Walking is one of the best forms of physical activity for weight loss, though the exact distance needed to get results can vary a lot from person to person. There is not any universal “magic number,” and most experts stress regularity and time over specific mileage. Aiming for about 30 minutes a day is a common goal for beginners. A healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet and good sleep habits, is really important, too. No amount of walking will be able to counteract activities that otherwise lead to weight gain.
Weight loss specialists often advise patients who want to walk to lose weight to aim to move for 30 minutes at least four or five times a week. Many people are able to cover about 2 miles (about 3 km) in this amount of time, and the calorie burn is significant, too. A 150-pound (68 kg) person walking between 3.5 to 4 miles (5.6 to 6.4 km) an hour can expect to burn about 300 calories. Keeping this up consistently for days or weeks at a time can lead to weight loss in most people.
Another way to think about distance is in terms of steps. The more steps a person takes the farther he or she will go, often without even thinking about it. For example, taking 5,000 steps throughout the course of one day adds up to nearly 2.5 miles (about 4 km). Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, for instance, or going up and down the grocery store aisles a few more times than necessary can slowly add distance throughout the day without the commitment of actually setting aside “workout time.”
One of the easiest ways for people to track their distance is by wearing a pedometer. This small device can attach to the waistband of pants or skirts to discreetly measure strides taken. The most basic models simply count steps, but more advanced systems synch up to computers or websites to provide a more comprehensive overview of progress on a weekly, monthly, or even yearly basis, and many of these allow for goal-setting, too.
There are a number of ways people can improve their walking technique to make their exercise times more efficient for weight loss. One of the most common involves arm angle. Bending the arms at a 90 degree angle and pumping like a race walker usually leads to a quicker walking pace, which can help burn up to 10 percent more calories. The more calories burned, the faster it will be to lose weight.
Interval training is another popular way to walk to lose weight. A person using intervals will typically vary his or her pace between a comfortable stroll, a brisk walk, and a quick near-jog. The routine will usually vary depending on a person’s fitness level and strength, but a common routine is five minutes normal pace, two minutes brisk pace, then one minute fast. This can be repeated for as long as the walk lasts.
People who walk on varying terrains may also find that they lose weight faster, since challenging the muscles in different ways causes them to become more efficient and prevents what many fitness experts call the “plateau.” A walker who plateaus has basically reached his or her weight loss limit. Walking becomes a way to maintain a certain weight from that point forward, but stops being a good way to actually lose it.
Walking on uneven surfaces like sand, grass, or gravel typically increases calorie burn. Trudging uphill can also be more effective than walking on a flat surface, as long as the walker maintains a steady pace. Uphill walking also helps a person build strength and stamina as he or she works to make it to the top of a hill.
The Importance of Lifestyle
For most people, walking will only be a good way to lose weight if it is done in conjunction with other weight-loss tactics, particularly a good diet. Weight loss only happens when caloric input is less than caloric output, which is to say that more needs to be burned than is taken in. Someone could walk for hours each day but not lose any weight if his or her diet contained primarily saturated fats and fried foods. Losing weight doesn’t require deprivation, but it does depend on a good balance of protein and complex carbohydrates. Eating plenty of vegetables and whole grains while keeping sweets and convenience foods to a minimum will help walking be as effective as possible.
Many weight loss experts also stress the importance of sleep. Ideally, a person should get between seven and eight hours of rest each night. Sleep is the body’s chance to restore function and efficiency, and getting even just an hour more sleep can make it all the easier to burn fat during the day, while walking or otherwise.