Can walking help you lose weight? 9 walking for weight loss tips from the experts

If you're wondering can walking help you lose weight, then here's what the science says...

Woman walking along street
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Are you wondering: can walking help you lose weight? It's a very good question, particularly given that going for a stroll isn't usually the first activity that first springs to mind when thinking about the most effective fat-burning exercise. While running, HIIT and swimming often top those lists, getting your steps in is a very smart way to tone up.

Not only does walking for weight loss provide results, thanks to its ability to blitz a considerable number of daily calories, but it can also boost other aspects of your health too. Indeed, it's a low-impact form of fitness - so it is lighter on your joints and avoids injury - and is well known to enhance mental wellbeing. 

But before you hit the pavements to make the most of this easily-accessible type of LISS cardio, we've sourced the expert take on how to ensure you're harnessing the slim-down benefits most effectively. We'll also explain why you might prioritize this form of movement over running for weight loss, as well as share the best equipment to invest in - such as the best walking shoes

Can walking help you lose weight?

The short answer to the question 'can walking help you lose weight?' is yes it can. "It can be a great tool to increase your daily energy expenditure," explains Aroosha Nekonam, senior personal trainer at Ultimate Performance (opens in new tab), of how increasing your step count can help you tone up.

Indeed, if your goal is to use walking for weight loss in a healthy, sustainable way, then you need to ensure you are creating a calorie deficit. This, Nekonam explains, is where you burn more calories than you eat and drink throughout the day. "The best way to achieve a deficit is by increasing your physical activity alongside reducing your calories," she adds. "Walking can be a great way to up your movement levels."

However, it is also important to consider the contents of your plate. While there are many nutritious eating regimes out there, notably the Mediterranean diet, a study by the Seoul National University Bundang Hospital (opens in new tab) confirmed that reducing your overall calorie intake is key. "Remember you can't out-train a bad diet," warns Nekonam. "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." 

However, you don't have to do much. “We’ve massively over-complicated health,” says Dr Rangan Chatterjee, 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 all the difference. Every little counts.”

Man and woman walking through the countryside

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Walking for weight loss - 4 tips to get results

Now you've learned the core fundamentals of how to lose weight through walking, it's important to ensure you're moving your body properly. Here's what to consider, from your posture to your stride, to help you tone up...

1. Lengthen your spine

Most of us have a tendency to walk while slightly hunched over, having spent many hours sitting throughout the day. But if you're walking for weight loss then it's important you tweak your posture.

"Walking tall will lift your head, relax your shoulders, help you go faster and ease any lower back pain you might experience," says trainer Chris Richardson, the founder of Zero Gravity Pilates (opens in new tab). Try focusing on a spot way of ahead of you in the distance. 

Don't forget about your lower body too. "Avoid turning your feet outwards or inwards, collapsing the arch of your foot or just walking on your toes," adds Richardson. 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 - but it could the root of niggling aches and pains. "If you release them, you'll get a natural sway, which helps reduce back tension," notes Richardson. 

An added bonus is that it will also make your stomach muscles perform harder too. So if you're after the best ab workouts for women then this could actually be a great place to start.

3. Shorten your stride

Walking for weight loss requires a slightly different technique when it comes to how you pace your steps. Indeed, it may surprise you to learn that taking long strides is going to work against you. 

"It might seem natural to want to walk fast," notes Richardson. "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 in your belly button

Also known as bracing your core, you want to pull your belly button in towards your spine as you walk. This keeps your stomach and back muscles tight for stability, and can also relieve any stress or pressure on your lower back.

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

5. Up your pace

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

Not sure how fast should you go? A good measure, according to Dr Chatterjee, is that you should sweat a little bit, feel your heart rate rise but still be able to hold a conversation. 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.

Here's 4 ways to make walking for weight loss fun

There's no doubt about it, workout motivation can be lacking sometimes. Especially as we enter the winter months when sunny days can be few and far between, playing havoc with your energy and making the prospect of lacing up your trainers and heading outside a lot less enticing. These are some great ways to get yourself moving: 

  • 1. Add a great soundtrack - research from the 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.
  • 2. 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 greenery. Japanese scientists have found it can reduce stress while boosting immunity. What's more, findings from mental health organisation Mind (opens in new tab) showed that taking a walk in nature increased sensations of happiness in 71% of participants.
  • 3. Sign up for a charity walk - not only will you raise money for a good cause, but it will give you something to aim for (and there's plenty of evidence that goal setting is an effective motivation tool). 
  • 4. Grab some poles - just like those used in Nordic walking - they can ramp up calorie-burning by 20%. 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. Support your feet with a pair of the best hiking boots

Woman walking in trainers along path

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Try a 30-day walking for weight loss plan

This month-long walking challenge is all about maximizing the full benefits of walking. The key is to be consistent and move daily.

There are three levels - decide yours using the test below and then follow the targets. If you find that your's is too easy, switch to a more advanced one:

  • 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 to 15 minutes, building up to 20 to 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

How to tone up while you walk

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

“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