Regardless of age or fitness level, a dedicated walking program coupled with proper nutrition can be an excellent way to lose weight. To do it right and reach your goals, you’ll need to make sure you’re walking far enough, at the right intensity and paying attention to your diet.
Here’s what you need to know and how to get started:
WALKING DURATION AND WEIGHT LOSS
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), individuals should aim to participate in a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day or 150 minutes per week. While this can help you get on track in terms of cardiovascular fitness and combating other health conditions, if you’re looking to lose weight, you’ll probably want to do a little more.
For individuals who are obese and trying to lose weight, or anyone looking to keep the weight off, the ACSM recommends bumping this number up to 200–300 minutes per week (3.3–5 hours). Breaking this down, a one-hour walk 4–5 days per week will be sufficient to achieve your weight-loss goals. Any additional time you spend exercising on top of this adds to your overall calorie burn and fitness level.
Not all walks are created equal. It’s important to make sure your heart rate reaches a moderate-intensity level during your walk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), moderate-intensity exercise is defined as an activity that raises the heart rate to 50–70% of your maximum heart rate.
If you decide to up the intensity — either by adding resistance training in the form of weights or including short periods of running — exercising at a vigorous activity level (70–85% of your maximum heart rate) requires the duration of your walk to be cut in half to achieve the same benefits. In other words, a 60-minute moderate-intensity walk is the same as a 30-minute walk/run at a vigorous intensity level.
The most accurate way to measure intensity level is to use a heart rate monitor, but you can also keep track of perceived exertion. On a scale of 0–10 (0 is sitting, 10 is the highest exertion possible), moderate intensity is a 5–6, and vigorous activity begins at 7.
HOW WALKING COMPARES TO RUNNING
Walking can provide many of the same health benefits as running (and comes with a lower risk of injury). However, when it comes to weight loss, the duration is key for folks who prefer walking. According to the American Council of Exercise (ACE), a 150-pound (68kg) runner burns 340 calories on a three-mile (5k) run when averaging a 10-minute mile (for a 30-minute run). This averages out to about 11.3 calories per minute. On the other hand, a 150-pound (68kg) walker exercising at a moderate pace of three miles per hour burns 224 calories during a three-mile (5k) walk (60-minutes total). This averages out to 3.7 calories per minute.
While this shows running is, indeed, a more efficient activity for burning calories, if you walk longer you can make up the difference. In the example above, you’d need to walk for about one hour and 30 minutes, or roughly 4.5 miles, to achieve the same calorie burn as a three-mile run.
Calculating and recording your daily steps, mileage, time and exercise intensity is all important when you’re trying to lose weight. But the last part of the equation — nutrition — is equally crucial. Logging your food intake with MyFitnessPal as well as your workouts can help you get a more accurate picture of the quantity and types of foods you’re consuming. That way you can make informed decisions regarding smarter portion sizes and where you can cut excess calories to find a healthy deficit that allows you to lose weight and keep it off.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Start by walking a little more than you normally do each day until you can do an hour or more 4–5 times per week. If you keep to a brisk pace and pay attention to your nutrition, you’ll set yourself up for effective weight loss.
To become more active, try setting a simple goal to increase (and track) your daily steps. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app and choose a 28-day step plan to learn tips to boost your activity.