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Walking for weight loss—can you really get fit by doing enough steps?

While cycling and HIIT workouts may first spring to mind when considering fat-burning exercise, using walking for weight loss can also be a smart choice. Multiple studies show how effective upping your step count is at expending energy—and celebrities, including Rebel Wilson, have credited the accessible activity with helping them get in the best shape of their life.

However, in addition to weight loss, going for a stroll also comes with impressive benefits to mental wellbeing and our overall health. “Walking helps to protect against cardiovascular diseases, cancer, bone-thinning osteoporosis and dementia,” says Dr Melanie Wynne-Jones, a GP. All you need to harness these perks is a pair of comfy trainers (perhaps these best running shoes) for the park, or a pair of the best women’s walking shoes if you’re heading out into the countryside. Read on to find out how to ensure that increasing your step count is getting you results…

WALKING FOR WEIGHT LOSS—HOW TO DO IT CORRECTLY?

If you want to know how to lose weight, here’s how to tweak your technique so you tone up while you walk:

  • Lengthen your spine through your neck—this will lift your head, relax your shoulders, help you go faster and ease lower back pain. “Avoid slouching your shoulders, turning your feet outwards or inwards, collapsing through the arch of your foot or just walking on your toes,” advises trainer Chris Richardson (zerogravitypilates.co.uk).
  • Stop clenching—it’s tempting to tighten those bottom cheeks—but if you release them, you’ll get a natural sway, which helps reduce back tension. It makes your tummy area work harder too, for a core-strengthening bonus! 
  • Shorten your stride—we know you’re keen to walk faster, but taking giant steps will overtax your leg muscles and place strain on your knee joints. Trust us, shorter really does equal more calorie-burning speed.
  • Pull your tummy in towards your spine—then keep it there but without holding your breath (i fact, here’s how to breathe better). Tricky at first, but combined with cardio-pumping power walking, it really does help tone up your middle.

MAKE WALKING FOR WEIGHT LOSS FUN—4 TIPS

Motivating yourself to leave the house for a walk can be a real struggle—particularly if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder symptoms. These are some great ways to get yourself moving:

  • Add a great soundtrack—studies at a US university revealed that women who walked at least three times a week to music lost around 16lb in six months, whereas those who walked in silence only managed 8lb. So grab your headphones and listen to your favorite playlist while you walk. You could also try these best meditation apps too.
  • Head towards nature—live near woodland? Try forest bathing—as you walk, submerge yourself in your surroundings by breathing in the aromas and focusing on the nature around you. Japanese researchers found it can reduce stress while boosting immunity and wellbeing. Plus, a study by the mental health organization Mind showed that taking a walk in natural surroundings increased sensations of happiness in 71% of participants.
  • Sign up for a charity walk—not only will you raise money, but it will give you something to aim for (and there’s plenty of evidence goal setting is an effective tool). Plus, joining up with a friend is great for workout motivation.
  • Grab some poles—just like those used in Nordic walking—they can ramp up calorie-burning by 20%. The right technique is key: Swing poles so that the one in your right-hand strikes the ground as your left foot hits the floor, then the left-hand pole hits as your right foot strikes the ground, and so on. 

TRY A 30-DAY WALKING FOR WEIGHT LOSS PLAN

This month-long walking challenge is all about maximizing the full benefits of walking. There are three levels—decide yours using the test and then follow the targets below. If you find that your level is too easy, switch to a more advanced one. The key is to be consistent and move daily. “We’ve massively over-complicated health,” says Dr Rangan Chatterjee, a GP. “We think everything needs to take a long time and a lot of effort, but a five-minute walk around the block can make a difference. Every little counts.”

An easy way to increase the benefits is to up your pace. Research has shown that the walking speed of middle-aged people was a good guide to how well they were ageing. Slower walkers aged faster, with immune systems, lungs and even teeth in a worse condition than the faster movers. Not sure how you fast should you go? A good measure is that you should sweat a little bit, feel your heart rate rise but still be able to hold a conversation. If you’ve got a fitness tracker, try to stick to 100 steps a minute (2.7mph)—anything above 130 steps a minute would count as a vigorous walk.

Take the test:

Beginner? If your daily average step count is less than 5,000, opt for the Novice Level

Daily output between 5,000 and 7,500? Go for the Intermediate Level

If your daily average is 7,500+, choose the Whizz Level

DAYS 1-7

Novice 5,000 steps

Intermediate 7,000 steps

Whizz 7,500 steps

DAYS 8-14

Novice 5,550 steps

Intermediate 7,500 steps

Whizz 8,000 steps

DAYS 15-22

Novice 6,000 steps

Intermediate 8,000 steps

Whizz 9,000 steps

DAYS 23-30

Novice 6,500 steps

Intermediate 8,500 steps

Whizz 10,000 steps

ADD IN THESE TOO…

Twice a week, do two extra-brisk walks. Each should take 10-15 minutes, building up to 20-25 minutes.

DAYS 1-7

Novice 1,200-1,500 steps

Intermediate 1,500 steps

Whizz 1,700 steps

DAYS 8-14

Novice 1,500-1,800 steps

Intermediate 1,700 steps

Whizz 1,800 steps

DAYS 15-22

Novice 1,800 steps

Intermediate 2,000 steps

Whizz 2,500 steps

DAYS 23-30

Novice 2,000 steps

Intermediate 2,500 steps

Whizz 3,000 steps

HOW TO TONE UP WHILE YOU WALK?

If you want to make your workout harder, add in some extra strength training exercises during your walks. “They will boost your muscle power and endurance, as well as improve your balance and walking gait,” says Richardson. Pause your walk at every 1,000 steps and aim for either 10 (Novice), 20 (Intermediate) or 30 (Whizz) repetitions of the below.

CURTSY LUNGE

With feet shoulder-width apart, step your left leg behind you and to the right. Bend both knees, so you’re in a curtsy position. From here, jump to the side to switch the position of your legs, ending in a curtsy lunge with leg positions reversed. Split the rep count between each leg.

SQUAT

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Keep your feet flat and back straight, then lower into a sitting position. Lift your arms out in front of you to balance. Hold for three seconds, push your heels into the floor and drive up to standing.

EAGLE SQUAT

Start with your legs together. Lift your right leg over your left leg, so they’re crossed. Interlink your arms so your right elbow is underneath your left, palms touching. Squat down, hold for three seconds, switch sides and repeat.

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