week had fewer markers of the cell damage caused by resistance to exercise. That means that green tea can also help you recover faster after a brisk walk. In another Journal of Health Science study, participants who paired drinking a sports beverage with the equivalent of four to five cups of green tea with a 30-minute jog three times a week for 8 weeks increased their ability to burn fat during exercise as well as while they were sedentary.
Forgo sports drinks.
Ever see someone consuming a Gatorade or Vitaminwater while walking? Unless they're walking up a sharp incline in a hurry, they're doing it wrong. "Many people feel they need these sugar-dense drinks after shorter or less intense workouts," says nutritionist Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN, CDE. "The truth is, these drinks often have more calories in them than what's actually being burned off." Her advice is not to consume such drinks unless you work out with an elevated heart rate for at least an hour. "Oftentimes these drinks are needed due to the risk of dehydration," she says, but cautions that if you're walking in mild temperatures or for less than an hour, they're largely unnecessary. Plus, those sugary drinks are terrible nutrition for runners and walkers, anyway!
Do more incidental walking, too.
Walking for weight loss is one thing, but walking has other benefits, as well. Bonus belly fat burning opportunities await you if you can leave the car at home, take the stairs instead of elevators and escalators or if you can walk the mile or two to a friend or relative's house. If you take mass transit to work, walk to a bus or train stop a little further along the route.
Fuel for an active lifestyle.
Following a healthy diet is crucial to any fitness goals. "If you're hitting your walking goal of at least 6,000-7,500 steps per day, be sure to fuel your active lifestyle properly," says Nelson. "High-fiber carbohydrates like fruits, whole grains, and beans will give you energy while supporting digestion, while proteins and healthy fats like nuts, nut butter, avocado, eggs, fish, and chicken will make you feel full and support your muscle health. Mix them together in a meal like avocado and egg on whole-wheat toast for a perfectly balanced meal to fuel your walks."
Dr. Sabgir agrees with Nelson that avocados can be a great addition to a healthy diet: "I am a big fan of fresh avocados because of their taste but also the fact they are a good source of fiber. Diets rich in healthy foods containing fiber, such as some vegetables and fruits, may reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes."
Don't eat more than your walk burned.
A whopping 70 to 75 percent of the calories we expend each day is needed for our "basal metabolic functions:" Everything from keeping your heart beating to making your fingernails grow. When we exert a lot of extra energy in the gym, our bodies call out for more fuel with hunger pangs and a rumbling belly. At this point, people tend to undermine their efforts with foods that actually make them hungrier or superfluous amounts of food, says Lisa Jubilee, MS, CDN. "When exercise-induced hunger sets in, only increase your calorie intake up to 20 to 30 percent of what your calorie tracker says you burned," she says.
Pair your walking with some resistance training.
Even when you're at rest, your body is constantly burning calories. In fact, 75 percent of the calories that you burn each day are being used up just keeping you alive. "Resting metabolic rate" is much higher in people with more muscle, because every pound of muscle uses about 6 calories a day just to sustain itself. If you can pack on just five pounds of muscle and sustain it, you'll burn the caloric equivalent of three pounds of fat over the course of a year. Pair that extra brawn with 30 minutes of brisk walking once a day and you'll start cutting down on your extra fat deposits in no time.
Walk to de-stress.
Walking briskly or jogging really does calm you down by sparking nerve cells in the brain that relax the senses, research has shown. And that's good news for your weight loss goals. See, stress can actually cause the body to metabolize food more slowly, according to research published in the journal Biological Psychiatry. To make matters worse, the food we crave when we're stressed out tends to be fatty and full of sugar. Researchers say that the combination of high-cal cravings and a stress-induced, snail-paced metabolic rate can result in significant weight gain. So, by walking to lose weight and reduce stress, you won't be stress eating as much: it's a win-win.
Make your walk a part of your life.
At first, anything new can be difficult to keep doing, simply because it's not part of your routine yet. Once it becomes a habit, it will become a part of your day-to-day flow. Remember that motivation is what gets you started and habits are what keep you going.
Always seek out ways to improve.
To keep up walking to lose weight and to be sure your workouts are actually furthering your weight loss goals, remember to challenge yourself as the days and weeks go on.
"If walking is beginning to feel like a chore, or the same old routes are becoming boring, set yourself a goal or make it a challenge," says Elliott Upton, a NASM-certified personal trainer at Ultimate Performance, a global personal training business.
"You are much more likely to keep up your habit of walking to improve your fitness and speed up weight loss if you have a goal in place to aim for and seeing measurable results or progress," Upton suggests setting a goal of achieving a daily step count goal and then increasing this step goal every week. "Try more challenging routes like hills or mountains, or even add in a weighted backpack to increase energy expenditure. You could even add an extra edge and get competitive and sign your friends up for a step challenge on your fitness watch!" Upton suggests.
Variety really is the spice of life!