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Walking for Weight Loss

Burn more calories and belly fat with these expert tips


spinner image lower body of woman tying her shoe while out on a walk
Sarah Rogers (source: Getty Images)

The health benefits of walking are well known: It boosts mood and metabolism. It reduces the risk of some cancers and chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Walking even has the power to extend your life. In fact, for every 2,000 steps you take each day, your risk for premature death falls by 6 to 11 percent, suggests a study published in 2022 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

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But is walking good for weight loss? The fast answer: Yes, but.

Like any type of cardio, “walking is beneficial for weight loss, but it’s important to recognize that exercise alone is not the most effective strategy for losing weight,” says Sabrena Jo, Ph.D., ACE (American Council on Exercise) senior director of science and research. “Weight loss is best achieved through a combination of nutritious eating, regular physical activity, adequate rest and recovery, and effective stress management.”

So, yes, walking is good for weight loss. “But for optimal weight loss and overall health,” says Jo, “it should be complemented with a diet rich in whole, nutrient-dense foods.”

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Here’s what you need to know.

How much walking do you need to do — and how often — to lose weight?

For health benefits, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), among other health authorities, recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity activity. For weight loss, though, that number jumps to at least 250 minutes per week.

Before you toss your sneakers into the trash, know this: No one’s expecting you to hit either of those numbers on day one or, for that matter, month one. Think of them as a two-part goal, especially if you’re just starting out.

What’s more, walking “doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach,” says Anthony Wall, an exercise physiologist and certified ACE personal trainer. If you aren’t able to squeeze in 30- to 50-minute walks five days a week, aim for shorter bouts of exercise. A study published in Obesity suggests that two shorter walks per day may be more effective for overweight people looking to shed pounds than one longer walk.

What does a walking for weight loss plan look like?

The answer depends on your fitness level. If you’re already walking as part of a regular exercise routine, aim for 250 minutes per week and increase the volume and intensity of your walks (see tips, below).

If you’re new to exercise, experts recommend starting slow and gradually increasing your time and distance by up to 20 percent every two weeks until you reach the 150-minute mark and, eventually, 250 minutes. “A walking plan for weight loss typically includes a mix of walking speeds and terrains to keep the exercise challenging,” says Jo.

VIDEO: 10-Minute Indoor Walking Workout With Denise Austin

Depending on where you live, that may be easier to do on a treadmill that allows you to increase speed and incline as your endurance improves. “On a treadmill, you can walk three miles per hour at an elevation that equals a steep hill,” notes Wall. “On the flip side, the vast majority of people are going to enjoy a 20-minute walk in the neighborhood more than they are on the treadmill.”

To avoid overuse injuries, the ACSM suggests warming up before any walk — whether it’s indoors on a treadmill or outdoors — with a slower pace for at least five minutes at the beginning of your walk and doing the same at the end of your walk to cool down.

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Weekly walking plan

If you’re just starting out, here’s what a walking for weight loss plan might look like.

  • Monday: Walk for 10 minutes at a moderate pace. Focus on maintaining a steady speed.
  • Tuesday: Rest or do gentle stretching.
  • Wednesday: Walk for 10 minutes. Try to incorporate some inclines or hills if possible.
  • Thursday: Rest or consider a low-impact activity like a gentle yoga session.
  • Friday: Walk for 10 minutes. Experiment with intervals: Walk fast for one minute followed by two minutes at a moderate pace.
  • Saturday: Walk for 15 to 20 minutes at a comfortable pace.
  • Sunday: Rest or do gentle stretching.

“Over the course of several weeks, slowly increase your time by a few minutes so that you eventually feel comfortable walking for 30 minutes without stopping,” advises Jo, who developed the plan above.  

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How can you burn more calories while walking?

Generally speaking, “there are two things you can play with,” says Wall. “Walk longer or walk faster. If you walk around a museum for four hours, you’ll (burn calories), but not the same as if you walk briskly for an hour.”

Try the following to burn more calories while walking.

  • Try intervals: Add short bursts of speed to spike your heart rate. One way to do that: Walk as fast as you can for 30- or 60- or 120-second intervals, followed by double the time at a normal pace. Continue alternating between fast and slow for 15 to 20 minutes. Easier yet, walk briskly for one block and switch back to your usual pace for a couple of blocks.
  • Vary the terrain: Walking across a variety of surfaces — such as pavement, sand or grass — boosts the intensity of your walk and works your muscles in different ways to improve strength, increase endurance and help you burn more calories, says Jo.
  • Walk at an incline: According to ACE, walking uphill activates three times more muscle fibers than walking on flat terrain. It also burns up to 60 percent more calories. No hills on your regular route? Try taking the stairs whenever possible or setting the treadmill to include an incline.
  • Add weight: Wear a weighted vest or backpack to increase resistance, “but be mindful of posture and back health, and discontinue if discomfort sets in,” says Jo.
  • Focus on form: “Walking with good posture can help engage your core muscles, making your walk more effective,” says Jo. Over time, as your legs get stronger and endurance improves, use a slightly longer stride, suggests the ACSM. Push off the toes and swing your arms or use walking poles to engage upper body muscles; it’ll help burn more calories.

Can you lose belly fat by walking?

Yes, though not in the way you might imagine. “Spot reduction isn’t something that’s possible,” explains Wall. “When you lose weight, you don’t get to choose where that weight loss comes from.”

The good news? “If you have an effective walking program and you’re paying attention to nutrition, you’re going to see weight loss all around your body, not just one spot,” he says.  

What’s the key to losing more weight while walking?

VIDEO: Fat-Burning Indoor Walking Workout With Denise Austin

Think: brisk. “What we’re looking for is brisk walking,” says Wall. Of course, one person’s brisk walk is another’s casual stroll. A good way to measure your pace: Use what’s known as the talk test. “If you’re walking at a brisk pace, you’re able to talk to someone, but you’re not able to hold a conversation,” says Wall. “That’s how to know you’re walking at a good pace.”

Another trick: Track your steps. According to ACE, people who track their steps walk 2,500 more steps a day, on average. Smartphone apps and smart watches can offer easy ways to track your steps, as can an old-fashioned pedometer.

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