You don’t have to spend big bucks on a gym membership or set up an elliptical trainer in the living room to lose weight. High-intensity activities like running and cycling may torch more calories, but a walk around the block might be just as effective for shedding pounds over the long haul.
Recent research published in the Journal of Nutrition found participants who ate a healthy diet and walked for at least three hours per week (about 25 minutes per day) shed significant amounts of weight.
Over the 12-week study period, walkers lost an average of 19 pounds compared with 15 pounds for non-walkers; walkers also had less body fat and a smaller waist circumference — a major predictor of heart disease — as well as lower cholesterol and insulin levels than their sedentary peers.
A second study published in the journal Risk Analysis showed that walking provided significant weight-loss benefits. In fact, participants who went for regular, brisk walks for at least 30 minutes had lower BMIs and smaller waist circumferences than those who engaged in other types of exercise, including regular gym-goers. The relationship was strongest for women and older adults.
Lead researcher Grace Lordan, PhD, an associate professor at the London School of Economics, attributes the results to the ease of going for a walk, noting, “[W]alking is something we can easily incorporate into our daily activities, so it’s easier to stick with as a fitness plan.”
For walking to lead to weight loss, pace is essential, notes Lordan.
“A person should be walking at a pace where they can just talk but cannot sing. It’s about getting the heart rate up and this changes for each individual,” she says.
So, skip the slow stroll and pick up the pace. Aiming to log at least three miles per hour could allow walkers to hit 70% (or greater) maximum heart rate required to burn some serious calories, according to a study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences.
READ MORE > YOUR 6-WEEK BELLY FAT BLASTING WALKING PLAN
“While walking is usually considered a low-intensity activity, most people will still be in the range of 50–70% of their VO2 max and this is enough to stimulate beneficial effects,” explains researcher Paul Kelly, PhD, lecturer in the Physical Activity for Health Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh.
Maintaining a brisk pace for at least 30 minutes, 5 days per week is essential to get the needle on the scale moving in the right direction.
If you’re currently inactive, you might start out at a slower pace (and may not hit the 50–70% of VO2 max right away) but you will gain speed as your fitness levels improve — and that brisk pace amps up the calorie burn. Adding steps also burns added calories.
A 9-month study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion followed 460 people and found that increases of 1,000 steps per day were linked to a 3.8-pound weight loss for men and 2.1-pound loss for women in addition to reductions in BMI.
Based on the research, Lorden “highly endorses” walking for weight loss, adding, “It’s something that can be incorporated into the busiest people’s lives.”