When it comes to weight loss, the first workouts that come to mind are most likely HIIT, running and other types of cardio. And while many of us don’t associate walking with a ripped bod, it can, in fact, help you lose weight.
As the type of physical activity that’s low risk and accessible to most people, it’s an excellent workout to incorporate into your daily life. It’s also a lot easier on your body over time than other types of workouts. So the question becomes: how many minutes each day will make a difference? Is there a proper technique to burn the most calories?
We spoke to some health experts to learn more about walking health benefits, and the best tips for walking for weight loss.
How does drinking water before walking help you lose weight?
“It increases your metabolic rate, which is good for burning calories,” says Jason Hughes, RD and co-founder of Vegan Liftz. “It will also make you feel more energized, which will help you make the most of your workout.”
Related: Can you drink too much water?
As with many things in life, being prepared is half the battle.
“Pay attention to the condition of your shoes,” Phung D. Tran, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist and founder of Be Active is Easy. “They significantly affect the quality of your walk and how you feel afterward.”
Tran recommends checking the condition of your shoes regularly, ideally once every 6 months.
Part of being prepared is picking the right time of day to walk. To get the most out of your walk, you’ll want to go at the best time of day, and that depends on the temperature and outdoor conditions.
Start your day off with a balanced snack or meal. “Your ability to burn fat starts with the hormonal balance that comes from eating a balance of proteins, carbs, and fats,” Lauren Jenai, former co-founder of CrossFit. “Don’t let poor nutrition diminish the results you get from walking.”
Karen Graham, RD and Certified Diabetes Educator says this amount of time is the sweet spot when it comes to weight loss. Walking uses up calories at the time that you walk, but many people don’t realize the greatest benefit is that it increases your metabolism over the next 24 hours.
“Regular brisk walking reduces your fat tissue and builds muscle, and muscle burns more energy than fat,” says Graham. “As you get in shape and can do more, you will benefit more. When your metabolism goes up you burn more calories even when you aren’t walking. It reduces blood sugar and strengthens your blood vessels and heart.”
Walking on varied terrain is great for cardiovascular and functional fitness as it puts more emphasis on various muscles and improves your mobility.
“Much like changing the incline on a treadmill, when we tackle steep, sleek, or angled ground, we are constantly fluctuating our heart rate and really working up a sweat,” says Ben Walker, personal training specialist at Anywhere Fitness. “While the constant change in gradient is very effective for burning calories, it’s also a great form of resistance training. When meeting rocky or angled slopes, different muscle groups in the lower body are switched on to meet the challenge.”
For maximum results, he recommends walking on a mixed route. This increases the different types of movements and range of motion.
This will help keep you accountable and allow you to stay on track with your weight loss goals. “As the saying goes, ‘if you measure it, you manage it,” says Joe Johnson, fitness instructor and founder of 9 to 5 Nutrition. “In other words, you’re far more likely to take action if there’s a zero staring up at you from your smart watch.”
Whether it’s a Fitbit, Apple Watch or Garmin wearables, it’s important to monitor your steps throughout the day. And if you want to make it more fun, the Fibit app allows you to see how many steps your friends have done, so you can turn it into a competition!
Related: Best Smartwatches
If you’re looking for resistance training and a full-body workout, walking with a backpack will get the job done.
“By distributing the weight at our mid-upper back, we can develop and strengthen imbalanced muscles, helping them become more defined and functional,” says Walker. “When keeping the load even and towards the midline of your body, the backpack works the postural muscles in the rear shoulders and back. It also works your torso and lower back as stabilizer muscles.”
To achieve any goal, consistency is key. And the same is true when it comes to walking for weight loss.
“One of the reasons walking can be so helpful in a weight loss journey because it is something many of us can do regularly and consistently,” says Joyce Shulman, TEDx speaker and author of Walk Your Way to Better.
Along with boosting your overall stamina, walking at high altitudes improves the aerobic system’s ability to utilize oxygen.
“When walking at higher elevations, the oxygen becomes thinner,” says Walker. “While feeling this quicker onset of fatigue, we become a lot fitter to cope with the environment.”
This improves our fitness levels when returning to activities on lower and even ground. How? Walking at higher peaks increases our aerobic capacity and anaerobic threshold, he explains. “The body learns how to acquire more oxygen for cellular respiration and use it more sparingly. Keeping us alert and energetic for longer hours!”
Instead of targeting fat cells, this system aims to burn carbs and sugar as a resource during exercise. This makes walking at a high altitude great for weight loss.
Interval training can make a major difference when it comes to weight loss. And with walking, pace is everything.
