“How many minutes a day should you walk to lose weight?” is a common question received by trainers.
Walking is a simple, low-impact, full-body workout that can enable you to both lose weight and gain a base level of fitness.
In this article, we will provide an understanding of how your weight loss program can benefit from walking. The answer is less about how many minutes a day you should be walking and more about how many miles you are walking in a particular amount of time.
First let’s take a look at how weight loss is best achieved in general.
The Not-So-Simple Reality of Weight Loss
“It’s all a matter of calories in and calories burned,” is a common statement in the fitness industry. Sounds simple, right? It absolutely is not that “simple.”
Fitness professionals tend to make this statement to help our clients understand that the calories they eat matter (gimmicks or no gimmicks) and that, at the end of the day, it is the deficit between calories consumed and calories burned that will create weight loss.
Most readers understand that two people can eat the same foods and perform the same exercises AND have different results. This disparity is created by several complex factors, including muscle mass, fat mass, stress response, insulin sensitivity, exercise efficiency, and genetics, which impact hormone levels and/or metabolism.
While the components of weight loss and weight gain are complicated, losing weight does not have to be; and one need not begin with a complicated exercise program. Walking is a perfect place to begin.
Creating A Calorie Deficit
It’s always best to begin tracking your daily intake of food and drinks for a few days before beginning a weight loss program. This enables you to get a sense of (among other things) how many calories you are taking in. These days it is easy to track calories as several apps are available that do most of the difficult work for you. Just be accurate with portion sizes. My Fitness Pal and Avatar Nutrition are two of the most popular calorie tracking apps.
While no two people are the same, the average person will burn about 2000 calories per day. By tracking your intake over a few days, you will have a good idea of how many surplus calories you are consuming each day, and where to most effectively cut them.
How Many Calories Should I Give Up Per Day?
To lose weight, you must burn more calories than you consume. One pound of body fat contains 3500 calories. Therefore, to lose one pound of fat, you must burn 3500 calories from fat. Most professionals will recommend a deficit of between 500-1000 calories. The greater the deficit, the greater the risk of illness, fatigue, and noncompliance. Therefore, most professionals prefer a deficit of around 500 calories, or a net intake of 1500 calories.
Illness and fatigue can result from an over-reduction in calories (whether through exercise or through dieting). A person in this situation will burn fewer calories and feel terrible.
In addition, if you are starving yourself or overexercising, there will come a breaking point psychologically. It is easier to maintain weight loss with modest deficits and steady gains than an unrealistic plan that pits you against your body. Trust me, your body will win.
Creating Your Walking Program Without Worrying About Minutes A Day
Okay, so now you are ready to create a walking program. You know how many calories you need to burn each day: 500 is a respectable number to start with. You know that the average person burns about 2000 calories per day. In this case, you want to reach a daily net intake of 1500 calories. The most effective programs would blend exercise with calorie reduction to meet the 500 calorie deficit.
Get A Fitness Tracker
Fitness trackers are wonderful, simple tools to track your workouts, your calories burned, and your progress! Research these online and find a good one that fits into your budget. I use the Garmin Vivoactive 3 smartwatch and fitness tracker app.
You can also download Under Armour’s “Map My Fitness” app, which will track your distance and time exercising via GPS and provide much of the same great information.
Walking to Burn Fat
Walking is great exercise on many levels, it can release feel good hormones, lubricate arthritic joints, increase insulin sensitivity (a good thing), lower resting heart rate, build endurance for day-to-day tasks, and burn calories. Just the act of walking is a major step (pun intended) toward a healthier you. That said, intensity matters if you want to burn a significant number of calories.
Intensity Matters More Than Minutes A Day
If you choose to walk slowly (see rate of perceived exertion) then you will need to walk for a longer period of time than if you are walking at a pace that is difficult to sustain.
For the average person, walking for one hour (typically three to four miles) burns about 230-400 calories.
Greater Effort Can Burn More Calories
While walking has a variety of health benefits, walking briskly has greater ones; a temporarily elevated metabolism is one of them. In this case, not only will you burn more calories while walking, but your body will continue to burn a higher rate of calories for a few hours after you have stopped walking.
You will have increased your metabolism (the furnace in which you burn calories) and it will remain somewhat elevated for a while after you stop walking.
A Word of Warning
As tempting as it may be, don’t make the mistake of turning every workout into a body and mind crusher. As indicated above, greater effort can burn more calories, but too much stress of any kind will cause the release of the hormone cortisol, which leads to a plethora of negative actions in your body, including fat storage (specifically visceral fat).
In addition, a hard workout tends to make us feel hungrier. And nobody likes feeling hungry.
You Cannot Outrun Your Fork
Being hungry from time to time is manageable, but feeling hungry constantly is not; eventually your physiology wins and a binge ensues. While a craving can be easily gratified on a balanced weight loss program, a binge, brought on by extreme deprivation, is not easily handled and can derail your program.
Remember that meaningful, lasting weight loss comes from a blend of healthy eating habits and exercise. Both overeating and undereating will likely prevent you from achieving your goals.
A Balanced Approach
I always recommend a balanced approach that provides a lot of freedom for my clients. The best program would permit my client to choose how they want to proceed on that given day, so long as they are creating a healthy deficit of about 500 calories and not leaning too much on any one intensity level (or putting too much stock in how many minutes a day they are exercising).
For example, one day they may choose a leisurely stroll for a few hours. Then, on another day, they may choose to cover as much ground as they possibly can in 30 minutes. This mixed bag provides benefits across the board and is easier to sustain indefinitely.
So, How Many Miles Per Week Should I Walk?
Losing and gaining weight are complex and emotional topics. The good news is that you don’t have to understand every nuance if you follow the advice in this article. When it comes to walking for weight loss, focus on how many miles you have covered in a particular amount of time. Doing so is a better gauge of your intensity and how many calories you have burned. A good start would be walking three miles per day, five days per week. Remember to use a good fitness tracker to simplify the process and to monitor calorie intake. You will want to achieve an overall net consumption of 1500 calories per day.
Hiring a personal trainer can really jumpstart progress, and joining a group of walkers in your community can add a social aspect, keeping things fresh.