By Faye M Smith
Whether you're specifically walking for weight loss or just appreciating the beauty of the outdoors, you're doing wonders for your physical and mental health by getting outside and putting one foot in front of the other.
Dedicated gym-goers and marathon runners might raise an eyebrow at whether walking is actually a workout, but multiple studies show that walking is one of the best activities we can do for our health – and stepping up your walking routine to aid weight loss is actually super easy. All you need is a pair of the best women’s walking shoes and maybe some comfortable workout leggings and you’re ready to go.
Just 30 minutes of walking, five times a week, can have a huge impact on your health. Incorporating different paces, speeds and even elements such as lunges and squats into your walk, can also be an effective way to help the pounds fall away.
“Walking helps to protect against cardiovascular diseases, cancer, bone-thinning osteoporosis and dementia,” says Dr. Melanie Wynne-Jones. “It’s also good for our mental health to get outside and see gardens or green spaces, and walking can be sociable, too.”
Work on your walking style
Improve your technique and walking becomes a body-toning workout:
- Lengthen your spine through your neck. This will lift your head, relax your shoulders, help you go faster and ease lower back pain. “Avoid slouching your shoulders, turning your feet outwards or inwards, collapsing through the arch of your foot or just walking on your toes,” advises trainer Chris Richardson.
- Stop clenching. It’s tempting to tighten those bottom cheeks, but if you release them, you’ll get a natural sway, which helps reduce back tension. It makes your tummy area work harder, too for a core strengthening bonus!
- Shorten your stride. We know you’re keen to walk faster, but taking giant steps will overtax your leg muscles and put strain on your knee joints. Trust us, shorter really does equal more calorie-burning speed – ideal when walking for weight loss.
- Pull your tummy in towards your spine. Then keep it there but without holding your breath. Tricky at first, but combined with cardio-pumping power walking, it really does help tone up your middle.
Boost your motivation
Even when the weather is miserable, keep going with these easy tricks:
- Add great sounds to hype your calorie burning. Studies at a US university revealed that women who walked at least three times a week to music lost around 16lb in six months, whereas those who walked in silence only managed 8lb. So grab your headphones and listen to your favourite playlist while you walk.
- Head towards nature. Live near woodland? Try forest bathing – as you walk, submerge yourself in your surroundings by breathing in the aromas and focusing on the nature around you. Japanese researchers found it can reduce stress while boosting immunity and wellbeing. Plus, a study by the mental health organisation Mind showed that taking a walk in natural surroundings increased sensations of happiness in 71% of participants.
- Think about signing up to a charity walk. Not only will you raise money but it will give you a goal. Plus, joining up with a friend will keep you both motivated.
- Grab some poles. Walking poles ramp up calorie-burning by 20%, so it makes sense to use them. The right technique is key: Swing poles so that the one in your right hand strikes the ground as your left foot hits the floor, then the left-hand pole hits as your right foot strikes the ground, and so on.
Your 30-day walking for weight loss plan
This month-long walking challenge is all about maximising the activity on your daily walk to help you reap the full benefits of walking.
There are three levels. Find yours using the test and then follow the targets below. If you find that your level is too easy, switch to a more advanced one – the key thing is the consistency of your efforts.
Do the daily walks and the weekly booster walks when you can, but don’t stress, the most important things is that you enjoy your time outside! “We’ve massively over-complicated health,” says TV GP Dr Rangan Chatterjee. “We think everything needs to take a long time and a lot of effort, but a five-minute walk around the block can make a difference. Every little counts.”
If you want to up the benefits, up your pace instead. Research at America’s Duke University found that the walking speed of middle-aged people was a good guide to how well they were ageing. Slower walkers aged faster, with immune systems, lungs and even teeth in a worse condition than the faster movers.
Not sure how you fast should you go? It depends on your age and fitness, but aiming for a certain pace doesn’t have to be complicated. A good measure is that you should sweat a little bit, feel your heart rate rise but should still be able to hold a conversation. If you’re one for stats and gadgets, try to stick to 100 steps a minute (2.7mph). Check your pace by counting how many steps you take in 10 seconds and multiplying by six. Anything above 130 steps a minute would count as a vigorous walk.
Take the test:
Beginner? If your daily average is less than 5,000, opt for the Novice Level
Daily output between 5,000 and 7,500? Go for the Intermediate Level
If your daily average is 7,500+, choose the Whizz Level
Take on our walking challenge
Novice 5,000 steps
Intermediate 7,000 steps
Whizz 7,500 steps
Novice 5,550 steps
Intermediate 7,500 steps
Whizz 8,000 steps
Novice 6,000 steps
Intermediate 8,000 steps
Whizz 9,000 steps
Novice 6,500 steps
Intermediate 8,500 steps
Whizz 10,000 steps
ADD IN THESE, TOO…
Twice a week, do two extra-brisk walks. Each should take 10-15 minutes, building up to 20-25 minutes.
Novice 1,200-1,500 steps
Intermediate 1,500 steps
Whizz 1,700 steps
Novice 1,500-1,800 steps
Intermediate 1,700 steps
Whizz 1,800 steps
Novice 1,800 steps
Intermediate 2,000 steps
Whizz 2,500 steps
Novice 2,000 steps
Intermediate 2,500 steps
Whizz 3,000 steps
Improve your weight loss results
If you want to make your workout harder, add some extra strength exercises in. “Adding these exercises to your walks will boost your muscle strength and endurance, as well as improving your balance and walking gait (the way you walk),” says Chris. Pause your walk at every 1,000 steps and aim for either 10 (Novice), 20 (Intermediate) or 30 (Whizz) repetitions of the below.
With feet shoulder-width apart, step your left leg behind you and to the right. Bend both knees, so you’re in a curtsy position. From here, jump to the side to switch the position of your legs, ending in a curtsy lunge with leg positions reversed. Split the rep count between each leg.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Keep your feet flat and back straight, then lower into a sitting position. Lift your arms out in front of you to balance. Hold for three seconds, push your heels into the floor and drive up to standing.
Start with your legs together. Lift your right leg over your left leg, so they’re crossed. Interlink your arms so your right elbow is underneath your left, palms touching. Squat down, hold for three seconds, switch sides and repeat.
Faye M Smith is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years experience in the magazine industry. Her continued work in the area of natural health won her the coveted title of theHealth Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA) Journalist of the Year Award 2021.
Currently Acting Health Editor across several brands including woman&home, Woman and Woman’s Own, Faye specialises in writing about mental health, the menopause, and sex and relationships. In fact, having previously been the go-to sex columnist for Now magazine, there isn't much she won't discuss when it comes to women's health. This makes her the best person to review must-buy sex toys, describe how to have a mind-blowing orgasm or explain how to navigate sex in the shower without it ending in a medical emergency.
While not anti-gym, Faye’s fitness routine is more focussed on finding inner balance rather than burning excess calories. An advocate of mindfulness, she loves power breathing, yoga and plenty of walking in nearby woodlands rather than a sweaty HIIT class. Follow her @fayetuned
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