Weight loss is a common desire for women worldwide. Some of that is because we live in a society that scrutinizes women’s bodies (blegh), but if you’re struggling with obesity or are at risk for type 2 diabetes and other health issues, there are very good reasons to set weight loss goals for yourself.
You could see a registered dietician or do some moderate-intensity CrossFit sessions to help you burn fat, but we also know that’s not for everyone. And that’s okay. Luckily, one of the best ways to lose weight is just to get up and walk. Plenty of research shows that if you commit to it, walking can be just what you need to drop pounds and get your health back on track.
Maybe you’ve tried in the past and just keep losing the momentum, or maybe you’re not sure how to make walking work for you. Whatever concern brought you here, we’ve got some tips to help you get back on the road… err… sidewalk.
Below we’ve shared some information about how walking helps you lose weight, how many steps you might need to take to hit your goals and some of our favorite tips for keeping the habit going and the pounds dropping.
Walking helps with weight loss the same way most physical activity does: it burns calories, which can create the calorie deficit needed to lose weight. Physical activity like walking also helps improve your overall health and reduces your risk of certain diseases and health conditions — and studies show exercise can even decrease your risk of various cancers.
You probably know that strength training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) will shred pounds, but generally speaking, walking is also great for your health and can keep you away from the annoying gym bros.
A 2022 meta-analysis that looked at more than 47,000 adults found that walking as much as 10,000 steps could have a significant impact in reducing your risk of all-cause mortality — a sort of blanket term for everything from stroke and liver failure to that traumatic scene in “Final Destination” that changed your highway driving habits forever.
FYI: we’ll note here that weight gain can also happen for more than one reason. Most recent research points to the consumption of excess sugars and carbohydrates as a main culprit, but we’ll also remind you that medications and other factors could be at play in weight gain. If you’ve experienced sudden weight gain or have gained weight without explanation, you should speak with a healthcare professional about it.
While the evidence for walking for weight loss is strong, these studies don’t necessarily take into account a number of other factors like genetics, eating habits, smoking and drinking. And for weight loss, the impact of those things can be important to your outcome.
This means that every person is different when it comes to weight loss — everything including your height, age, gender, starting weight, diet and level of activity will dictate the precise number of steps, miles or calories you’ll need to burn to lose weight.
So what’s the average expected return on time on the treadmill?
First, it’s typically the case that people with a lot of excess weight will lose more weight more easily, at least initially. But walking for weight loss can work for almost everyone.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for instance, a person weighing 154 lbs walking at a moderate pace of around 3.5 miles per hour will burn up to 140 calories walking at least 30 minutes a day. Five walks like this a week would equate to roughly 700 calories a week, which is close to the 3,500 needed to burn one pound of fat per month.
A 2015 study, meanwhile, found that 150 minutes a week of walking (or 75 minutes of jogging) is the minimum needed to stabilize your weight — to initiate weight loss, around 300 minutes of walking per week is needed, along with changes to your diet.
You’ve got several metrics to measure your movement, so now let’s talk about how to keep moving momentum… you know… moving.
Walking is pretty easy, if we’re being honest — you just put one foot in front of the other. And yet so many of us struggle to commit to doing it daily, even though it might make our lives (and wardrobes) better. Sound familiar? If so, we’ve assembled some tips to help you make walking more productive, less intimidating and more doable every day.
Here’s how to make it work for you.
Stepping out of your front door is usually the hardest part of getting started every day, and the worst part is that just getting started isn’t always sufficient to capture the benefits of walking. For the best results, you need a walking plan that challenges you.
Maybe you want to focus on walking off a particular number of calories or walking for a particular number of miles or amount of time. Whatever you decide, setting a goal will help motivate you and keep you moving.
Productivity experts and medical experts agree that a good routine or habit is key to continuing to get enough exercise — and to build a good habit or daily routine, you need a cue.
Some people can just get out of bed first thing in the morning and do their walking workout without an issue, but if you have trouble getting yourself dressed and out the door or struggle to squeeze in your steps, you can create a cue that will make it easier to break through that resistance.
You might hit the pavement right after turning on your coffee maker, or put your pedometer to work during the second half of your lunch break.
Habits don’t have to be oppressive either. You can make rules to support your other needs, like skipping your evening walk any day that you get home more than an hour late from work. Sometimes it’s okay to prioritize your mental health over your fitness level.
