We often dismiss walking as an inferior form of exercise, but it definitely shouldn’t be.
With most gyms having been closed for most of the year — and the foreseeable future — many people have had no choice but to get outside and walk. And they’ve found how effective it can be.
There are many benefits that come from walking, and one may include helping lower your body fat.
Let’s take a look at the benefits of walking, where to start, how much you need, and why it may help with more than just your physique.
Which is the Best Form of Movement?
Since we are a bipedal species, we have an extra curve in our spine that stabilizes the upright position.
This gives us a few forms of transportation include the ability to walk, jog, and sprint.
If we look at these three forms of movement — walking, jogging, sprinting — it seems like the one in the middle may be the best way to go.
But it may also cause the most damage.
This doesn’t happen to everyone, but my years of jogging have resulted in endless days of joint discomfort, knee pain, shin splints, and having to take some time away from it.
You might be in the same boat. In my 20-plus years working in fitness, I have endless stories of the damage that has happened to people's joints and knees from endless running.
It’s not that jogging is bad per se — but our modern approach to it may be. We wear overly comfortable, cushiony shoes that don’t always do much in the way of support. We also run on hard concrete, which can take its toll on the body.
So on each end of the spectrum, we seem to have some better solutions. Sprinting seems like it would be more damaging — but it occurs in a shorter period of time.
There is also more muscle engagement — and possibly better benefits.
Performing sprint intervals is a great way to burn a good amount of calories in a short period, gives the metabolism a boost, improve body composition, may prevent aging, and can keep your body burning calories after you’ve finished.
There's also research published in BMC Endocrine Disorders that shows sprinting could:
- improve high blood sugar levels
- improve cholesterol levels
- reduce blood pressure
- decrease abdominal fat
- improve sugar metabolism
There is also the very effective visual representation of comparing the body composition of a sprinter and a marathon runner.
So sprinting looks pretty good, but it definitely isn’t for everyone. But what about the opposite end of the upright movement spectrum: walking?
The benefits of walking are very underrated, and it’s easily dismissed as not being an effective form of fitness. Let’s look a little deeper into this.
Moving Our Fitness Outside
The pandemic has forced everything inside and caused many gyms to close. I’m not sure how it is where you live, but my health clubs have been mostly closed for the last 10 months.
There is also no sign they will open — and I’m not sure if I necessarily want to go back to one.
I’ve worked in gyms around the world for more than 20 years — and I know how disgusting they actually get.
Even the ones that seem absolutely spotless are still rife with germs and bacteria. I’ve worked in health clubs that look as clean as a hospital and when we would get back the bacteria reports — it would be horrifying.
You may never want to touch a barbell, dumbbell handle, or doorknob ever again.
I understand the complaints regarding the importance of keeping the gyms open — I really do — but you can definitely get fit outside of them.
And in most cases, we’ve had no choice.
Fitness has had to move into our homes, and outside. And this has been why so many people have had to get back into a walking routine.
With limited options for exercise, walking has emerged as not only a way to stay active — but pretty crucial for mental health.
There are many other ways to burn more calories, but it depends on your goals.
If you just want to move, clear your head, and get some form of exercise: walking is a superb choice.
You might not even have any other options, so it’s nice to know walking is always there. So, how do you make sure you’re getting the most out of it?
Do You Need Fitness Trackers to Make Sure Your Walking is Effective?
These can be a bit tricky. Your phone can track your steps — but it’s not the most accurate.
Wearable tracking technology like a Fitbit can give you a more accurate reading — but they’re not the cheapest things in the world.
And the average person stops using them after 6 months.
The big benefit of these things is to at least give you an indicator of where you are at. Most people have no idea how many steps they take a day.
Some days, it may feel you’ve taken a lot — and then it’s half of what you’ve expected.
Assuming you have a phone, use the health app on it — or a step counter app in the app store — to get an idea of where you are at.
But in either case, going for a set amount of time when you walk is the easiest way to track your progress, and to add in more steps each day.
How Do You Put All This Together?
The average person takes about 4,000 steps in 30 minutes — so this is a good frame of reference to use.
If you are new to walking, you don’t need to take 20,000 steps the first day. Start with 15-20 minutes or so, and build from there.
This is a low-impact form of exercise, and one that you can do for extended periods of time — but you still want to build yourself up.
If you do 20 minutes a day for a week, try to go for 25 minutes each day for the next week. Then, just keep building from there.
