If it seems like doctors, nutritionists, healthcare experts, and celebrities are always pitching a new magic bullet for weight loss or fat reduction, they are. Whether it’s a fad diet, a fun new workout, or just a new habit to incorporate into your daily routine, popular health trends are ever-evolving. Walking may seem like an unimaginative alternative compared to some of these innovative new weight loss techniques. However, depending on your weight and pace, you can burn up to 75-160 calories per mile walked. Even at a relatively leisurely pace, you can burn double that amount over an hour.
But many forms of exercise can meet or exceed those calorie burns, so why has walking become the flavor of the day among many healthcare experts?
Advantages of Walking as a Form of Exercise
For individuals who lead busy lifestyles, walking may be an effective counter to an otherwise sedentary lifestyle. Going to the gym involves driving to a location, changing clothes, warming up, showering after a workout, getting dressed, and driving home. The chores surrounding workouts can take almost as much time as the workout. Walking does not necessarily involve quite as much preparation or cleanup. If the weather is moderate, you can walk for 30 or 40 minutes during your lunch break without needing to shower afterward.
Additionally, the efficaciousness of walking does not depend on it being part of one continuous workout. While few would want to go through stretching, warming up, changing, and showering for a ten-minute run or a few minutes of pickleball, they would think nothing of going for three separate ten-minute walks in one day. All of these steps tend to add up and can be done during normal breaks in the action of the day.
Understanding the Science Behind Weight Loss and Walking
There has been extensive research regarding walking, and it has been found to be beneficial in multiple ways.
Weight Loss and Obesity
Generating a calorie deficit is one of the most effective ways to reduce fat or lose weight. That means burning more calories than you consume. Every person burns a certain amount of calories without performing any exercise. Your bodily processes require energy in the form of calories, whether you are at work, relaxing, or even sleeping.
The basal metabolic rate determines the number of calories a body burns while at rest. While most people can lose weight by dropping their consumption below the basal calorie count through diet, walking burns additional calories.
For example, if you were to burn 300 calories by walking 2.5 miles throughout the day and your basal metabolism burns 2,000 calories, you could lose weight by consuming fewer than 2,300 calories. Naturally, consistency is important. You can quickly make up the calorie deficit of several days with a single day of overindulgence.
Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)
Many physicians recommend walking for people with cardiovascular disease. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “A meta-analysis of 32 randomized controlled trials found that walking increased aerobic capacity of the heart, lowered blood pressure, and reduced body mass index and body fat.”
Increased physical exercise can lead to a reduction in blood glucose. When an individual exercises, they draw glucose from the blood. This can lead to an improvement in insulin response. Consequently, the members of the medical community prescribe walking for individuals with type-1 and type-2 diabetes.
Another meta-analysis reported by the Harvard School of Public Health involving over 30 million participants determined that adult subjects who participated in 150 minutes of moderate exercise had a 31% lower risk of dying an early death than those who didn’t.
The evidence is clear: routine walking is a healthy habit, but what’s the right amount?
How Many Steps Per Day – Debunking the 10,000-Step Myth
You’ve probably heard something to the effect that 10,000 is the number of steps that you should shoot for on a daily basis. But where did this number come from? Would 9,000 steps be almost as good? Can you work ahead for the next day by completing 11,000 steps? What’s so special about this number?
History of the 10,000-step Number
The origin of the 10,000-step number actually comes from a marketing campaign launched during the 1964 Olympics, which took place in Tokyo, Japan. The campaign was for a pedometer, and the marketing team took their cue from the Japanese character for 10,000, which loosely resembles a person walking.
So, is 10,000 the right number? 10,000 steps is roughly the equivalent of five miles for the average walker, which can burn about 300 to 800 calories per day. This might seem like a daunting number to some people. If you have concerns because you can’t seem to hit 10,000 steps every day, though, you might be in luck.
A 2019 study entitled “Association of Step Volume and Intensity with All-Cause Mortality in Older Women” led to some very interesting findings. The study involved 16,41 women between ages 62 and 101, with the average being 72. The study found the following:
- Sedentary women averaged 2,700 steps every day.
- The women who averaged a minimum of 4,400 steps every day (fewer than half the 10,000-step benchmark) had a 41% mortality reduction.
- Mortality improved up to about 7,500 steps, at which point it leveled off.
- When compared by age, the most active groups had nine fewer deaths per thousand than the least active groups.
Fat Reduction and Weight Loss
However, if your goal isn’t a reduction in mortality, you may require more steps.
For example, if your goal is fat reduction, you almost can’t go wrong by increasing your number of steps (within reason). With all other things being equal, if you increase your steps from 10,000 to 12,000, you’ll burn 20% more calories. So, a 300-calorie burn would become a 360-calorie burn. Over time, those extra calories will really start to add up.
The Right Number of Steps for You
There is no one-size-fits-all number that once achieved will yield maximum results. If you’re considering trying a step goal, it may be helpful to know how many steps you already take in a day. You can use a commercial pedometer to find the number of steps you take. Just leave it on and go about your normal day without taking extra steps.
It may be helpful to average three typical days to eliminate any outliers, like a random trip to the mall or losing your car in the grocery store parking lot. If you’re unsure about being able to hit a goal that you’ve set for yourself, work up to it incrementally. And always consult your doctor before a change in health habits.
It’s important to acknowledge that there’s nothing intrinsically special about 10,000 steps. One individual may achieve the same benefits with 5,000 steps, while it may take another 13,000 steps.
