How Much to Walk for Weight Loss & More

In this day and age of high-tech fitness, it's important to know that a simple walking habit can still go a long way towards keeping you healthy and fit. It can also help to improve existing symptoms of certain conditions, such as high blood pressure and Type 2 Diabetes. As you will read below, arming yourself with basic knowledge and a plan is the most important ingredient in your success. Especially when intense exercise is not possible or desired (such as when you are following a Very Low Calorie Diet or VLCD), these guidelines can really make a difference.

Walking is man’s best medicine


Walking for an hour a day can reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, blood pressure, stroke, breast cancer, colon cancer, dementia, and even death. Walking can also help to alleviate symptoms of depression, help you sleep better and improve cognitive function.

Many other cardiovascular activities boast these health benefits, but the great thing about walking is that you already know how to do it, you need virtually no equipment (bar shoes and clothing), you can do it at any age, it’s easy on the joints and body, and the risk of injury is exceptionally low. Indeed a study has suggested that walking is just as good as running at reducing the risk of health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease! The point is, there's no need to think of walking as running’s downgraded cousin. Walking is awesome.

How Fast to Walk for Weight Loss?

Talk to your counselor or your doctor before starting any exercise regimen. In general, to lose weight walking, aim for 30 – 60 minutes at a brisk pace or - if you’re very fit - a power walk pace. Walking briskly isn’t just about weight loss. You need to walk at a pace of at least that of a brisk walk to reap the many health benefits of walking.

For longer walks (e.g. 90 to 120 minutes), walk up to 60 minutes at a brisk pace, then slow down a little to complete the rest of your walk at a comfortable pace.

So, how fast are a stroll, brisk walk and power walk?

Stroll. This is a window-shopping type pace. On the RPE scale it’s an intensity of about 4 out of 10.

Brisk walk. This is walking at a pace of about 3.5 to 4 mph. It’s a pace you might walk at when you’re walking fast because you’re running late for an appointment. On the RPE scale this is an intensity of 5 – 6 on a scale of 10. Heart rate target is about 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. You can carry on a conversation, but will need to catch your breath every few sentences.

Power walk. Here you’re walking at a pace of about 4 – 5mph. You’re seriously burning fat at this level. On the RPE scale it about a 7 or 8 on a scale of 10. You can still talk, but only is short spurts of three or four words.

Below is a rough guide of how many calories you’ll burn when walking at different speeds.

Speed/ Pounds100lb120lb140lb160lb180lb200lb220lb250lb275lb
2.0 mph
(30 min/mile)
2.5 mph
(24 min/mile)
3.0 mph
(20 min/mile)
3.5 mph
(17 min/mile)
4.0 mph
(15 min/mile)
4.5 mph
5.0 mph
(12 min/mile)


How Long Should You Walk Each Day?

Aim to walk continuously for 30 – 60 minutes most days of the week to lose weight walking. If you walk at a brisk pace for 30 minutes, you’ll cover a distance of about 1½ to 2 miles (2.5 to 3.3 kilometers). Take the distance into consideration when planning your walking route.

On your non-walking days do other activities such as yoga or light strength training. However, if you feel worn out at any time, take a day off to recuperate and resume your walking schedule the next day. Fatigue is one of the four big factors in deviating from a good eating or diet plan.


How walking helps:
It provides better blood sugar control, especially as we get older and become more resistant to insulin’s blood-sugar-lowering effects. Amazingly, the benefits are immediate, says Robert Gabbay, M.D., chief medical officer at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. If, for example, you splurge on chocolate cake, walking right after can prevent an immediate blood sugar spike, he says.

Walking Rx:
Walk for 15 minutes at an easy pace (about 3 mph or so) half an hour after breakfast, lunch and dinner. Short postmeal walks, three times a day, were as effective as one 45-minute walk in improving blood sugar control over 24 hours, researchers say.

