Walking for weight loss – is 30 minutes a day enough?

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  • Whether you want to start walking for weight loss or just to improve your overall fitness, getting out in the fresh air will always offer numerous benefits for both your physical and mental health. 

    Every year, thousands of people learn how to start running in a bid to try and lose weight. And while it’s undoubtedly a great exercise for your cardiovascular health, it’s a tough ride on the body if you’re starting from a relatively low level of fitness. Walking, on the other hand, is an activity that’s gentle on your joints and bones, and it allows you build up your fitness before taking it to the next level (if you want to).

    As always, no one should feel pressured to lose weight. The most successful changes only ever occur when you actively choose to make the change yourself. But if you are looking to improve your fitness and lose weight without diet or exercise transformations, then walking is a very good place to start.

    Is walking for weight loss enough?

    Walking is great for your health but no, it’s probably not enough on its own for substantial weight loss.

    Most people have to change their eating habits when they want to lose weight, explains nutritional coach and personal trainer Nathalie Lennon. “When it comes to weight loss, we must remember that diet is key,” she says. “As the famous saying goes, ‘you can’t outrun a bad diet’. Weight loss essentially comes down to the basic ‘in vs out’ formula.”

    Otherwise known as creating a calorie deficit, to lose weight you need to burn more calories throughout the day than you consume through food and drink. This calorie burn can include exercise such as walking, but how many calories you burn a day also depends on the two other factors that make up your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE): your resting energy expenditure, i.e. the number of calories you burn with daily bodily functions like breathing, and the number of calories you burn through the thermic effect of food, i.e. digestion and metabolisation.

    So while exercise is important, it won’t contribute the most to your calorie burn over the day. To find out how many calories you should be eating to get into a deficit, you’ll need to know your maintenance level. Eating between 300 to 500 calories below this level every day, according a review by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, will lead to a substantial weight loss over time without being unsustainable.

    And it’s the sustainability that our expert says is the most important when it comes to weight loss in the long-term. “The methods of exercise you perform to help you create this caloric deficit must be those you can envisage yourself maintaining for the long haul. It’s all about finding that balance at the end of the day,” Natalie says.

    Can I lose weight by walking 30 minutes a day?

    Yes, if your 30-minute walk helps to put you in the calorific deficit then you can lose weight. 

    A half-an-hour walk will burn between 135 and 189 calories on average, according to Harvard University Medical School. Taking the daily 300 to 500-calorie deficit as outlined above, the calories burnt from a short walk every day could make up almost half of the total deficit over the week. So combining a daily walk with one of the diets that work could help you to lose weight – at least in the short-term.

    Runner feet running on road closeup on shoe.

    Credit: Getty

    However, Nathalie notes that there’s no guarantee you’ll burn a certain amount of calories every time you head out for a walk. There are multiple factors that play into how many calories you’ll burn over one exercise session, including speed, distance and incline, she says. “Increasing any one of these three factors will lead to a greater calorific burn and, as a result, will potentially aid your weight loss goals more.”

    And in general, people need more than 30 minutes of exercise to make any substantial changes to their body. The NHS recommends at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week to bring about the wider benefits of walking – like reducing the risk of heart disease or a stroke – as well as weight loss. “Adults should aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week,” their guidance suggests.

    Walking for weight loss plan

    If you want to start walking for weight loss after a long time of being inactive, this is what Nathalie suggests for a weekly programme:

    Monday 15 minute low intensity walk.
    Tuesday 15 minute low intensity walk.
    Wednesday Rest.
    Thursday 20 minute low intensity walk
    Friday 5 minute brisk/medium intensity walk followed by 15 minutes at a low intensity.
    Saturday Rest.
    Sunday 6 minute brisk/medium intensity walk followed by 15 minutes at a low intensity.

    “Overtime you may increase the intensity & lengths or your walks, or even think about beginning the run/walk strategy,” she says.

    Often seen as the first pillar in the guide on running, the run/walk strategy involves walking for 30-minutes per day at a fast but comfortable pace. After doing this for 2 to 3 weeks, you then begin a run/walk interval split. 