Walking for 45–60 minutes each day is a pretty good goal to aim for.
What about getting 10,000 steps a day? This is another great goal, but why is it so specific?
The reasoning behind this definitive number seems to have been set by companies like Fitbit.
Their idea is that taking around 10,000 steps may roughly burn about 500 calories. If you did this every day for a week — you would burn 3500 calories.
And 3500 calories is what's contained in a pound of fat.
So the thought is, 10,000 steps is the number you want to take to burn a pound of fat per week. This makes sense on paper, but this is far from a perfect science.
You will never be sure how many calories you are burning, and there are so many other variables that affect this.
This goal was a nice round number and has been embraced — and shared — by wearable technology companies.
But encouraging people to be as active as possible is never a bad thing — it’s just important to not get caught up in all this calorie math.
Your body is a biological organism, not a calculator.
The important thing is that you stay active. Nutrition is always paramount, but all of this time spent walking can still be a great way to burn calories and lose body fat.
This is a small study — and all the variables are hard to track — but in 2014, obese women who walked 50–70 minutes three times per week for 12 weeks, on average, reduced their waist circumference by 1.1 inches (2.8 cm) and lost 1.5% of their body fat.
And then there are the other benefits which may be more important.
The Mental Health Aspect of Walking
This may be the most beneficial reason to walk, and it’s one of the major reasons I do it.
Walking — and being outside — is helpful for better cognitive function. Slogging away on a treadmill, mindlessly watching an episode of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” doesn’t do much for mental stimulation.
But being outside does.
Walking gives your brain more stimulus as it has to navigate through the environment. Walking reduces stress and anxiety and helps with memory and creative thinking.
Just being active can help combat depression — something we have all been experiencing.
The Journal of Clinical Psychology has shown that even just walking three times a week helps improve mental health and reduces that anxiety and depression.
If you’re stuck for time, even just a short 15-minute walk can give your mood a boost, clear your mind, and boost your energy.
No matter how long your walk is, an important part of it should be keeping your head up and your eyes focused on the horizon.
This helps to create a meditation-like effect, which also does wonders for clearing the head.
With the amount of anguish we’ve all been facing, it’s encouraging to know something so simple can be so helpful.
My Own Experiences Getting Back to Walking
I’ve been a decent athlete over the years. I played every sport you can think of, played hockey in college, and have been to Major League Baseball tryout camps.
I’ve got to train — and train with — professional athletes, so I’ve got in pretty good shape with low levels of body fat.
I’ve continued this into my early 40s, but with the gyms being pretty much closed for the last year — I’ve been limited at home.
I noticed my body fat levels were going up. All I’ve had at home is a chin-up bar and two 15 pound dumbbells.
I’ve put together some decent HIIT style workouts but made sure I got back into walking.
After years of abuse on my joints from track and field, football, and hockey — my knees are as non-existent as my love life.
Walking and biking have been my primary sources of cardio.
I wanted to see for myself how effective walking can be. My diet has stayed pretty consistent, and I walked for at least 30–45 minutes a day.
I don’t wear a Fitbit and pay more attention to the time I spend walking.
But I stayed consistent, and would also be sure to get an hour + walk at least 2–3 times a week.
Over the months, I really noticed my conditioning improve, and my abs becoming more visible.
I didn’t have any way to measure body fat at home, so I couldn’t get specific data on that. I also know how the various forms of body fat testing are inferior.
But after decades of training, I know my body well enough to tell when my body fat has dropped to a decent level. I now find myself more excited to walk than other forms of exercise because of the results it's getting me.
Overall, it has amazed me how walking can have such a positive effect on body composition.
Over the years, I’ve trained hundreds of people from around the world.
I’ve seen some make tremendous changes in their health and body fat levels by committing to walking programs.
Nutrition and other factors are always critical — and this is anecdotal evidence — but I’ve seen people lose 20, 30, even 40+ pounds by consistent walking.
This is over the long term, but it’s still encouraging to see. Sometimes, walking was all that was available to them.
Some had no interest in joining a gym, and others didn’t even have the option as they didn’t have a gym near them.
So If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to get out there and get walking.
It’s important to get an idea of where you’re at, have a starting point — and build from there.
Timing your walks is the easiest way to do this. You always want to do a little more than you did the day before.
Even if it’s just 30 seconds more — this all adds up over time.
Walking is free, low-impact, and effective. At the very least, start walking for the mental health benefits it provides.
The other possible benefits can be a pleasant bonus.