Walking might be the simplest form of exercise. It’s straightforward, requires no special training or fitness prowess. It’s also free, highly accessible, and usually very enjoyable, especially if you have a chatty friend by your side or a fun podcast to listen to.
In short, walking is awesome. But is it an effective way to lose weight?
Short answer: It depends.
Here’s the thing: A fit person who is within a healthy weight range isn’t likely to drop many pounds with walking (even brisk walks). It’s low-intensity, highly repetitive, and your body recovers from it quickly post-workout (as opposed to high-intensity interval training [HIIT], which is generally regarded as the best exercise method for shedding pounds for precisely the opposite reasons).
That said, if you’re overweight or just starting out, walking can help you lose weight — especially if your walks challenge you and you incorporate other healthy lifestyle changes, such as eating more healthfully and getting more sleep.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about walking and weight loss, as well as tips on how to maximize your walks.
How Much You Should Be Moving
Even if you’re not actively trying to lose weight, you need to move your body often — and likely more often than you do now — to maintain a healthy body. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following minimum amount of exercise for adults:
- Two and a half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (e.g., brisk walking) OR and one hour and 15 minutes of high-intensity aerobic activity (e.g., HIIT) per week.
- Some type of full-body muscle-building activity two or more days per week.
If you have a busy schedule or if sweating for more than 30 minutes at a time sounds daunting, break your workouts into smaller chunks (e.g., 15-minutes two or three times a day). It all counts, as long as it adds up to the recommended amount of exercise.
How Walking Can Help You Lose Weight
“Walking is a gateway exercise,” says Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., and Openfit’s senior fitness and nutrition content manager. “It’s an easy and effective way to increase your daily activity level and burn more calories if you’re overweight, largely sedentary, and/or just beginning your weight-loss journey.”
A study found that walking regularly can help you hit two important goals — shed fat and keep it off in the long-term. But don’t forget about your diet: “Cleaning up your diet should always be your top priority if your goal is weight loss,” says Thieme. “But combining walking with healthier eating habits can help you shed pounds faster than dieting alone — especially if you don’t limit those additional daily steps to workouts.”
In short, move more throughout the day to keep your metabolism humming at a higher level. Shoot for at least 10,000 steps a day. To get them in, Thieme recommends making small but impactful changes to your daily routine: Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to your colleagues’ offices instead of sending them emails, hoof it to a nearby park to eat lunch instead of having it at your desk, and give your dog a few extra laps around the block (each time you walk her). “Take every opportunity you can to spend more time on your feet, and less time on your butt,” he says.
And since walking is low-impact, it’s also an ideal activity for people who are recovering from an injury and can’t dive back into high-intensity exercise right away.
How Many Calories Will Walking Burn?
The precise number of calories you’ll burn through walking depends on a variety of factors, including your height, weight, pace, terrain, and (perhaps most important) genetics. But the average 150-pound person can expect to burn an average of 120 calories by walking briskly for 30 minutes. That might not sound like much, but it’s 75 calories more than that person would burn sitting on the couch watching a rerun of “Modern Family.”
No matter how quickly you pound the pavement, however, you’ll probably find that walking alone isn’t enough for you to keep losing weight. When you notice your results start to fizzle, you’ll need to ramp up the intensity of your aerobic workouts by either picking up the pace (i.e., running, cycling), or switching over to strength training (which has a greater metabolic impact than steady-state cardio), or (better still) HIIT, which has the greatest metabolic impact of all.
“Remember, walking is a gateway exercise — the goal is to increase your activity level and prepare your body for more intense forms of exercise,” says Thieme.
Make Sure You’re Walking Properly
There are a few things to keep in mind while you’re walking, says San Francisco running coach Danny Dreyer, author of Chi Walking performance books and DVDs.
To maximize your results and avoid any aches and pains, pay attention to your form:
- Keep your chin parallel to the ground; don’t jut your head forward.
- Lift your chest and comfortably draw your shoulders back and down
- Keep your elbows bent 90 degrees and don’t swing your arms too high or cross them in front of you.
- If you want to increase your walking speed, take smaller steps instead of longer ones.
- Land on your heel with each step forward. When you land flat-footed, you can cause stress to your knees, ankles, and feet.
Once you’ve made a habit of maintaining good posture and taking brisk strides, you’ll transform your body into a much more efficient walking machine — and you’ll burn even more calories.
11 Tips for Walking to Lose Weight
1. Don’t amble
To burn fat effectively, you have to treat walking like a workout, not a relaxed stroll. Thieme says it’s important to “walk briskly, as if you’re late for a connecting flight at the airport.”
