Walking —The First Steps on Your Weight Loss Journey

Written by Tamara Willner
Medically reviewed by 

6 min read
Last updated October 2019

Physical activity is an important consideration for weight loss. One of the easiest ways to increase your total daily physical activity is to walk more.

Walking can also improve your emotional and mental wellbeing in a variety of ways, which indirectly aids weight loss.

Is walking enough to lose weight?

Walking can support weight loss but alone is usually not enough to significantly reduce body fat. The most effective exercise for fat loss is more high-intensity exercise 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 your health. To lose weight, the aim is to burn more calories than we consume. Walking is a simple, free way to burn some extra calories and improve your health.

If you are new to exercise, walking can also be a fantastic first step to incorporating exercise into your routine.

Key points:

  • Walking is fantastic for your 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 your muscles. Benefits of this form of exercise include increased stamina and reduced risk of heart disease.

So by brisk walking for an extended period of time, you are basically burning up energy. This happens at a relatively slow rate but over time, if you are walking a lot, it can aid weight loss by increasing the amount of energy you are using up.

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 3 mph.

However, national guidelines recommend full-body strength exercises twice a week, as well as 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity.

Key point:

  • 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 the 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 originally born from the invention of an early pedometer in Japan named the ‘Manpo-Kei’. This literally 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 provide motivation to increase physical activity but is by no means a rule.

Firstly, walking speed varies greatly between adults. Secondly, less time moving but at a faster pace might be easier to incorporate into daily life as well as better for weight loss.

It is difficult to keep tabs on how long or far you have walked. To help you track your movement, a fitness tracker can be incredibly helpful. Keeping an eye on how much you are moving can be both educational and motivational. Just remember that the 10,000 steps goal is an incentive to move more, rather than a rule.

Key points:

  • 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

For significant weight loss, strength exercises should be included alongside walking and other moderate aerobic activity.

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.

Infographic explaining trial that showed aerobic + resistance training resulted in the most fat loss.

Anaerobic exercise works your muscles and can reduce your blood sugar levels, reducing the risk of insulin resistance and weight gain.

Walking alongside more intense exercise (such as resistance training or sprints) appears to be the best approach (as the study above demonstrates) if weight loss is your goal.

As we previously mentioned, brisk walking at a pace that raises your heart rate is the most beneficial type of walking. There are other ways you can try to increase your heart rate while you are walking including:

  • Walking uphill
  • Including power walking intervals (where you walk very quickly for short periods)
  • Incorporating bodyweight exercises, such as walking lunges.

Key points:

  • Anaerobic exercise can reduce your blood sugar levels and make it easier to lose weight.
  • Increasing your muscle tissue can increase your metabolic rate, helping you burn more calories.
  • You can engage your muscles while walking in a variety of ways, such as walking uphill.

Other benefits of walking

If your 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 mental and emotional health benefits:

Increased productivity

Having trouble concentrating? A walk will gently re-energise you and help you focus afterwards.

Reducing your stress levels

A brisk walk stimulates the release of endorphins, which help to reduce your stress levels and make you feel happier.

Improved sleep

A trial of middle-aged women demonstrated that 2 sessions of brisk walking per week, alongside 2 other aerobic exercise sessions, significantly improved participants’ quality of sleep.

The benefits of nature

Enjoy the benefits of being outdoors, such as fresh air and increased vitamin D. In Denmark, they focus on wellbeing by encouraging people to go outside at lunchtime in the summer for some fresh air, vitamin D and a proper break from your desk!

Key point:

  • Walking can improve your emotional and mental wellbeing in a variety of ways, which indirectly aids weight loss

Top 3 practical tips to walk more

1. Make time

Finding time to do everything in life can be difficult, and people often make the excuse 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 to add 10 minutes of walking into your journey.
  • Going for a 10-minute walk in your lunch break, rather than sitting indoors.

2. Make small changes

The key to creating new habits is to make small changes one at a time. That way, they’ll 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.

3. 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. They might even know some good routes in your area.
  • 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.

Key points:

  • Prioritise walking time by using 10 minutes here and there.
  • Make small changes one at a time, such as taking stairs instead of lifts.
  • Mix things up when you have time, for example, get yourself a walking buddy!

Take Home Message

  • Brisk walking is fantastic for your overall health and can aid weight loss.
  • It is recommended to aim for 10,000 steps a day, 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.
Write a response
Angela
7 August, 2019

All good advice. No need to join a gym – there’s a lot can be done for free.