Can You Lose Weight by Walking? Here’s Everything You Need to Know.

According to dictionary definition, ‘walking’ means to move at a regular pace by lifting and setting down each foot in turn, never having both feet off the ground at once.

Good things come to those who walk. Especially if your goal is to lose weight.

Your results won’t come if you keep waiting. But they will, if you start walking.

How is walking relevant for weight loss?

When it comes to losing weight the fundamental principle is energy in versus energy out. How many calories are you eating versus how many calories are you burning?

Calories is a unit of energy. When it comes to your energy output, there are multiple components to it.

Energy input is you consuming food that is fuel for your body. But energy output i.e., how that fuel is used is a little more nuanced. I’m going to try and keep this post as jargon-free as possible so you don’t have problems understanding.

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The major chunk of energy output comes from your body just keeping you alive.

So not you exercising, not you walking, not you doing anything— you just being alive and your body taking care of its basic functions, consumes 65-70% of your energy output.

This you don’t have control over.

Calories burnt during this process is determined by your genetics, whether you are male or female, your height, how much mass you’re carrying (i.e., your body composition, amount of muscle and fat in your body, etc.).

All these factors together determine your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which is how many calories your body needs to just perform basic functions.

I would like to clarify here that a lot of overweight people feel they’re overweight because they have a slow metabolism. But like I just said, BMR is a function of your body mass. If you have more mass in your body i.e., you are carrying more weight; you’d tend to have a higher metabolism than someone of average weight.

So the reality is that you probably have a higher metabolism if you’re overweight and not the other way round.

BMR comprises ~70% of your energy output. Now you just have 30% left. Half of that 30% i.e., 15% comes just from Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT).

Anything that is not exercise related— like me typing on my keyboard right now, you moving your eyes as you’re reading this, using your fingers to scroll through the post— all of these activities come under NEAT.

Walking too falls under this.

NEAT is the biggest part of what’s actually under your control when it comes to burning calories.

Most people think that they will burn calories through exercise. This is another component which is known as Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT). It may come as a surprise to you but this forms the smallest chunk of your calorie expentditure.

After NEAT comes Thermic Effect of Food (TEF). Whatever food you eat, the digestion that happens in your stomach, the absorption of it, and then the excretion of waste— all of these things also require energy. This energy output falls under TEF.

So in decreasing share of energy output, we have—

BMR > NEAT > TEF > EAT

Diagram showing components of total daily energy expenditure

BMR isn’t even under your control. So the thing you should capitalise on is NEAT or your non-exercise activity.

The easiest way to increase your NEAT is to just walk more.

Walking is accessible to most people. You do not need special equipment. You could increase NEAT by doing any kind of movement, but it is easy to keep track of your walking (in contrast to other kinds of non-exercise activities) by wearing a fitness band or a fitness tracker.

Having data like your daily step count will help you understand if you are actually moving enough throughout the day.

How much to walk for weight loss.

This depends on many different factors.

If you’re someone who is sedentary. For example, I know people who barely walk 200-300 steps a day; especially people who work from home and have no reason to go out. They order food, they order their groceries. Everything is taken care of.

They just spend the entire day in front of the computer screen. Their movement in terms of steps taken is minimal.

If you’re someone like that, just increasing our step count to 1000-2000 steps a day will make you see results in terms of weight loss. So how much you walk depends on your baseline activity levels.

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woman wearing sunglasses and a blue dress lying on a rock

It also depends on your body weight.

If you’re someone who is very heavy, you could be walking lesser than someone who is light and you’ll burn the same amount of calories (or even more) because you’re carrying more weight.

At the same time, if you’re on the heavier side, you’ll not be able to walk for a long period of time because it’ll be stressful for your joints.

So you’ll start walking with a lower step target to begin with.

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It depends on your lifestyle.

If you have an active job; you’re probably a teacher or you work as a nurse. Or some kind of profession where you have to walk around a lot. You’ll find it easy to stick to a higher step target.

If you have an active job, but due to COVID, you suddenly had to start working from home. You may have realized that you gradually started putting on weight. That is because you stopped an entire chunk of energy expenditure that used to happen from walking.

And you failed to replace that with other non-exercise activities; but you’re eating the same amount of food.

So your energy input is the same, but your energy output has decreased dramatically.

But no matter the situation you’re in right now, the important thing is to just start.

Instead of thinking about what’s the most optimal amount of walking that you should do for maximum weight loss, you should start small no matter where you’re at.

You’ll start seeing results in as short a time span as 1 week if you start walking consistently.

Aiming to work up to 10,000 steps a day is a good target for most of the population. And beyond that, it’s all about what you can keep up consistently long term.

If you’re someone with a very active job, or if you’re someone who enjoys walking a lot. You can easily build up to 20,000-25,000 steps per day.

