Does walking to lose weight work?

Many people want to know if walking to lose weight really works. It can be difficult to find a clear answer to the question, as there is so much conflicting information available on the subject. So I’m going to try and shed some light on the real answer…

The short answer is ‘No’. When you realise that each pound of fat is the equivalent of around 3500 calories, you can see that just walking for 30 minutes a day isn’t going to make a huge difference. In round numbers it is reckoned that walking 1 mile uses around 100 calories. So 30 minutes a day walking makes about 10 miles a week – the equivalent of less than a third of pound of fat! If that was all you could hope for, you may well think that it’s impossible to achieve any significant weight loss this way.


Fortunately, this is not the whole answer. Extensive reviews of many studies on weight loss have clearly shown that the best way to lose weight is to combine vigorous exercise with control of the diet to create a significant calorie deficit. For long-term weight loss it is believed that 1 – 2 pounds per week is a good, achievable amount to lose. More than that is not sustainable. Less than means that will take too long to make a difference, so people tend to ‘fall off the wagon’.

So that means creating a deficit of 7000 calories a week, or 1000 calories a day. And cutting 1000 calories a day from your diet is going to make you really miserable and flip your body into survival mode, where it tries to compensate for your rash actions by using fewer calories to keep itself running. This does not help! It’s also why diets simply don’t work for most people.

Strangely it seems that the number of calories burned for running a mile is more or less the same as for walking a mile. The only difference is that you can obviously run more miles in 30 minutes than you can walk. The more vigorous the exercise (i.e. the faster you run) the more calories you burn in your allotted time. Hence you make more inroads on your target. Say you can run 4 miles in 30 minutes (and many people can after a few months of training). Then you can reach nearly half of you target calorie deficit in just 30 minutes exercise a day. Then you only need to save 600 more a day by careful eating and you can reach your target. Cutting out a couple of cappuccinos a day and a Danish pastry, or avoiding sugary drinks and replacing them with water or simple tea can easily make up that difference. Then you are on the way to your goal!

So is walking a waste of time? Absolutely NOT! The fact is that most people who want to lose weight cannot and SHOULD NOT try to run straight away. If you haven’t exercised for years you MUST give your body time to adjust to the new demands that you are putting on it. So walking is the essential first step in using exercise to help lose weight. It works for two good reasons:

  1. It gets you into the habit of exercising regularly. It’s often said that if you do something everyday for 2 weeks it will become a habit. So go for a 30 minute walk every lunch break, or when you get in from work and it will soon become a habit, so you won’t have to think about it or find any willpower.
  2. When you start out, this is probably all you can manage. So start with what you CAN do, and build up. Over the weeks most people are able to walk further and faster than they could before. Then they may start walking a bit then jogging a bit. And so on. Before they know it they really can start running for 30 minutes non-stop.

This is the best way to achieve long term weight loss that will not just be regained when the diet stops. And the other health benefits from all that exercise will make you feel so good you just won’t want to stop! Walking really is the best way to start losing weight!

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Running to lose weight – tips to make sure it works!

Don’t go on a diet – running to lose weight is much better!  Some people have trouble making it work so here are a few tips to make sure that your running weight loss program really works:

  1. Don’t over compensate by eating too much.   Many people give themselves a treat after going for a run.   Nothing wrong with that.   But if you eat more calories than you burn, you will actually put weight on.   For example, many runners like to have a beer after going for a run.  A typical pint of beer contains as many calories as you would burn by running 2 miles!   If you run 4 miles in 30 minutes, half of your run went into burning the calories from your ‘treat’!
  2. Don’t try to do all of your running in one or two runs per week.   You may be pressed for time (aren’t we all?), but to really make some inroads into shedding those extra pounds you need to run regularly.   Ideally 4 or 5 times a week.   Once it becomes a habit it’s easier to get those running shoes on and get running.   Also doing more frequent but shorter runs you will still use as many calories but you are much less likely to overstrain your joints and muscles.   If you haven’t exercised for a while (and since you are reading this I’m guessing that you haven’t!), you need to take care not to try too hard, too soon.

  3. If losing weight is your main goal, try thinking about what you eat as well.   You don’t need to go on a diet – we all know they don’t work – but you can still think about moderating your worst excesses.   We all have them.   Mine are glasses of wine in the evening (120 calories each!) and a cappuccino when I’m out shopping (100 calories a go!), not to mention the cake!   Incidentally, I know a place (a famous supermarket coffee shop) where you can have a toasted teacake with over 600 calories in it – and that’s before you add any butter or spread!   You don’t need to be too harsh – just think about what you can do without which is bad for you (you know what it is!), and try not to have one every time you go out.
  4. Make sure you drink enough water.   Running can really make you dehydrated.   You only feel thirsty when you are already dehydrated (i.e. it’s already too late).  Make sure that you drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration – after all there are no calories in it and it really helps your body to get rid of toxins and keep you healthy.   In an ideal world we’d all drink only water – but I’m not giving up my occasional glass of wine, even if you are!
  5. Don’t try to run before you can walk!  The biggest problem new runners face is getting a niggley injury virtually as soon as they start.   It’s not surprising really.   Maybe you haven’t exercised since you left school (that was me!).  Trying to run a mile in 4 minutes first time out of the house will probably result in a hasty visit to hospital!   It makes much more sense to start out with what you can do – walking, or maybe (but probably not) jogging for a few minutes.   And slowly build up.   I understand the frustration.   And once you’ve decided to start losing weight by running, you expect to lose 20 pounds a week and be able to run like Usain Bolt.   However, you will make much quicker progress towards your goal if you start steady, exercise regularly, and slowly build up.
  6. Lastly, and most importantly, remember it’s meant to be fun.   Don’t go out for a run or a walk thinking that you’ve got to do this horrible punishment for all the bad things that you’ve eaten.   That will make it feel like HARD LABOUR, which no one wants.   Instead go out and relax.   You’ve got some YOU time.   You can just think about the things that YOU want, without any hassle from anyone else.   Enjoy looking at the scenery.   Watch how the trees are changing as the seasons change.   See how many different bird species you can spot in your 30 minutes.   Just enjoy it.   Then you’ll be home and ready for a nice refreshing shower before you even realise that you’ve been exercising.

Running to lose weight really is a great choice.   If you start gently, build up and make sure you enjoy it, it will soon become a great new healthy way of life.

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