    “This interval training is then the most efficient way to begin running,” our expert says. “Start by performing a 5 minute fast paced walk to warm up, then running and walking in intervals. For example:

    • Run for a 30-second interval then walk for 2-minute interval. Aim to repeat this for 10-20 minutes, then finish with 5 minutes walking to cool down.
    • Over time you can increase your running interval slowly, and start to reduce your walking interval. For example, you may build up to 3 minutes running and 1 minute walking over time.
    • This process is not to be rushed, slow and steady wins the race. Remember everyone’s pace of progression will vary.” 

    How long does it take to see results from walking?

    Walking – or any exercise – will begin to make changes to the body within just a few months. 

    But as the saying goes, nothing worth having comes easy. To see significant results in a short time frame, research from Queen’s University suggests that those who want to lose weight should exercise for at least one hour every day at a moderate intensity. The study included 52 obese male participants who, after being assigned an exercise regime over three months, lost an average of 7.5kg. Interestingly as well, the participants who exercised every day lost an average of 1.3kg more than those who were assigned to the diet-only weight loss programme.

    Similarly, another study by Saint Louis University studied overweight men and women over the age of 50 and found that participants lost the most amount of weight after exercising for 7.4 hours every week.

    And as Nathalie suggests, how long it will take someone to see results from exercise depends on other factors – including whether they are in a caloric deficit and to what intensity they are exercising for.

    Is running or walking better for weight loss?

    Ultimately, running is better for weight loss as it allows you to burn more calories in a shorter period of time.

    While a woman who weighs 60kg may burn between 100 and 120 calories on a 30-minute walk, if she ran for 30 minutes a medium intensity level then she may be able to burn up to 280 calories, Nathalie explains.

    But there’s certainly nothing wrong with walking, she says. While running may be better for burning calories, if you prefer walking and are more likely to head out for a walk than a run, you should stick to walking. At the end of the day, it’s doing the exercise that matters.

    Two women along a nature trail

    The most important exercise to do is the one that you enjoy, our expert says, Credit: Getty.

    And there are loads of benefits to walking outside of weight loss that are bound to make you feel happier and healthier overall. “Walking may be the better choice if you want to put less strain on your joints or muscles. It’s also great for those starting from a very low baseline level of fitness, or perhaps for those who’ve had a very stressful week mentally and want to reduce the stress load on their body by doing some gentle walks rather than high impact running,” our expert says. 

    “Both walking and running will be very beneficial to your overall health, mind set and weight loss goals. The better choice for you will depend on your current baseline level of fitness, schedule and health status.” 

    Can walking reduce tummy fat?

    Not exactly – it’s not possible to ‘spot-reduce’ fat on the body at all. 

    Despite the guides on how to lose belly fat in particular, you have to reduce fat across all areas of the body to lose weight in one place. While you’re likely to see hypertrophy in an exercised muscle over a rested one if you train one arm over the other with resistance training, fat doesn’t work in the same way.

    Multiple studies have been conducted on the subject of spot-reducing belly fat, including one from Tehran University of Medical Sciences  that looked at 40 overweight and obese women over a 12-week period. Researchers found that resistance training of the abdominal muscles had no effect on reducing tummy fat compared to dietary invention. And similar results have been found around the world, including in the study from Los Lagos University in Chile and University of California‘s study on spot-reduction of fat.

    However, there are some small studies that suggest walking is good for helping to reduce tummy fat because it’s a form of aerobic exercise – and it helps with overall weight loss. One study, conducted at Sungkyunkwan University in Korea, studied obese women who walked for between 50 and 70 minutes three times a week for 12 weeks. At the end of the programme, researchers found that the women had experienced a reduction in their waist circumference and general body fat percentage.

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    Compared to the control group, who did not undertake the walking programme, the women had significantly less subcutaneous and visceral fat, which is hidden fat in the abdominal cavity that’s often held responsible for the so-called ‘muffin top’.