“The next time you’re walking try doing walking intervals and add in arm movements,” says Shulman. “This helps boost the intensity.”
Eating excess carbohydrates before a walk can hinder your weight loss efforts.
“Unless you’re walking for a very long period, you should eat simple and balanced portions before getting your steps in,” says Walker. “A healthy and balanced meal includes all the macros and micronutrients needed to stay healthy and functional. Healthy fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. The carbs you eat should be whole and natural—fruits, vegetables and whole grains (small amounts).”
These foods are low in calories and will give you all the energy you need. It’s important to plan your fuel intake accordingly— every workout is different.
Shulman recommends starting where you are and building from there. Even if it’s just a mile at first, you may be walking five before you know it.
“Walking is a practice where many people can make significant strides (pun intended) fairly quickly,” she says.
In order to lose weight through exercise, your heart rate needs to be in a specific range. “Ideally for weight loss, your walk needs to elevate your heart rate to somewhere between 64%-77% of your maximum HR range,” explains Andrea Marcellus, fitness expert and AND/Life app creator. “Many health trackers will do this math for you, but the old school method is 220 – your age = maximum heart rate.”
Walking somewhere between 64-77% means you are exerting enough energy to make your workout effective.
No slouching! While many of us don’t think about the right way to walk, technique is important.
“Roll your shoulders forward, then up toward your ears, then back,” says Dr. Peeke. “Now you’re at your resting place for healthy posture. Be sure to keep your chin up, shoulders square, and engage your core and glutes with each stride.”
To increase your chances of success, having someone to hold you accountable is essential. “You are less apt to skip a workout when you know someone is counting on you to show up,” says Niki Campbell, CPT, CHC and Dietetic Technician. “The key is to pick a partner who wants to achieve weight loss and enjoys walking to ensure you both are motivated to stick with it.”
Decide on the days, times and locations for your walks and put them on your calendar. This will also help you prioritize walking.
It should probably go without saying that a leisurely stroll every day isn’t going to cut inches from your waistline.
“First warm up,” says Dr. Peeke. “Then walk at a pace that feels as though you’re exerting yourself moderately. Then about every 2-3 minutes increase your speed for a minute.”
Another option is going up a hill and take it at the same moderate pace, she adds. When you add these intensity intervals, your body enjoys the challenge and you also burn more calories.
“When you wake up, you are already in a calorie deficit and your stomach is empty,” Ashlee Van Buskirk, nutrition and wellness coach and founder of Whole Intent, explains. “That means if you take a brisk 20-minute walk right when you wake up, you’ll boost your metabolism which then may lead to a greater fat-burning ability throughout the day.”
To walk for weight loss, Dr. Peeke recommends making your goals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-Bound. Following the SMART method is an effective goal-setting technique.
The steps will add up. “The next time you go to the store, gym, or restaurant, park your car farther away to walk that extra distance,” says Jeffrey Scott, certified personal trainer.
Many people don’t think it’s necessary, but it’s beneficial to loosen up your muscles and joints
“Participating in mild but fluid mobility exercises before walking helps warm up your joints and muscles making your time walking more enjoyable and effective,” says Jenai. “You don’t want to do long static stretches when you are not warmed up. Mobility moves like the “inchworm” or “air squat” are great options.
Write it down!
“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,” says Shannon Henry, RD for EZCare Clinic.
Dr. Sebastian Kverneland, chiropractor and the founder of the Scandinavian Health Institute, recommends cross-country skiing poles, as this engages more muscles and activates your upper body.
This leisurely to moderately paced walk is taken shortly after finishing a meal. Incorporate this into your daily schedule after lunch and dinner.
David Chesworth, fitness director at Hilton Head Health explains that taking a leisurely 15-20 minute walk after a meal is not only safe it is a good thing to do for a number of reasons.
“The thermic effect of digesting the food you just ate increases your metabolism by roughly 10-20%,” he says. “Going for a leisurely walk within 20 minutes of eating boosts your metabolism by another 10%. Going for a walk during this window of time burns more calories than a walk during other times.”
Also, Chesworth says that thermal walks make a great form of habit pairing. “Habits that fire together, wire together.” In other words, “it’s easier to adopt new habits when paired with old ones as opposed to staring a mew habit out of thin air. Most people have meal pattern habits. Add a short leisurely walk after those meals to easily acquire a new healthy habit to your lifestyle!”
This will set you up for success. “If possible, walk in nature and breathe in the forest air” says Dr. Kverneland. “It’s good for your mind and immune system to breathe in those tree phytoncides.”