For people who have difficulty building up to a high step count, or if you find walking to be boring, you can incorporate other activities to bring up your non-exercise activity levels.

However, walking is the easiest place to start.

Start walking, build up to 10,000 steps a day. And once you are able to hit 10,000 steps every single day for a month. Then it’s a good idea to set a floor for your step count.

It is not only important to have a ceiling for yourself that— “I want to achieve this specific goal.”

But it is also important to have a floor for your efforts— your bare minimum targets which you must hit even on your worst days.

This number would be something easier to achieve than your daily 10,000 step target. It could be 5,000 steps a day. Make a mental note to never let yourself slip below this number, even on the busiest days or on days that you don’t feel like walking.

Is walking alone sufficient enough exercise to lose weight?

The short answer is— Yes.

Weight loss is just calories in versus calories out. The biggest chunk of ‘calories out’ that is under your control is non-exercise activity. And the easiest way to do more of this non-exercise activity is by increasing your daily step count.

If you can do this consistently, you will maximise your energy output and you will lose weight.

The next significant factor which is Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) can be increased by making sure you’re consuming more protein. Protein takes up more energy to digest than other nutrients.

But once walking has become a habit and once you have increased your protein intake. Then it is a good idea to incorporate some kind of exercise into your lifestyle not just for the slight additional calories burnt.

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Exercise, especially some kind of resistance training activity will make sure that when you are losing weight, you are also not losing muscle.

You want to preserve muscle and burn fat. Because muscle gives your body shape and makes you look toned.

But instead of making it overwhelming for yourself, start with just walking, then incorporate more protein into your diet. These will give you maximum returns on investment for your time when it comes to losing weight.

Over time, you’ll be able to incorporate other kind of exercise as walking becomes an effortless habit.

Walking is not just great for weight loss.

There have been several studies, which show that if you’re someone who is sedentary, just increasing your step count by 1000 reduces your risk of all-cause mortality.

This means you are less likely to die from any kind of disease by just walking more. If you’re able to increase your steps to 7,000-8,000 steps per day, you would greatly decrease your risk of all-cause mortality.

Don’t underestimate this simple form of movement.

Your friends may tell you—

“You’re just walking for weight loss?! That is not even effective. You need to be sweating it out at a gym.”

But you now know the science behind it. Non-exercise activity is the major chunk of calorie-burning that’s under your control and walking takes care of that.

Exercise activity that you do in the gym does contribute to your energy expenditure, but not as much as walking would. Keep that in mind.

When it comes to exercise, there is nothing that is “superior” when it comes to making you lose weight. Any kind of movement is good movement if you’re just starting out.

And the best exercise for you is what you enjoy and can do long term. This could be dancing, playing a sport, yoga, lifting weights, swimming. Anything.

How can you increase your daily step count?

If you’re just starting out, if you barely move it all. Start with something reasonable like 1000 steps per day. Do that for a week.

Now add 1000-2000 steps to your previous week’s number. Do this every week till you’re walking 10,000 steps a day.

If you’re not used to walking at all and jump directly to 10,000 steps per day from 0, you will feel overwhelmed. There’s a learning curve to increasing your step count upto a 5-figure number.

You’ll realise during the process that certain activities make walking more fun for you. Or that you like to walk more during certain times of the day.

You’ll build those strategies only over time as you gradually increase your step count. There’s no shortcut to this as it will come only from experience. You can’t do this if you suddenly start walking 10,000 steps a day. You won’t be able to keep up the habit.

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Do most of your steps during the first half of the day.

This is similar to the ‘Eat That Frog’ philosophy by Brian Tracy.

Do the tough work first during the day.

If you start off your day with a morning walk, or if you try to do most of your steps before it’s midday, before your lunch— it becomes much easier for you to relax towards the end of your day when your willpower levels are low; when you’re tired and exhausted, and you don’t want to walk.

You’d at least be relieved that you have already taken care of 60-70% of your daily walking target. And now you just have to take a small walk to make up for the remaining.

Park your vehicle farther away from your destination.

This is so you have to walk more to get to the destination and then to walk back to the car.

Incorporate more walking into your life by not using your car to go everywhere.

If the supermarket is nearby, go for an evening walk. Get your supplies and walk back. That will take care of quite a bit of your step target instead if you chose to take your car.

If you incorporate small changes like these. You won’t have to plan a separate block of time just to get your steps done.

Make multiple trips for your chores.

If you are getting bags from your car to your house, don’t get everything at once. Get two bags. Then go back and get two more bags.

Keep two water bottles at your desk.

When one bottle gets emptied, go and refill it in your kitchen. Come back. When the next bottle gets emptied, go again. Fill it and walk back.

This will increase trips to the kitchen. All of these small trips add up.

