Walking is both a basic human skill and a form of physical activity. We’ve all been taught that physical activity is a key component of weight loss and improving health – but can walking actually help you lose weight? Let’s take a look at the research.
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Can You Lose Weight by Walking?
The technical answer to this question is yes, you can lose weight by walking. A review of multiple studies tells us that on average, persons with excess weight who were sedentary and increased their walking by 1-2 miles per day lost about 2.2 pounds. Physical activity, like walking, is very important for overall health and weight loss maintenance, but the act of losing the amount of desired weight requires pairing physical activity with changes in diet. When we review findings from a study of people who have maintained at least a 30-pound weight loss for one year or more, 98% of participants reported they had to modify their food intake in some way and 94% reported they increased their physical activity level. This means that most people in the study did both to get long-term results.
How Much Do You Have to Walk to Lose Weight?
This is going to vary from person to person for many reasons. If you’re currently inactive, even short bouts of walking could be enough to see some change in the scale. If you’re already walking 10,000 steps per day, the amount required is going to be higher. Our bodies get efficient at doing any form of physical activity, so the amount of calories burned from doing the same activity over and over is going to decrease with repetition. And, as discussed, it is going to depend on what changes you are making in your diet. Some people have found that they are working out and still gaining weight; however, there are reasons this can happen, and does not discredit the health benefits you can get from walking.
For overall health, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity such as brisk walking each week, ideally spread across at least 3 days. But if you’re not getting much physical activity currently, increasing your activity level by even 10 minutes per day can lead to improvements in your overall health.
Other Benefits of Walking
While walking alone doesn’t cause significant weight loss, it does benefit our health in many ways and is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Here’s why:
- Improved blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol – There are multiple studies that tell us how walking improves blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels and decreases the need for medications to treat these common conditions. Additionally, it appears that faster walking and longer durations provide the most benefit.
- Reduced stress and improved mood – It’s been confirmed by many studies that physical activity improves stress levels and mood. Improvements in mood were seen after just 6 minutes of walking, so it doesn’t take a big time commitment to experience the benefits for your mental health.
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease – Regular walking activity reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
- Decreased joint pain – Walking helps to relieve pain and stiffness associated with arthritis. Starting slow and for short durations is recommended. Also, consider other forms of non-weight-bearing exercise such as swimming or bicycling, and discuss a plan with your healthcare provider.
- Preserved lean muscle mass and cardiovascular fitness – These are possibly the most important benefits for quality of life. As we age, we experience decreases in lean muscle mass and cardiovascular fitness, which affects our ability to get around and care for ourselves. Incorporating walking and other exercises into our daily routine is a way to preserve lean muscle mass and cardiovascular fitness so that we can remain independent as we age.
How Can You Incorporate Walking Into Your Life?
One of the biggest advantages to walking is that it can be easily incorporated into your daily routine and it doesn’t cost anything. Here are some ideas to help you get walking more:
- Take a walk on your lunch break or after dinner. Not only will this help you to get more active, but it can help with food digestion and blood sugar levels, as well.
- Walk your dog – you could both use the exercise! Use him as motivation to get out more often.
- Take a call while going for a walk or meet up with a friend for a walk to catch up.
- Schedule a walking meeting with your colleagues. Take it outside if you can for an even greater boost in mood.
- Walk to work or park your car farther away if walking to the office isn’t an option.
- Use a fitness tracker or smartwatch for logging your steps. Set achievable goals and then increase your goal once you’ve hit one consistently.
No matter how you choose to incorporate walking into your life, your body will thank you!