Walking is one of the most accessible ways to work out. Not only is it low-impact for your joints, but you can also do it anywhere, from strolling down your neighborhood to walking on your treadmill in the living room. And the calories burned walking can be vast too, which ultimately can help lead to weight loss if that’s your goal.
“Walking is one of the best exercises for weight loss,” says Nicole Glor, fitness instructor and creator of NikkiFitness YouTube Channel. “When paired with a healthy diet and lifestyle including stress management, sufficient sleep, and exercise, walking can definitely help with weight loss efforts,” adds Shana Maleeff, M.A., R.D..
Why walking is a top choice for weight loss
This simple way to move offers a variety of health benefits. “Walking gives your metabolism a boost by increasing your body’s demand for energy,” Maleeff says. In other words, it helps you burn calories. “Anything that moves your body burns calories,” she explains. “We take in energy through food and then burn them passively through body functioning (breathing or digesting food) and by actively moving (walking or exercising).”
In addition to boosting metabolism, walking lowers stress hormones like cortisol that can contribute to weight gain. “High levels of cortisol can lead to belly fat,” Maleeff says. “Not only does walking burn calories, but it also helps reduce stress, which can lead to weight loss.”
Walking may also improve sleep. “When we are deprived of sleep, we tend to make food choices that aren’t healthy, craving foods higher in salt and sugar,” Maleeff explains. “Walking can help in burning excess energy as well as relaxing the mind to contribute to more ease, leading to a more restful sleep.”
Walking also aids “cardiovascular endurance, strengthens your muscles and bones, and helps you maintain healthy weight and lose fat,” Glor says.
How many calories does walking burn?
The amount of calories you burn is determined by your age, height, and weight, as well as the intensity, duration, and pace of your walking workout. “The more you weigh, the more calories you burn,” Glor says.
On average, a 150-lb. person will burn about 100 calories per mile at a mild pace (2.5 miles per hour), and a 120-lb. person burns around 85 calories per mile on average at the same pace, Glor says. If you want to speed up, you can burn slightly more calories. “A 150-lb. person walking at a pace of 3 miles per hour will burn 115 calories per mile on average, whereas a 120-lb. person may burn an average of 100 calories per mile,” Glor explains.
You can also play around with some extra equipment or terrain to increase the amount of calories you burn during your walk.
While walking definitely burns calories which can aid with weight loss, there are a number of genetic, demographic, dietary, and lifestyle factors that contribute to general weight loss. “There are so many different factors that contribute to weight loss, including ones that are in your control (diet and lifestyle choices) and ones that are not in your control (age, gender, metabolic rate),” Maleeff says.
For instance, some people are born with a faster metabolic rate—in other words, they have a higher rate of burning calories. “Men also tend to have a faster metabolism, partially due to their size and muscle mass,” Maleeff says. Our speed at burning calories may also decrease with age as we become less active and lose muscle mass.
How to increase calories burned walking
The easiest way to increase calories while walking is to pick up your pace. “Increasing the intensity of your workout results in an elevated heart rate, which requires more energy and results in more calories burned,” Glor says. You can also walk a longer distance than your normal leisurely stroll to build endurance.
Adding an incline can also help your heart pump faster for more calories burned during your workout. “If you’re walking outside, look for hills,” Glor suggests. And if you’re walking on a treadmill, Glor encourages setting your incline levels to 1.5 or higher. “On the treadmill, it is designed to push your feet away, so it does some of the work,” she says. “Adding incline helps mimic outside walking, which requires more effort.”
In addition to burning more calories, incline walking helps tone the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and core. “Avoid hinging at the hips, keep your shoulders back, and engage your core when you walk on an incline,” Glor suggests.
You can also add resistance bands, dumbbells, and even backpacks to add some additional strengthening while you walk. “This helps you target more muscle groups to strengthen your muscles and burn more calories,” Glor says.
Are you burning enough calories?
Unless you’re using a tracker, it can be pretty confusing to know if you’re burning enough calories while walking. The good news is that you can look to your body to reveal if you’re working hard enough.
Have you ever been out of breath during a workout? That’s a pretty good indicator that you’re working hard. Glor says you want to aim for a thin layer of sweat and to be slightly out of breath if you were to talk while you walk. “If you’re doing a slower, longer endurance walk, you want your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) to be at a six out of 10,” Glor says.
Rate of perceived exertion is a way to measure how hard someone is working during physical activity on a scale of one to 10. “If you’re working a higher intensity type of walking workout with dumbbell work, incline hills, or lunges throughout, then your RPE should be at a seven at least,” Glor explains.
Diet is also an essential aspect of weight loss, and you can’t outwork a poor diet. “Nutrition is the primary avenue for weight loss, and unfortunately people overemphasize exercise,” Maleeff says.