Factors Influencing Calorie Burn During Walking
If you’re walking with a friend or your partner, you may not see the same results. In fact, there are so many factors that go into walking that it’s unlikely that you would see identical results to your walking partner. These are some of the most significant factors that determine the calories that you burn.
The More You Weigh, The More Calories You Burn
Your weight is one of the most significant factors in your calorie burn. Even if you would be considered to be overweight, you probably also have a greater amount of muscle mass than a smaller version of yourself. Since you are engaging your muscles during the walk, the more you have, the more you burn.
A person weighing 180 pounds may burn about 100 calories during a one-mile walk. That same person might burn 85 calories if they weigh 160 pounds or 120 if they weigh 200 pounds. Increasing muscle mass and density is one of the reasons that healthcare experts often recommend incorporating strength training into their patients’ fitness routines.
The Faster You Walk, The More Calories You Burn
If you increase your pace, you will not only finish your distance goals in a shorter amount of time, but you will also burn more calories. Although, the difference is not as significant as it is with body mass. For instance, a person who burns 100 calories on a slower walk (2.5 to 3 mph) might burn 105 to 108 on a faster walk (3.5 mph). On a much faster pace of 4.5 mph, they might burn 115 calories. If you’re trying to squeeze a walk in on your lunch break or you’re walking to an appointment, you may want to pick up your pace and burn a few extra calories. The average pace for a walk is about the speed you would walk a dog without the stops.
Men Burn Calories at a Higher Rate than Women
With all other factors being equal (i.e., pace, weight, and age), men tend to burn calories faster than women. This can mostly be attributed to muscle density. Men burn about 5 to 10 more calories than women through similar activity — even at rest.
Older People Burn Calories at a Slower Rate
There are a number of factors that go into the metabolic slowdown that occurs with age, but one of the major culprits is the age-related reduction in muscle mass. Less muscle means a slower metabolism, which also means that the body burns calories at a slower rate.
If you are incorporating walking into your health routines, it’s important not to compare yourself with others. As a general rule, you are healthier incorporating some form of light cardiovascular exercise into your day than not.
Setting Realistic Weight Loss Goals With Steps
If you’re now sold on steps, it’s important to set realistic and achievable goals. If you have to lose a significant amount of weight, walking 10,000 steps per day may work too slowly. On the other hand, if you haven’t done any form of exercise in a while, you have a serious health condition, or you’re recovering from an accident, walking five miles in a day may not be possible. Here are some tips for setting goals with steps.
Determine How You’re Going to Track Your Steps
From digital pedometers to watches to apps for your phone, there are a number of products for counting your steps. Once you choose which you’ll use, be consistent. Some research indicates that external pedometers and watches are more accurate than built-in step trackers in smartphones. So, whichever you choose, try not to alternate between devices.
Decide What You Consider Success
You may want to achieve a certain number of steps, or you may want to hit a goal weight. Set a number, whether it’s 9,000 steps per day or to lose 25 pounds. It will help you stay on track.
Calculate Your Non-Exercise Steps
One of the great parts about walking is that every step you take counts — including the ones that just occur throughout the day. You can calculate your natural daily steps by tracking them when you aren’t walking with the intention of exercising. In other words, turn your tracker on and just let it go. If you decide to go for a walk, subtract those steps from the total.
This way you can determine how many additional steps you need to take to complete your goal and how much time you need to add.
Chip Away at the Total
If your job entails you sitting at a desk, you might find that you owe yourself a lot of steps at the end of the day. This can be discouraging. Here are a few ways to chip away at the total.
- Park further away in parking lots.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Walk for a few minutes during your breaks.
- Schedule an hourly trip to the restroom or water cooler.
- Spend 15 minutes of your lunch break taking a walk.
You could easily rack up a few thousand extra steps per day using these methods, making your goal much easier to achieve.
Benefits Beyond Weight Loss: Overall Health and Walking
While walking is a great way to burn extra calories and lose fat, there are other benefits to this fundamental form of exercise:
- It is also a good opportunity to absorb fresh air and sunlight.
- You can use the time to reflect on the day, clear your head, and center yourself mentally.
- Every walk can lead to new discoveries in your environment.
- If you walk to a destination that you would normally drive to, you can save money on gas or transportation.
- It elevates your heart rate, improving cardiovascular health.
Incorporating Uphill Routes for Enhanced Results
Although walking is a flexible form of exercise, it does require a time commitment. At a typical pace, 8,000 steps can take over an hour to achieve. However, you can reduce the need for so many steps by walking up inclines. When you walk up an incline, it increases the amount of energy required for a step. Consequently, you burn more calories than you would walking on a flat surface.
If you don’t live near any hills, a bridge or a ramp in a parking garage can provide the appropriate steepness to increase the intensity of your walk. Climbing stairs is a much more intense exercise, but if you are short of time, you can walk up and down a staircase five or six times. Naturally, walking upstairs burns calories at a higher rate than descending stairs.
Another Way to Get Rid of Fat
At Emerald Laser, we highly encourage patients to incorporate health habits, like walking, to reduce fat and achieve overall health. Many people find it difficult to get rid of pockets of stubborn fat. Emerald Laser lipolysis by Erchonia works by targeting fat cells with a cool laser. It has been proven effective through multiple scientific studies, and is painless, quick, and non-invasive. If you are trying to reduce fat through diet and exercise, but have met with some stumbling blocks, contact an Emerald Laser provider near you today.