The simple act of walking can be a surprising enhancement to help you lose weight in a healthy and enjoyable way. Increasing your daily steps or starting a walking plan is an excellent first step to support your weight loss journey.
Whether you’re completely sedentary now and want to ease into more regular physical activity or are already making good strides in your fitness journey and want to switch things up, the benefits of walking shouldn’t be underestimated. But how much should you walk to lose weight? And what kind of walking is best?
How many steps do you need to walk to lose weight?
As with most things relating to health and wellness, the answer to this question is “it depends”. It depends on your gender, age, weight, how many kilojoules you’re currently eating and current level of fitness.
If you currently do very little physical activity and significantly increase the amount of walking you do, you may find you easily lose some weight in the first couple of weeks. Your body and your muscles and joints can really feel the difference. If you’re already quite fit, you may not see dramatic results just from walking, but it’s still an important part of overall fitness and will help you maintain your muscle tone and cardiovascular fitness.
To lose significant weight from walking, studies have shown that at least an hour of brisk walking per day is ideal, especially combined with a kilojoule reduced diet. Walking can only lead to weight loss if you’re expending more energy than you’re consuming.
As a baseline we recommend aiming for 8,000 steps per day. If this seems overwhelming to you, add 1000 steps per week to slowly build up your daily steps towards this goal. For example if you currently do 5000 steps per day, aim for 6000 steps this week and then 7000 steps per day next week. If you’re already achieving 8,000 steps, aim for 10,000+ steps each day.
Walking is important incidental exercise
Many people like to incorporate walking into their fitness routine because it’s relatively easy and can be slotted in with other daily activities. Walking can be incidental exercise.
Incidental exercise is the exercise most of us do while going about our daily lives. It’s taking the stairs, running to catch the bus, working our muscles while gardening and, yes, walking. We don’t normally see dramatic changes in weight or body composition through incidental exercise, but we can notice changes if that incidental exercise is taken away. Think about how muscles lose tone if we’re recovering in bed from sickness, or how lethargic we may feel when we’re not experiencing the benefits of bringing oxygen into our bodies through exercising regularly. Making a conscious effort to incorporate short bursts of walking through incidental exercise is an effective way to increase the number of steps you are taking and therefore the kilojoules you are burning.
What kind of walking should you do?
Any kind of walking is better than nothing, but the intensity of your walk can make a difference to the energy you are expending, and therefore the number of kilojoules you are burning.
Aim to elevate your heart rate while walking for the greatest benefits. You could do this by walking quickly or incorporating hills and steps. The “talk test” is a useful way to determine whether you’re walking briskly enough: you should be able to maintain a conversation but not necessarily be able to sing. Walk like you’re in a hurry to get somewhere.
Distance is also important, when you have the time. An easy or moderate three-hour hike at the weekend will burn more energy than a short brisk walk to work three times a week (although the latter is important too!). Accumulating steps through incidental exercise is a useful goal when aiming to build a more active lifestyle, but it’s also good to plan some physical activity that is longer in duration when you have the time. For example, going for a 30-minute walk around your local park after you finish work.
Should you use a step counter?
Step counting instruments (pedometers) worn on the wrist, such as sports watches, or step counting tracked through a phone app can be helpful when trying to increase your walking. You can monitor your speed, distance and heart rate while walking, as well as the number of steps.
By default, many of these counters are set to a goal of 8000 or 10,000 steps per day, which can be adjusted. These default goals are usually realistic but a slight challenge for people with sedentary jobs. Once you meet your goal you’re rewarded with a satisfying buzz of congratulations on your wrist, or you may earn badges in a phone app.
If you’re a competitive person, either with yourself or others, step counting goals can be a good motivator. It’s satisfying to see that you’ve met your goals for consecutive days or weeks. If you exercise with friends who have the same type of fitness watch, you can also set up friendly competitions.
More steps means more kilojoules burned, which can positively impact your weight loss or weight management success when you’re also monitoring your kilojoule intake. Using pedometers is one of many ways for tracking your walking and exercise.
Walking for weight loss tips
- If you must drive to work, park further away than you normally would. If you take the bus or tram, get off a stop or two earlier.
- Walk your kids to school, it’s a great way to start the day and will help build healthy habits for all of you.
- Taking your dog for a walk each day is a good way to get in some extra steps.
- Make walking social! Catch up with a friend or family while going for a walk.
- Before doing your strength training video as part of your Max Up program, walk around your street as a warm-up activity.
- When the weather’s good, go for an evening neighbourhood walk after work.
- Check out hiking trails in your area on the weekends.
- Wherever you’re going, take a scenic detour or walk up a hill to burn extra kilojoules.
- Walk on uneven or textured surfaces like sand or grass for an added challenge that can lead to more kilojoules burned.
- Walk with hand weights or a weighted backpack (with comfortable, appropriately positioned straps) to burn more energy.
- Count your steps with a step counter pedometer to motivate yourself.
Speak with your Jenny Craig Coach to find out more tips to increase your walking for weight loss.