The amount of calories you require is determined by your age, height, and body weight, and you can use a weight loss calculator or speak with your physician or physical trainer to determine exactly how many calories you should be consuming and burning a day.
But Maleeff says you can start by making healthier choices today. “A good rule of thumb is to aim for your plate to be 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 30% fat,” she says. Aim to fill your diet with lean proteins, healthy fats, vegetables, and fiber such as fruits and whole grains. “And avoid hidden calories—especially during the holiday season—with sugary drinks, excess alcohol, refined sugars, and coffee creamers.”
How to track calories burned walking
Fortunately, you can try weight loss apps and fitness trackers to calculate the estimated amount of calories burned during any given workout or day. “Percentages of macronutrients, micronutrients, and caloric intake vary from person to person based on goals, levels of activity, and medical conditions,” Maleeff says. “Trackers are amazing tools because they help you become aware of your food choices and understand what you’re looking at in terms of macros and micros, which can have a significant impact on weight loss.”
Glor recommends getting a FitBit or using an Apple Watch, which both track various health metrics including calories burned, steps taken, water intake, and more. Other helpful apps for tracking steps and calories include Map My Run, MyFitnessPal, Strava, and RunKeeper.
Ultimately, Glor says that you shouldn’t stress too much about the amount of calories burned while walking. “If you’re up and moving your body, you’re going to experience the various physical and mental benefits of walking,” she says.
Try this beginner-friendly walking workout at home
If you do want to level up your walking workout, start with this simple and progressive walking workout developed by Glor that you can do either outside or on a treadmill. All you’ll need is a set of 3 to 5 lb. weights for extra toning.
Glor’s 4-Week Walking Plan:
- Week 1: Walk ½ mile or 10 minutes Monday through Friday. Rest Saturday, stretch Sunday.
- Week 2: Walk 1 mile or 20 minutes Monday through Friday. Rest Saturday, stretch Sunday.
- Week 3: Walk 2 miles or 30 minutes Monday through Friday. Rest Saturday, stretch Sunday.
- Week 4:Walk 3 miles or 40-45 minutes Monday through Friday, Rest Saturday, stretch Sunday.
Incorporate the following dumbbell exercises into your walk. Repeat these moves in order of the intervals laid out three times for a full set of arm-weighted intervals.
Biceps curl and kick: Step forward with the right leg, raise the left knee and extend the leg into a powerful kick forward with the left foot flexed while raising the weights up to shoulder level to work the biceps. Lower the left leg, and kick with the right while lowering the weights. Repeat the kicks and biceps curls for 30-second intervals.
Stepping triceps kickbacks: Place the left foot on the ground pivoted to the side with a moderate bend in the knee. Do a slight lunge with the right leg behind. Pull the weights into your ribcage with elbows lifted (starting position). Bring the right knee in towards the other knee and “kickback” the weights by extending the arms to engage the triceps. Pull the weights and right leg back to starting position and do a 30-second interval. Change the facing direction and repeat on the other side.
Shoulder knee lift: Step forward with the left foot and hold weights by your hips. Lift the right knee up to hip level as you raise the weights just above your chest. Lower the weights as you step the right foot down and lift the left knee. Repeat for 30-second intervals.
Shoulder lateral raise with lunge: March for a count of four with a right leg lead and weights in your hands. Lunge your right leg forward and lift the weights to the sides with a slight bend in the elbows. (Make sure you lunge far enough so that your right knee is directly over your right ankle, not out near or past the toe, and keep your torso directly over the hips.) Push off your right foot back to standing and lower the arms. Lunge forward on the left leg and lift the weights laterally, engaging the shoulders again. Lower weights and push off the left leg back to start. March for 4 counts and repeat for a 60-second interval.
Inside biceps cross: Take your march and change it into a toe tap with the weights and your palms facing away from you, and arms extended towards the ground. When the right toe taps, curl the left hand in towards your right shoulder, across the centerline of your body, while keeping the left elbow close to your waist. Lower the left hand. Tap the left toe and cross the right hand and weight towards the left shoulder. Repeat for 30-second intervals.
Triceps overhead press with march: March your feet to the original walking pace, and lift both weights overhead. The elbows should point to the sky and be bent so that the weights are directly behind the neck and hands are touching at the knuckles (starting position). Continue to march right and left and lift the weights to the sky by straightening the arms. March right, left and lower arms (two counts for feet = one count for arms). Repeat for a 30-second interval.
Nicol is a freelance Editorial Assistant at WomansDay.com and is a Manhattan-based journalist who specializes in health, wellness, beauty, fashion, business, and lifestyle. When Nicol isn't writing, she loves spending time with family and friends, trying new workout classes, and traveling.