Just make sure that you also make a rule not to skip more than two days in a row.
No, we’re not suggesting that exercise is always a comfortable activity. It’s not always a walk in the park (lol).
But you don’t have to accept that physical activity has to be a miserable experience. Exercise that helps you achieve weight loss goals shouldn’t be too easy, but you can make it less difficult, reduce your risk of injury and distract yourself from discomfort in a number of ways.
For example, wearing clothes that don’t chafe and are breathable can make hitting your steps easier.
Walking shoes with proper support will reduce the risk of blisters, rolled ankles and other dangers that beginners are prone to. Shoe technology changes all the time, and your needs will depend on the terrain you plan to walk over and the walking pace you plan to keep. You’ll want to discuss those with an expert, be they a trainer or sporting goods expert.
Also important to your shoe choice: your current body weight and walking experience, as both may require certain types of ankle support, comfort and cushioning.
We’re all for being safe and careful when you’re getting exercise. Safety concerns aside, there are plenty of reasons to walk with friends, join walking groups or find yourself a personal trainer to keep pace with.
Having an accountability buddy can help you keep up your walking pace on slow days and keep you committed on the days when you don’t feel like showing up — plus, great conversation can keep your spirits up and your blood pressure down.
Let’s be real. Sometimes, being forced out for a walk by the obligation to keep yourself at a healthy weight can seem like literal torture. Might as well listen to that favorite true-crime podcast, or some death metal.
Not your thing? Pop on whatever pop hits, groovy beats or background noise you want to break up the daily walk and distract yourself from those first unpleasant blocks until you hit your stride.
While walking is important, so are factors like how well you sleep, at least according to science. Research shows that getting enough sleep every night was associated with better burning of fat and with weight loss in general.
So if you’re working to feel the burn or bring on the sweat, fine. Just make sure you’re also keeping the activity level high enough to exhaust yourself by bedtime.
Remember how we said that more intense exercise can give you results more quickly? Make use of that information. Low-impact exercise is always great, but to prevent heart disease and burn off belly fat, sometimes you need to increase the intensity of your walk.
One word: cardio. You don’t need every walk to feel like the first week of boot camp, but if you’ve noticed you’re coming back from your strolls without feeling like you’ve worked for it, it may be time to make some changes.
You can increase the intensity of your workout by power walking uphill both ways like your grandparents claim they did heading to school each morning, but you can also get your heart rate up by increasing your walking speed or walking across some uneven terrain — anything that gets your activity level up and adds aerobic exercise to your step count.
If you’re looking to burn calories and drop body fat, the health benefits of an exercise routine are irrefutable — and walking can absolutely be part of that.
Here’s what to remember:
While many factors play a role in weight gain and weight loss, walking, along with diet changes, is a well-established way to drop pounds.
How many pounds you’ll drop depends on a number of factors, from the calories you consume to your weight, age, gender and genetics.
Generally speaking, 300 minutes of walking a week will help with weight loss. Up to 10,000 steps a day can also contribute to a reduced risk of mortality, but you don’t need to get that many to see benefits.
If you’re trying to keep the walking habit going, set goals, get the right shoes and clothing, challenge yourself and bring podcasts, playlists or friends along to stay entertained.
Regular exercise and physical movement are only one option available to help you feel more comfortable in the body you’re in. Learn more about effective weight loss treatments.
Dr. Craig Primack MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA is a physician specializing in obesity medicine.
He completed a combined residency in Internal Medicine and in Pediatrics at Banner University- Phoenix, and Phoenix Children's Hospital. He received post-residency training in Obesity Medicine and is one of about 7,000 physicians in the US certified by the American Board of Obesity Medicine.
In 2006, Dr. Primack co-founded Scottdale Weight Loss Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he began practicing full-time obesity medicine. Scottsdale Weight Loss Center has grown since then to six obesity medicine clinicians in four locations around the greater Phoenix Metropolitan area.
From 2019-2021, he served as president of the Obesity Medicine Association (OMA), a society of over 5,000 clinicians dedicated to clinical obesity medicine. He has been on the OMA board since 2010, currently serving as ex-officio trustee.
Dr Primack routinely does media interviews regarding weight loss and regularly speaks around the country educating medical professionals about weight loss and obesity care. He is co-author of the book, “Chasing Diets”.