If you are not doing small things which add to your overall step count, you’ll feel overwhelmed because you’ll feel like you have to do this entire different task i.e., walking, which now has become a chore in itself.

Walk while you’re talking. Walk while you’re browsing your phone.

Talking as in, not just speaking on your phone. But when you’re conversing with people in your house, walk around the room. Imagine you are giving some kind of presentation.

Turn on alerts in your fitness tracker to remind you when you’ve been sitting for too long.

Every fitness tracker nowadays has that feature. So turn it on. And once that alert goes off, go take a 5-minute walk. The goal is to distribute your walking throughout the day as much as possible with a bias of walking more during the first half.

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Make it a habit to walk 10 minutes after your meals.

Short walks after meals will not only add to your step count. But they have also been observed to keep your blood sugar levels stable.

It’s a win-win. It’s good for your health. It’s also helping you burn calories.

That covers most of the tips that I had for you in terms of walking and how to get more steps done.

Now you might be thinking—

“Okay, this is all good, but I hate walking. Walking is so boring. What do I do?”

How can you make walking less boring?

Remember firstly that you don’t have to do all your walking in one go and make it into a task by itself.

The goal is to integrate it seamlessly into your lifestyle.

I’m going to share what works best for clients at Workday Physique and for me personally.

It is incorporating some kind of audio entertainment while walking. This is easier when you walk indoors or in a safe walking space, like say a neighbourhood park or in your backyard.

I don’t recommend wearing earphones while you’re walking on roads with traffic. That can be dangerous. Don’t do that.

But if you have a safe space with no cars around, put on your earphones and listen to podcasts; listen to audiobooks that you like. And make it exclusive for your walking sessions.

What I mean by that is— if you have a podcast or an audio book that you enjoy, make it a rule for yourself to listen to it only when you’re doing your steps. Not when you’re chilling, not when you’re just sitting doing nothing. Only when you’re walking.

This makes it more likely that you will look forward to your walking sessions.

If you couple an activity that you enjoy with an activity that is mundane, it makes it more likely that you’ll do the mundane activity.

There are so many varieties of podcasts available these days. You can find shows on all kinds of topics across genres. If you’d like some personal recommendations drop me a text on Whatsapp using the button on the bottom right of your screen

Find something that you enjoy and then listen to it exclusively while you walk.

If you like watching videos, you can do that too while walking. You can also text while walking. Again, remember. Don’t do this on the road with traffic. This is for when you’re indoors or in your backyard or front porch.

You don’t necessarily have to go to the street to walk. If it’s raining, many people have complaints—

“Oh, it’s raining. Bummer. I cannot go for my walk now.”

You can walk inside a small room as well. All you have to do is go round in circles along the perimeter of the room.

I personally walk while reading books on my Kindle, while responding to texts, while browsing social media— I do everything while I’m walking, inside my bedroom. And you can do it too.

It is not difficult.

You won’t even realize that time is flying by when you’re doing all these activities. All you have to do is keep walking.

In short— If an activity can be done on the move and there is no safety issue, do it while walking. Period.

There are also desk-treadmills available these days. It’s like a regular treadmill, but has a desk attachment. I have no personal experience using one, but you can try one to see if it helps.

I do recommend stationary bikes as an alternative to walking. If you get bored with walking, get one. Pedal at a steady pace while you watch your favourite TV show or read a book.

This is a good way to increase your non-exercise activity as well.

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Any kind of movement helps.

Walking is the easiest to incorporate. That’s why I encourage it so much. It is the easiest to track as well. You just need a fitness band. Even if you don’t have a fitness band, you can keep your phone in your pocket with a pedometer app installed.

But many of us don’t have our phone with us 24×7. Also not all pants have pockets (ladies reading this would relate). If you like watching videos while walking, you’d need 2 phones— one to track steps in your pocket and one to watch videos on.

So get a fitness tracker if you’re serious about achieving your weight loss goals. It doesn’t have to be fancy; just something that tracks your daily steps.

To wrap up this post, if your goal is to achieve weight loss in the most effortless manner, remember that good things come to those who walk; not to those who wait.

And definitely not to those looking for short term hacks like diet plans and magic supplements— those don’t work at all.

If you have been trying to reach your weight loss goals for a while now, but are struggling a bit in the process.

It’s probably because of a lack of consistency, a lack of guidance or a lack of support.

If you’d like a 24×7 support system to hold your hand and guide you through the process till you get to your goals, you should consider 1-on-1 coaching with Workday Physique.

Ajitesh Gogoi is an online fitness coach and the founder of Workday Physique™— a weight loss coaching service for busy professionals. His mission is to empower busy professionals to achieve their weight loss goals. And transform them into their most confident selves.
Ajitesh Gogoi

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