Can you lose weight by walking?

Three senior African American women walking and laughing together
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Can you lose weight by walking? All physical activity, including walking, burns fat and this can help you lose weight. And the more and faster you walk, the more calories you’ll torch. Whether you’re pounding the pavement or striding it out on one of the best walking treadmills, walking is a wonderful workout when it comes to weight loss. 

Walking, particularly outdoors, has so many physical and mental health benefits. A study published in Frontiers in Endocrinology found that doing 7,500 steps a day (3,000 at a brisk pace) could be enough to prevent type 2 diabetes. And further research in Frontiers in Psychology found that exposure to natural environments and green spaces has been associated with lower levels of stress and depression.

“Walking, especially in nature, uses just enough brain power that you actually switch off, which is why you can often walk somewhere and not think about anything, almost forcing mental relaxation,” says personal trainer Rachael Sacerdoti, founder of It’s So Simple

“This makes it the perfect Low Impact Steady State (LISS) exercise and ideal for everyone – walking for a long period causes less damage to the body, soothing the parasympathetic nervous system without overstressing it.”

For safe and sustainable weight loss, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people lose one to two pounds a week. Find out if walking can lower your blood pressure, or read on to find out how much walking you need to do to achieve your weight loss goals.

Can you lose weight by walking?

Man walking up mountainside

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Walking is one of the best methods for losing weight, as it is low impact meaning there is less stress on the joints and therefore lower risk of injury,” says Lily Chapman nutritionist for P3RFORM.

“The amount of calories you burn will depend on your personal stats such as your height, body weight, body fat percentage, and how briskly you walk. As a general rule, you will burn more calories if your heart rate is higher, and someone who is less fit will generally have a higher heart rate and therefore burn more calories. 

“Because walking is a more comfortable exercise than running or High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), many individuals will be more likely to keep up the habit. In general, you do need to be in a calorie deficit in order to lose weight. If you are burning calories by walking, you won’t need to overly restrict your diet, which means you’re more likely to be successful in losing weight long term.” 

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that ‘moderate walking enhances the effects of an energy-restricted diet on fat mass loss’. Chapman says: “An energy-restricted diet means the same thing as being in a calorie deficit, so this shows that walking could speed up the weight loss process when in a calorie deficit.”

How much walking do you need to do for it to be an effective weight loss tool?

Woman out walking holding her phone

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A study by the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders found that in two groups of women who walked 30 minutes a day or 60 minutes daily, both groups had ‘similar and significant beneficial changes’ in their health-related variables (i.e. weight loss). 

“What this shows is that even a short walk each day is enough to make significant changes to your body fat, blood pressure, and even cholesterol level,” says Chapman, and Sacerdoti agrees. “Walking is an excellent starter activity, especially for anyone who has been inactive.”

“To see better results, walking for an extended period of time at a faster pace than your normal walking rate will help you achieve better weight loss. If a long walk scares you, start with three 15-minute walks a day,” Sacerdoti goes on to add. “Frequent short walks can provide benefits, too, and if you walk after you eat, it can help control your blood sugar levels.”

Are there ways to make walking more effective?

Woman walking on sand dunes

(Image credit: Getty)

The key to losing weight from walking is to walk fast enough or with enough intensity to burn fat for energy. And the bigger walks you do, the more you burn stored fat, instead of the sugars your body uses for energy. One way to make walking more effective is to add hills, climbs or do intervals. 

“Whatever you can do to increase the calorie expenditure is good,” says Sacerdoti. “Uphill walking is excellent for this, be it an incline on a treadmill, or a brisk walk up a hill – anything that gets your heart rate pumping a little faster will help you burn more calories. Also, walking at an incline reduces the impact on legs and joints. 

“Adding in some power walking intervals, 5-10 mins at a time, will also provide a larger calorie burn. Weighted vests are good as they will make your body work harder, which means more calories spent, but be sure that weight is evenly supported so as not to interfere with your posture – posture is very important for getting the most out of your walk.”

How can you squeeze more walking into your day?

Sacerdoti says: “Try getting off the train or bus a stop earlier, or walking the entire journey to work if the weather is good. Take the stairs at every opportunity you can - this is also excellent for your glutes. Meet up with friends for a stroll in the park and take lunchtime walks. Anything in nature will immediately boost your mood too, so it’s a win-win!”

As with any exercise, the key to being consistent is finding something that works for you. So mix things up with different types of walking workouts – intervals, hill climbs, short and fast walks, and long ones over different terrains. 

Sacerdoti adds: “As with any exercise, form is important. To get the best out of your walk, activate your core with your back nice and straight, shoulders square, and head up. 

“Engage your glutes with each stride, landing on your heels, rolling forward, and pushing off with your toes. It’s important to stay hydrated, and most definitely worth investing in a good pair of shoes to help improve posture and avoid injury. And don’t forget to stretch when you get back from your walk.”

And if walking isn’t really your thing, don’t worry! Our pieces on ‘is running good for weight loss?’ and ‘are exercise bikes good for weight loss?’ are brilliant if you’re looking for a suitable alternative to stay fit and healthy. 

Maddy Biddulph

Maddy has been a writer and editor for 25 years, and has worked for some of the UK's bestselling newspapers and women’s magazines, including Marie Claire, The Sunday Times and Women's Health. Maddy is also a fully qualified Level 3 Personal Trainer, specializing in helping busy women over 40 navigate menopause.