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Walking and weight

What happens to our bodies when we walk? How does regular walking affect our health and weight?

Although walking as a workout seems too simple and ineffective for many people, experts say it can help you lose weight, improve your physical and mental health and much more.

Even just a few thousand steps a day can burn hundreds of calories and reduce the risk of diseases.

And

Walking doesn’t require expensive equipment, a gym membership or complicated movements.

All it requires – comfortable sports shoes and a desire to do something to improve the way you look and feel.

 

What happens to our bodies during a walk?

Regular walking is a simple but effective form of physical activity that offers many benefits for overall health and well-being.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Walking engages the leg, hip and core muscles, which contract and relax in unison – moving us forward and keeping the body balanced.
  2. As physical activity increases, our heart rate speeds up, and blood flows faster through our body as muscles need more oxygen and nutrients and have to eliminate more metabolic waste products.
  3. We start breathing faster to take in more oxygen and remove carbon dioxide (facilitating the exchange of gases that promote cell function and energy production).
  4. As physical activity increases, calorie consumption also increases, and the body starts to use stored energy sources (glycogen and fat).
  5. Physical activity, including walking, stimulates the release of endorphins (neurotransmitters, also called happiness hormones), which improve mood and well-being.
  6. Walking outdoors is also a great way to take vitamin D (the main source of vitamin D is sunlight), which supports bone and tissue growth, strengthens teeth, normalises heart rate and nervous system function, and much more.
 

In other words, walking, like any other sustained exercise, promotes cardiovascular and lung health and develops muscles, which in turn improves balance, strengthens bones (reducing the risk of osteoporosis) and improves mood (helps reduce symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety).

 

Can I lose weight just by walking?

Yes, you can lose weight just by walking.

How much weight you will lose and how quickly you lose it depends on:

  1. How long and how intensively you will walk.
  2. What and how much you will eat.
 

If you walk at a brisk pace for 30-40 minutes every day – you will burn about 150 calories during your walk. In comparison, I burn 300 to 400 calories during an hour-long workout.

 

During exercise, the body initially gets energy primarily from glucose in the blood and glycogen stored in the muscles and liver.

Fat burning starts after about 20-30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, depending on individual fitness level and the intensity of the exercise.

So – if you want to burn fat – you should walk at a moderate to brisk pace for at least 45 to 60 minutes or more.

Walking is also one of the most effective ways to reduce abdominal or visceral fat.

However, don’t overdo it – if you have just started walking regularly – start with short walks or low-intensity walking and gradually increase the length and pace of your walk. Excessive/rapid increase in exercise can contribute to increased risk of pain, injury and burnout.

And.

Remember that 80 per cent of slimming success is made in the kitchen!

 

Read more about how our metabolism works HERE.

 

How to stay motivated?

It seems like walking is a simple habit – you just start walking, and that’s it!

But.

Anyone who has tried to start walking regularly and make it a habit knows that even one walk a day can be a challenge. Especially if you have a busy routine.

Plus.

Even if walking becomes a daily habit – it can be hard to stay motivated to keep going.

 

Walking feels great at first, and you start to notice changes in your health and fitness, but after a few weeks or months, these feelings are not as strong as they were at the beginning and setting goals can make a big difference to your motivation.

Walking is a kind of training – it means you are an athlete, and it is time to set goals as an athlete.

This goal doesn’t have to be about calories burned or kilograms lost.

But.

It should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound):

  1. Specific. Decide what you want to achieve – do you want to increase your pace, cover a certain distance in one day or lose a certain amount of weight? Try to be as specific as possible (e.g. “speed up my pace” is not a specific goal, but “walk 5 kilometres in 25 minutes” is).
 
  1. Measurable. If you choose weight loss, this can easily be measured by stepping on a scale, whereas many fitness-related goals are often quite vague. When you walk, you can measure the number of steps, pace, distance or time. To keep track of your chosen metric, I recommend buying a fitness watch.
 
  1. Achievable. A good goal is one beyond your current ability but which you can achieve. If your initial reaction to a goal is “I’ll never be able to do it”, you should probably try a smaller goal first and gradually raise the bar. “Achievable” also means that you should be able to define the milestones needed to achieve the goal. And these milestones must be achievable in your current life situation. For example – if you cannot hike mountains regularly because you live far from them – ” Climbing Everest” might not be on this year’s list of goals.
 
  1. Relevant. Is your walking goal compatible with your current life situation? For example, a goal of walking 15 hours a week sounds great, but it is probably impossible if you are currently working 8 hours a day, have three children attending eight different workshops and are also working on writing a novel.
 
  1. Time-bound. You can set a date by which “X” must be completed. Better still, schedule something that cannot be postponed and will require you to concentrate as hard as possible to be in the best shape on that date. For me, it always used to be a fitness competition, but it could just as well be hiking with friends, etc.
 