2. Wear the right shoes
Anyone who’s ever spent the day touring a new city on foot knows that wearing comfortable shoes is crucial. Let’s face it: Basic sneakers just don’t cut it when it comes to giving your body the support it needs.
If you want to take your walk seriously, you need comfy shoes that fit well and help support your lower back, hips, and knees. Look for shoes with a lightweight forefoot, good arch support, and a beveled heel with cushion. While running shoes work fine for walking, walking shoes are ideal — they’re specifically designed to handle your foot’s constant heel-to-toe movement, so they’ll have better arch support and more flexibility in the ball of the foot than running shoes do.
Your foot should feel snug and secure in the heel and instep, with enough room to wiggle your toes. And remember: Your feet will swell a bit when you walk as blood flow to them increases, so don’t tie your laces too tight.
3. Listen to music
If you’re not feeling particularly motivated to walk, make a playlist of your favorite tunes. Music has the power to boost your energy and keep you entertained. Not only that, research has shown that people who work out with music tend to lose more weight than those who don’t.
Even better, make a playlist with songs that have 120-130 BPM (beats per minute) — a range that corresponds to most people’s brisk walking pace.
Create your a Spotify playlist with the help of RunHundred, a website that lets you search for workout songs based on tempo, genre, and decade.
If music isn’t your thing, consider podcasts, audiobooks, or a walking meditation to keep you motivated to stick with your walking workouts.
4. Walk with weight
Kick things up a notch by walking with a weighted backpack. It’s called “rucking,” and it burns twice as many calories as regular walking, according to the Compendium of Physical Activities. The military has been doing it for years to help soldiers build endurance and stamina.
Simply add weight (dumbbells or bricks work well) to a daypack, and get walking. Start with a weight equal to 10 percent of your bodyweight and work your way up from there. The benefits go beyond calorie burning. Rucking can also help build postural stability and has cardio benefits similar to jogging without the impact on joints.
5. Walk after your meals
A post-meal walk, especially one after dinner, can help your digestion and keep your blood sugar in check. Several small studies have shown the positive effects of even short walks after a meal:
A small study found that people with type 2 diabetes who took a 10-minute walk after their meals had significantly lower blood glucose levels than those who took one 30-minute walk a day. In another study, slow walks after a meal prevented a blood sugar spike in healthy subjects, while another showed that several 15-minute post-meal walks helped control blood sugar levels better than a 45-minute walk.
6. Embrace hills and stairs
Don’t shy away from a route with the major incline or a trail with staircases. Walking hills and stairs is a great way to work your quads, calves, and glutes even harder — especially if you pick up the pace as you climb.
If you’re feeling motivated, challenge yourself to power walk (or maybe even jog) up the next hill or set of stairs. Repeat those stairs one or two more times before continuing on your walk.
7. Schedule walking dates with friends
Walking dates with friends aren’t just fun (and free), they’re also an effective way to boost exercise adherence by way of accountability. After all, you’re much less likely to bail on exercising if you have someone counting on you to show up at a specific time and place.
Just make sure you schedule walks with friends who are as committed to exercising and losing weight as you are — no flakes allowed!
8. Try Nordic walking
If you’re feeling bored with your regular walks, mix it up with some Nordic walking. Nordic walking requires the use of special poles designed to help propel you forward.
You’re probably thinking: Poles? Really? But before you dismiss Nordic walking as nerdy, know this: The poles aren’t there for balance, but rather to help you shift some of the workload from your legs to your upper body. That takes some of the pressure off your lower body while helping to engage and strengthen the muscles in your upper body, too. Win-win.
9. Add intervals to your power walk
No hills or stairs on your walking route? Then kick up the intensity with intervals. Try this calorie-blasting power walk workout that incorporates sprints to help you burn fat faster.
10. Pepper your walk with bodyweight challenges
Incorporate some bodyweight exercises into your walk. Every quarter of a mile, stop and do 10 to 15 reps of the squat, lunge, glute bridge, or push-up, performing a different exercise each time. If you can find a bench or low wall, you can also do the step-up and incline push-up (if the regular push-up is too difficult). If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty (literally), add in a set of burpees.
The 10-Second Takeaway
If you’re overweight or new to exercise, walking can be an effective, low-impact option for shedding fat, increasing endurance, boosting cardiovascular fitness, and preparing your body for more intense forms of activity. But it’s only one part of the weight-loss equation. To successfully shed fat and keep it off, you also need to make other lifestyle changes, such as dialing in your diet, logging more sleep, and being more active throughout the day.