Running, weight lifting, HIIT, all these things come to mind when talking about weight loss but what if you’re not yet in a good enough condition to do them? That’s where I and a lot of other trainers think walking becomes the best alternative, if not the main option.
It’s something even obese people — and I’m talking over 200 lbs here — can do both effectively and safely.
So, how long does it take to lose weight just by walking?
Well, about a week. That is, of course, if you burn more calories than you ingest (which we will get to later).
Also, when I say 1 week weight loss, I don’t mean that you magically transform from obese/overweight to somehow looking like Channing Tatum or Gigi Hadid in 7 days. No, that stuff happens over time from months, if not years of consistency (we’ll get to this, too).
Oh, and speaking of consistency…
Should you walk everyday to lose weight?
The way I see it, the more frequently you do your exercises, the better.
But, let’s face it: We don’t always have enough free time.
In that case, shoot for a total number of hours instead of a total number of days. The CDC’s guidelines for physical activity says to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week.
Brisk walks count as moderate-intensity, by the way, so try to move like you’re in a bit of a hurry whenever you go out for a walk.
Can you lose weight by walking 30 minutes a day?
And, is walking 30 minutes a day enough exercise?
Again, allow me to point you towards CDC’s guidelines. One of their examples on how you can get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week is by walking 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week.
So, yes, 30-minute walks should be enough to help you lose weight. But don’t limit yourself to just 30 minutes or 5 days if you can do more.
You know what? No. Scratch that. A better advice would be to aim for more than what you’re currently capable of.
This brings us to the next part.
How to start walking for weight loss (and how to progress)
This may sound obvious, but you first need to establish a baseline.
In my opinion, the easiest way to do this is to track how many steps you take on average. Count how many steps you take per day, everyday for an entire week, and compute the average.
Most smartphones today already have step trackers pre-installed, so those should come in handy. Plus, you probably already have a smartphone with you anyway so it’s technically free.
Or — and this is what I recommend if you have the money — you could get yourself a smartwatch, like the FitBit Charge 4. These kinds of watches not only count your steps but also keep track of your heart rate and calories which are all data that you can use to help you lose weight more efficiently.
In any case, once you’ve got your average number of steps per day counted, the MayoClinic says to add 1000 steps every 2 weeks. So, if you’re walking 2000 steps right now, aim to get at least 3000 per day after a couple of weeks.
Of course, these are just guidelines, not rules. So, if you feel like you can add more, do it. If it doesn’t feel safe, maybe wait another week for your body to adjust or add fewer steps instead.
(There’s more tips and details about this in our How to Lose Weight Walking 10,000 steps a day article if you want to check that out.)
How much weight can you lose in a month by walking
Let me rewind a little. Remember when I said you could lose weight in a week just by walking?
Yeah, well, the NHS says that the safe rate to lose weight is around 1-2 lbs per week. Following that pattern, that’s 4-8 lbs lost in a month, if not slightly more because you’ll be shedding water weight during this time as well.
However, you can only lose weight if you’re on a caloric deficit. So, what is it?
What is a calorie deficit?
There’s this thing called energy balance and this is what it all comes down to when it comes to losing, gaining, and/or maintaining weight. Energy, in this case, means calories.
Per the National Institutes of Health (NIH), energy balance basically means the amount of calories you consume versus the amount of calories you burn. Now, when it comes to losing weight, you need to be in a state of caloric deficiency (a.k.a. negative energy balance) where you consume less calories than you burn.
You can get to this state either through diet (i.e consuming less calories), using more calories (i.e. physical activity), or both — which I think is the best option.
Now, this concept works with any type of diet and any type of physical activity, so…
Here’s a picture that’s more specific to walking and weight loss
Let’s say you’re a 5’9” sedentary man who weighs 185 lbs. You’d need to consume 2300 calories per day just to maintain that weight (per the MayoClinic) because that’s roughly how much you burn on a daily basis as well. So, to lose weight, you’re either going to want to burn more than 2300 calories or consume less than that.
That being said, Harvard says that if you walked for 30 minutes at a pace of 3.5 mph (a little faster than a brisk walk), you’d burn 178 calories. Do that for 5 days, and you’d burn a rough total of 890 calories.
If you walked longer or faster, you’d burn even more.
Nevertheless, let’s take those numbers and see how they help you lose weight.
How many calories should I eat a day to lose weight?
Per the MayoClinic, you’d generally need to either cut or burn 500-1000 calories everyday to lose 1-2 lbs per week.
It seems hard when you put it that way but it’s actually very doable. Think about this:
Instead of eating 2 large slices of pepperoni pizza for dinner, you eat just 1 slice of pizza and a medium sized apple. That’s 413 calories instead of 626, per Nutritionix’s database.
That switch easily lets you consume 213 less calories. Do a similar switch for lunch, and that’s another 200 or so fewer calories. Now, combine that with the calories you burn from a 30-minute walk, and you’d have burned/cut around 600 calories from your day.
Plus, as you get in better shape and get more used to substituting healthy food, it becomes easier to walk more miles (or do more intense exercises) and choose healthier meals, leading to an even deeper caloric deficit.
(In case you need more help cleaning up your diet, here’s our take on how to start a clean eating lifestyle without feeling stressed.)
Let’s move on.
Which time is best for walking to lose weight?
I sometimes get asked:
“Is it better to walk in the morning or evening to lose weight? Is there even a difference?”
Well, yes, there’s a difference. There are mixed results but generally speaking, studies suggest that anaerobic workouts (e.g. weight lifting) tend to have better results when done at night whereas aerobic exercise (e.g. walking) seem to yield better reactions when done in the morning.
But, you know what I think? I think it’s all way too complicated for the everyday person to worry themselves about.
If you’re an athlete who needs to be at the top of his game, then by all means dig into every single detail. But if you’re like me, an average dude who just wants to be in shape, I say do your exercises whenever it’s possible, but also find time to fit it into your schedule.
Oh, and speaking of getting in shape…
Does walking help lose weight everywhere?
First of all, there’s no such thing as spot reduction. So, yes, walking will help you lose weight everywhere, but so will any other type of exercise and diet.
The downside to only doing cardiovascular exercises like walking, however, is that you will likely also lose muscle along with fat.
To a certain extent, this should be alright but if you lose too much muscle (especially if you didn’t have much to begin with), research says that you have less available protein and energy which contributes to slower wound healing and illness recovery, a slower metabolism, and a generally poorer quality of life.
Plus, it can make you look older than you really are.
The solution? Try to pair your walks with other exercises that strengthen your muscles and eat the right macronutrient proportions (roughly 30% protein, 55% carbs, 15% fat).
Weight lifting is probably the most obvious strength training exercise here but you could also use resistance bands or your own body weight to keep things cheap.
Walking, while relatively easy, can be an effective way to lose weight and get in better shape.
However, it still follows the same rules as every other exercise. In particular, you still need to be in a caloric deficiency, you still need to pair it with better food choices, and you still need to be consistent.
And with that, I shall take my leave. Share this with a friend who also needs help losing weight, will ‘ya? Cool!