If you’ve been sedentary and haven’t walked for a while, begin with a five- or 10-minute walk after each meal. It’s all about taking those first few steps, says Jacqueline Shahar, a clinical exercise physiologist at the Joslin Diabetes Center. “I take people with diabetes to the gym to walk on a treadmill or elliptical [machine] while we chat. After 10 minutes, I check their blood sugar, and they’re always amazed that it’s plummeted.”

Because people with diabetes can develop foot infections due to reduced blood flow to the feet, it’s important to get properly fitted for walking shoes before beginning an exercise regimen. Your podiatrist can help.


How walking helps:
Walking can lower systolic blood pressure (the top number) by 5 to 11 points, and diastolic pressure (the bottom number) by 4 to 8 points, according to a 2010 review of 27 studies that investigated the effects of walking on blood pressure. A 2016 report by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute found that brisk walking protects your coronary arteries and reduces your risk for coronary artery disease.

Walking Rx:
Shoot for at least 1.75 miles at a moderate pace (3 to 4.5 mph) most days of the week to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, says Paul T. Williams, a life sciences researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., who has coauthored several studies on walking and heart disease. In fact, Williams’ research team has determined that walking even beats running for those trying to avoid high blood pressure. Walkers reduced their risk for hypertension by about 7 percent, compared with runners, who reduced their risk by just 4 percent. What’s more, walkers reduced their risk for coronary artery disease by more than 9 percent, compared with runners, who lessened their risk by 4.5 percent.


How walking helps:
Morning walks expose your body to essential early daylight. “Bright light inhibits the body’s secretion of melatonin, our natural sleep agent. When you block melatonin in the morning by walking outside, it then bounces back later in the day, helping to promote sleep,” says Donald W. Greenblatt, M.D., director of the University of Rochester Sleep Disorders Center. Evening walks can also promote sleep, as we sleep best when our bodies are in “cool-down mode.” Walking in the evening causes your body to heat up, and as you cool off, it signals to your body that it’s time to go to bed.

Walking Rx:
Whether you’re walking in the early morning for the bright light exposure, or in the early evening for body cooling (or both), aim for a 15- to 30-minute walk. It’s best if you can walk daily; if not, the more frequently the better. Walk at a comfortable pace, and never walk later than three hours before bedtime. Be patient: Some evidence suggests that it can take a couple of months to get the full sleep benefit of exercise, so don’t be disappointed if you don’t experience an immediate effect, Greenblatt says.


How walking helps:
It strengthens the muscles that help support joints, helps shed pounds, and improves joint pain and stiffness. In a 2015 review of 54 studies examining the effects of “land-based therapeutic exercise” on arthritis of the knee, researchers concluded that walking, as well as other exercise, was as effective as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain relief.

Walking Rx:
Instead of 30 to 60 minutes five days a week (a common recommendation), Leigh F. Callahan, a spokesperson for the Arthritis Foundation, recommends starting with just five minutes and building from there. “Many people with arthritis are afraid of even a slow stroll,” Callahan says. Their joints hurt when they walk, and it’s easy for them to imagine that the pain means they’re causing even more damage. It’s true that those first couple of walks may cause some temporary discomfort. If the pain persists longer than two hours following your walk, take a shorter, less intense walk the next time. But do keep moving.

In a 2002 study of people with knee arthritis, researchers compared three different regimens: 10 minutes of walking three times a week; at-home leg and knee exercises; and normal activity. The walkers and exercisers had less pain and greater physical functioning than the control group.

Remember Your Diet

Whether you are walking for fitness or fat loss, your exercise should fit your diet goals. Make sure to eat the food on your weight loss plan and get all the supplements as recommended. When you are eating a healthy combination of real foods and going for regular walks, you should lose weight gradually and easily.

This article was adapted by Susan Malzone from an online presentation by AARP and Health & Style online magazine.

Susan Malzone, Nutritional Director, Physicians Weight Loss Centers in Ashburn & Fairfax, VA

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