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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