Walking for weight loss—can you really get fit by doing enough steps?

If you want to try walking for weight loss, here's what you should know

Woman smiling with sun glasses on walking for weight loss over a bridge
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Walking for weight loss isn't always the first activity that springs to mind when we consider the most effective fat-burning exercises. Cycling, HIIT workouts and lengthy runs always seem to make the top of that list. 

But whether you're new to exercise or want to compliment your other training with some light cardio, hitting the pavements for a walk could be the best thing for you. Not only will it be a great calorie-burning exercise if you do it right, but it's lighter on the joints compared to running so you're more likely to avoid injury and go out more often. 

All you need to get started is a pair of the best walking shoes or best hiking boots, depending on the type of terrain you're planning on walking over, and advice from the experts on how to achieve the most suitable technique for you. 

Does walking for weight loss work?

The short answer is yes, walking does help you lose weight. "Walking can be a great tool to increase your daily energy expenditure," explains Aroosha Nekonam, senior personal trainer at Ultimate Performance (opens in new tab). However, if your goal is to lose weight, there's one important factor to consider. 

To lose weight and fat specifically, you need to be in a calorie deficit. This, our expert explains, is where you burn more calories than you eat and drink throughout the day. There are many ways you can go about this, from calorie counting to following plans like the paleo diet, but as a new study from Seoul National University Bundang Hospital (opens in new tab) confirms, reducing your calorie intake is the only way to lose fat. 

"The best way to go achieve this deficit is through a combination of reducing your calories and increasing your physical activity," Aroosha says. "Walking can be a great way to increase your activity levels but remember you can't out-train a bad diet. You could walk for miles and miles, but if you aren’t complementing that with a reduction in calories, it will stunt your fat loss efforts." 

Woman's feet wearing trainers while walking

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to do walking for weight loss correctly

If you want to know how to lose weight, here's how to tweak your technique so you tone up while you walk, according to trainer and founder of Zero Gravity Pilates (opens in new tab), Chris Richardson. 

1. Lengthen your spine through the neck

Most of us walk slightly hunched over, having spent hours sitting throughout the day. When it comes to walking for weight loss, this needs to be the first thing that changes. 

"Walking tall will lift your head, relax your shoulders, help you go faster and ease any lower back pain you might experience," Chris says. Try focusing on a spot a way ahead of you in the distance. 

But it's not only changing our upper body that contributes to how our posture is. "Avoid slouching shoulders, turning your feet outwards or inwards, collapsing the arch of your foot or just walking on your toes," he adds. Aim to strike the ground with your heel first and then roll through your foot to your toe, pushing forward into the next step with your toes. 

2. Stop clenching

It's perfectly natural to tighten your bottom cheeks when walking, Chris says, "but if you release them, you'll get a natural away, which also helps reduce back tension." 

And you'll also get a bonus as it makes your stomach muscles work harder too. 

Couple walking with backpacks through a field in the sunshine

(Image credit: Getty Images)

3. Shorten your stride

When we walk anywhere, we often think we need to get there as quickly as possible. But if you're walking for weight loss, taking long strides is going to work against you. 

"We know you're keen to walk fast," Chris says, "But taking giant steps will overtax your leg muscles and place strain on your knee joints. Shorter really does equal more calorie-burning speed in this case." 

4. Pull your belly button towards your spine

Also known as bracing your core, this keeps your stomach and back muscles tight for stability. It can also relieve any stress or pressure on your lower back.

"Keep it there but without holding your breath," Chris advises. "It's tricky at first but combined with cardio-pumping power walking, it does help to tone up your middle." 

Make walking for weight loss fun—4 tips

There's no doubt about it, workout motivation can be lacking sometimes. Especially in the winter months when sunny days can be few and far between, playing havoc with your energy. These are some great ways to get yourself moving: 

  • Add a great soundtrack—studies from Fairleigh Dickinson University (opens in new tab) 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 lost 8lb. So grab your headphones and listen to your favorite playlist while you walk. You could also try one of the best meditation apps too.
  • 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 organization Research from Mind (opens in new tab) shows that taking a walk in natural surroundings increases sensations of happiness in 71% of participants.
  • Sign up for a charity walk—not only will you raise money, but it will give you something to aim for (and there's plenty of evidence that goal setting is an effective tool). 
  • Grab some poles—just like those used in Nordic walking—they can ramp up calorie-burning by 20 percent. The right technique is key though: 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. 

Try a 30-day walking for weight loss plan

Women hiking in countryside

(Image credit: Getty Images)

This month-long walking challenge is all about maximizing the full benefits of walking. There are three levels—decide 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 is to be consistent and move daily. 

“We’ve massively over-complicated health,” says Dr. Rangan Chatterjee (opens in new tab), a GP. “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.”

An easy way to increase the benefits is to up your pace. Research from Duke University (opens in new tab) has shown that the walking speed of middle-aged people was a good guide to how well they were aging. Slower walkers aged faster, with immune systems, lungs and even teeth in a worse condition than the faster movers. 

Not sure how fast should you go? A good measure is that you should sweat a little bit, feel your heart rate rise but still be able to hold a conversation, Dr. Chatterjee says. If you’ve got one of the best fitness trackers, try to stick to 100 steps a minute (2.7mph)—anything above 130 steps a minute would count as a vigorous walk.

Take the test:

Beginner? If your daily average step count 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

DAYS 1-7

Novice 5,000 steps

Intermediate 7,000 steps

Whizz 7,500 steps

DAYS 8-14

Novice 5,550 steps

Intermediate 7,500 steps

Whizz 8,000 steps

DAYS 15-22

Novice 6,000 steps

Intermediate 8,000 steps

Whizz 9,000 steps

DAYS 23-30

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.

DAYS 1-7

Novice 1,200-1,500 steps

Intermediate 1,500 steps

Whizz 1,700 steps

DAYS 8-14

Novice 1,500-1,800 steps

Intermediate 1,700 steps

Whizz 1,800 steps

DAYS 15-22

Novice 1,800 steps

Intermediate 2,000 steps

Whizz 2,500 steps

DAYS 23-30

Novice 2,000 steps

Intermediate 2,500 steps

Whizz 3,000 steps

Woman drinking water from a bottle in the park after walking for weight loss

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to tone up while you walk

If you want to make your workout harder, add in some extra strength training exercises during your walks. 

“They will boost your muscle power and endurance, as well as improve your balance and walking gait,” says Richardson. Pause your walk at every 1,000 steps and aim for either 10 (Novice), 20 (Intermediate) or 30 (Whizz) repetitions of the below.

Curtsy lunge

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.

Squat

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.

Eagle squat

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 the Health Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA) Journalist of the Year Award 2021. Currently 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.

With contributions from