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How to walk your way to weight loss
If you’d like to shed a few pounds, a walking program can help. Find 10 simple steps to get you started and keep you going.
Do you want to lose some weight or boost your activity level? Try walking. It’s a great way to burn calories and reach a healthy weight. Plus, it’s one of the safest ways to exercise. You don’t need fancy equipment. No special skills are needed either. Except for a good pair of walking shoes, it’s free. And you can do it just about anytime, anywhere.
Even better? You don’t need to do anything difficult to see changes in your health, says Meredith Schneider. She’s a board-certified health and wellness coach based with RVO Health in Raleigh, North Carolina. It’s all about having a daily routine and sticking to it.
Here are just a few of the ways walking helps your health. It can strengthen your heart and lungs. It can even lower your chance of dying from heart disease. It makes your muscles stronger, gives you better balance and helps you move more easily.1
Walking can also lower your chances of having depression. It can make your bones stronger and help prevent osteoporosis. (That’s when your bones become weak and break more easily.) And, of course, it’s a great way to lose weight.2
Weight loss from walking is different for everybody. But for the best results, aim for 150 minutes a week. That may sound like a lot, but it’s really only about 30 minutes, 5 days a week. Try to walk at a moderate pace (3 miles an hour or faster).3 “That means you can talk while walking,” says Schneider. “But your breathing is a bit labored.” Another way to tell you’re at a moderate pace: You can talk but not sing.
And always talk to your doctor before you start a new fitness or weight loss program. Get their OK first.
10 steps to start your walking program
Ready to start walking? Follow these steps for a simple way to drop some pounds.
Step 1. Set realistic expectations
Everybody’s different. If you haven’t been exercising for a while, start slow. And don’t compare yourself to others. Start at a pace that works for you. “If you tend to sit most of the day, start with 5 minutes,” says Schneider. “It’s a lot easier on your body.” So don’t be too hard on yourself.
Everyone’s goal is different. Yours might be to walk for 30 minutes or an hour. Try to walk a little bit faster each week, Schneider suggests. This will help raise your intensity level. That means how hard walking feels to you. Add 15 minutes of intensity, and do this 3 times a week.
Before you know it, you’ll see big improvements.
Step 2. Gear up
All you need is a sturdy pair of walking, running or cross-fitness shoes. They don’t have to cost a lot. And be sure to drink water before and after your walk. If it’s hot outside, carry a water bottle on your walk or put it in a pack. Make sure to drink about 8 ounces of water every 15 minutes.
Step 3. Pick a place
Choose a route you like. That can help you stick to your walking program. It helps to turn walking into something you really look forward to. Where to walk? You can try:
- The great outdoors. Walk around your neighborhood. Or go to a park or your local high school track. And walking in nature can lower your blood pressure and lower stress.4
- An indoor shopping mall. “On really hot or cold days, walking in a mall is a great solution,” says Schneider. You can keep up your walking routine no matter what the weather is. Some malls even have walking programs.
- The local gym. Hop on the treadmill. That way, you can track how far and how fast your workouts are. You can see if you’re improving. Plus, you can program the machine. You want to do some short amounts of fast walking. Then, add in longer amounts of slower walking.
Tip: Don’t forget to check with your HR rep at your job. Your company may offer fitness benefits like exercise classes or a gym membership.
Special note for people 65+: Have a Medicare Advantage plan? You may be able to get a free gym membership or other fitness benefits. To learn more, call the number on your member ID card.
Step 4. Warm up first
Warming up is important before any kind of exercise. It can help keep you from getting injured. So don’t skip this step. Walk at a slow pace for 5 or 10 minutes. Or try stepping or marching in place instead. It can raise your heart rate little by little before you start walking faster.
Step 5. Focus on your form
Even though you’ve been walking since you can remember, pay attention to the way you walk. Stand up straight. Make sure your shoulders are back and your chest is lifted. That can help you stay strong and keep your balance. Let your arms swing forward and back from your shoulders.
Step 6. Start small and build up
If you can, start with a 15-minute walk on your first day. If that feels too long, no problem. Start with 5 or 10 minutes. Then add 5 minutes each day until you reach your goal, says Schneider.
Step 7. Have a weekly routine
Focus on doing as much walking each week as you can. Make sure it feels safe and comfortable for you. And try to stick to a schedule.
To lose weight, Schneider suggests walking at least 3 days a week. That’s the minimum number of days you need to see results. “If you want to limit yourself to 30 minutes at a time, do it 5 days a week,” she says.
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Step 8. Change it up
Walking the same routine or the same route can get boring after a while. So, along with changing where you walk, change your walking routine, too. Try these ideas. You can:
- Do interval training. “Interval training is great for fat loss,” says Schneider. It’s simple: Warm up with casual walking for a few minutes. Then walk at a moderate pace for 5 to 10 minutes. Finally, power walk for 2 minutes. (That’s doing about 5 miles per hour.) Repeat these steps until you complete your walking time. (Find more interval training workouts.)
- Go uphill. When you first start walking, stick to flat surfaces. Walking uphill is harder for a beginner. Once you’re comfortable with flat trails, add in small hills.
- Add some light weights. You can build muscle by adding light weights. Try ankle or wrist weights, or a weighted belt. Start with about 2 days a week.
Step 9. Keep it fun
Starting an exercise program is one thing. Keeping it up is another. “You might be excited when you start walking,” says Schneider. “But after a while you might get bored.” How can you keep it fun? Try these ideas. You can:
- Walk with a friend. It’s more fun when you have a pal to stroll with. And they can help keep you motivated when you don’t feel like going out.
- Plug in. Listen to your favorite songs. Or tune in to a podcast or audiobook. That can take your mind off the clock. But stay alert for cars, bikes, and other walkers. Be sure to use just one earphone so you can hear what’s happening and move out of the way if you need to.
- Be smart. Set a reminder on your smartphone or smartwatch when it’s time to walk. A smartwatch can also show you how much progress you’re making. You’ll see how far you walk and how hard your heart is pumping.
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Step 10. Step on the scale
How quickly you burn calories and lose weight depends on many things. Two things that matter are your current weight and how hard and fast you’re walking. If you weigh 154 pounds and do:
- 30 minutes of moderate-intensity walking, you’ll burn 150 calories
- 30 minutes of high-intensity walking, you’ll burn 245 calories
Don’t worry if you gain a little weight at first. That’s normal. It can happen when your walking routine starts building new muscles in your body. So the scale might go up a little bit at first. But soon you’ll start to see some pounds drop away. It all depends on the individual.5
But if you stick with your walking plan, you'll begin to see results. And even better, you’ll start feeling healthier too.
Find simple ways to add more activity to your day on our Until It’s Fixed podcast
Need extra support for creating and sticking with your goals? Work 1-on-1 with a virtual coach from AbleTo. Learn more.
- Frontiers in Public Health. Effect of brisk walking on health-related physical fitness and life satisfaction. January 31, 2022. Accessed February 11, 2023.
- Current Research in Nutrition and Food Science. Effects of walking exercise program based on duration on the body composition and lipid profile in overweight and obese female college students. December 5, 2022. Accessed February 11, 2023.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do adults need? Last reviewed June 2, 2022. Accessed February 14, 2023.
- Frontiers in Psychology. Exercise in the park or gym? The physiological and mental responses of obese people walking in different settings at different speeds: A parallel group randomized trial. October 22, 2021. Accessed February 11, 2023.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. General physical activities defined by level of intensity. Accessed February 10, 2023.
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