Once you’ve identified your SMART goal, start planning – think about what and how you should do to achieve it. For example, whether you need to walk in more challenging terrain, perhaps longer walks at weekends or regular walks every day…

If your goal is far in the future, it would be good to set specific milestones and a system of self-motivation. For example, if the monthly goal is met, reward yourself with new walking clothes or shoes, etc.

 

How to incorporate walking into your daily routine?

The amount of walking you need to maintain normal health can vary depending on your age, fitness level, health condition, etc.

However, there are general guidelines on the minimum amount of physical activity needed to maintain general health and well-being.

The World Health Organisation recommends that adults (18-64 years old) should do at least:

  • 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity.

Or

  • 75-150 minutes of vigorous aerobic physical activity.

Or

  • An equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous physical activity.
 

Walking at a moderate pace falls into the category of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, which means that about 2.5 hours of walking per week at a brisk pace (at least 10 minutes at a time without a break) is needed to maintain your health.                   

If you walk longer, you will further reduce your risk of disease (improve your health) and burn more calories (you can eat more and maintain your current weight or eat as you used to and reduce weight gain or lose weight).

 

There are many ways to incorporate walking into your daily routine.

Here are some ideas:

  • Use a fitness watch to see how many steps you actually walk and motivate yourself to move more.
  • Make it a habit to go for a brisk walk on your lunch break and/or after dinner (even better if you do it together with friends or family).
  • Walk your dog every day or join a friend walking their dog.
  • Walk to work. If it’s too far, park further away or get off the bus a few stops earlier and walk the rest of the way.
  • Get your children to school on foot and go to the grocery store on foot.
  • Try to vary your routes to make walking more interesting.
  • Go hiking.
 

How to get the most out of a walk?

The answer is by walking more or at a higher intensity.

Here are some ways to do it:

  1. If walking is your main physical activity – walk at least 30 minutes a day. If weight loss is your goal, try to walk longer – at least 45-60 minutes. Some people find that setting a walking goal, e.g. 10,000 steps a day, helps them to walk more. Choose an achievable goal—even a 10-minute walk or 5,000 steps a day is better than nothing!
 
  1. Pick up the pace – walking faster improves cardiovascular and respiratory health and helps you burn more calories. If you find it difficult to walk at a brisk pace for 30 minutes without a break, vary your pace – walk at a normal pace for one minute or one block, then walk briskly for the next minute or block.
 
  1. Vary your route – find a route with a slight incline, hills or stairs. Walking on an incline will work your leg muscles more than walking on a flat surface and will also put more strain on your glutes and hamstrings.
 
  1. If you want to increase the load, walk with a weight vest or leg weights.
 
  1. If you want to work your arm muscles while walking – try walking with light dumbbells or arm weights. One of my clients started walking with two 1-litre water bottles, aiming to drink them both during the walk.
 
  1. Increase the distance over time. After walking the same distance consistently for a few weeks, try gradually increasing it. Sometimes, the best way to do this is to listen to music or a podcast while you walk.
 

Key takeaways

Walking is a moderate-intensity exercise that anyone can easily incorporate into their daily routine, regardless of age and fitness level.

Walking improves cardiovascular health, strengthens the respiratory system, boosts energy levels and improves mood.

Regular walking can also help you maintain or lose weight and belly fat.

The best option for effective weight management is physical activity in combination with a nutritious and balanced diet.

 

Eat tasty, eat balanced, move and – be healthy!

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Exercise Physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance by Scott Powers Edward Howle

Physiology of Sport and Exercise

ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription

The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed

Lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic diseases

Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood

Long-term effects of aerobic exercise on psychological outcomes

Effects of exercise and physical activity on anxiety

Relations of self-motivation, perceived physical condition, and exercise-induced changes in revitalization and exhaustion with attendance in women initiating a moderate cardiovascular exercise regimen

Dose-response effect of walking exercise on weight loss. How much is enough?

Can the Affective Response to Exercise Predict Future Motives and Physical Activity Behavior? A Systematic Review of Published Evidence

Affective response to exercise and preferred exercise intensity among adolescents

Effect of walking exercise on abdominal fat, insulin resistance and serum cytokines in obese women

Metabolic obesity: the paradox between visceral and subcutaneous fat

A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of aerobic vs. resistance exercise training on visceral fat

A dose-response relation between aerobic exercise and visceral fat reduction: systematic review of clinical trials

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American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand. Appropriate physical activity intervention strategies for weight loss and prevention of weight regain for adults

The role of exercise and physical activity in weight loss and maintenance

Effects of intermittent exercise and use of home exercise equipment on adherence, weight loss, and fitness in overweight women: a randomized trial

Aerobic physical activity and dietary advice advocated in obesity and overweight

The role of exercise for weight loss and maintenance

Comparison of energy expenditure to walk or run a mile in adult normal weight and overweight men and women

Energy expenditure comparison between walking and running in average fitness individuals

Physiological and metabolic responses to a hill walk

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