You don't need a fancy gym membership to lose weight. On the contrary, one of the most powerful ways to slim down is free: walk! Walking for weight loss may even be more effective than running, according to a 2015 study. British researchers found that people who regularly took brisk walks weighed less than those devoted to other types of physical activity, including running, swimming, and cycling.
Ready to walk your way to weight loss? Register for our free virtual 5K walk on Saturday, April 30, 2022 and become a part of a community of thousands of walkers! Register here, and email email@example.com with any questions. We look forward to “walking” with you soon!
Why walking is so good for you
Walking literally transforms your body and mind. In fact, research shows it can add almost two years to your life. Of course, there’s the major perk that sneaking in those steps helps you shed unwanted weight. But going for a walk can benefit your body in other significant ways too. Here’s how:
- It guards your brain. Two hours of walking per week cuts your risk of stroke by 30%. Hitting the road also protects brain regions associated with planning and memory, and doing it for 20 minutes a day has even been found to reduce symptoms of depression.
- It strengthens your bones. Research also shows that about some form of physical activity every day, such as walking or bicycling, can lower the rate of hip fractures and fractures overall. In other words, the more you move now, the more mobile you’ll be later in life.
- It improves your heart health. A study of more than 89,000 women found that those who walked briskly for 40 minutes two or three times per week had up to a 38% lower chance of heart failure after menopause than those who did it less often or more slowly. Researchers have also found that walking for just 20 minutes per day lowers your risk of heart disease by 30 percent, and it can also cut your risk of obesity (a major risk factor for heart disease) in half.
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What to do before you start walking for weight loss
Follow these tips from Scott Mullen, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Kansas Hospital Sports Medicine and Performance Center:
1. Check in with your doctor.
If you haven't been exercising, running it by your primary care doctor is a good idea, just to make sure they don't have any concerns or think you need any testing ahead of time, says Dr. Mullen. Other red flags include chest pain, pain that shoots down your arm or up your neck, or severe headaches, he adds. If you develop any of these issues, stop your workout and check with in with a professional.
2. Invest in a good pair of walking shoes.
Look for a shoe store that does gait analyses to help you select the right pair for your specific foot type, Dr. Mullen says. Go a half-size up from your regular work shoes, since feet tend to swell when you exercise. Check out our full list of the best walking shoes for women right now.
3. Buy moisture-wicking clothing.
Walking doesn't require a closetful of expensive athletic wear, but investing in a few key pieces can make you much more comfortable. Look for tops and bottoms in moisture-wicking fabrics and choose styles with a bit of stretch, so they don't pinch if you take a bigger step or stride uphill. In cold weather, layer up. Here are a few workout essentials to consider:
A walking workout for your upper body
The calorie-burning power of walking combined with the metabolism boosting effect of strength-training moves makes this two-in-one workout efficient and effective. Do it in your neighborhood if there are sidewalks, or around a track. For optimal results, try it two to four times a week on nonconsecutive days.
Your pro: Jessica Smith, fitness instructor, trainer, and creator of the Walk On home workout series.
Focus on your posture! Keep shoulders pulled back, abs drawn in, and spine tall (imagine two balloons tied to your ears, giving you a lift!) during both the walking section and the strength section. Proper alignment can prevent imbalance and help muscles fire more effectively.
Be smart about dumbbells. This workout incorporates weights while you walk. Choose ones that will fatigue your muscles but that you can still maintain great form with—and that you can carry with you during the walking parts (around 5 pounds should be good). If you’re new to weights, try the circuit without them until you’re comfortable with the moves.
Walk carefully with weights. Swinging dumbbells while walking can lead to joint strain, so aim to hold them at your hips and keep your core muscles engaged during the walking intervals.
- Start walking at a slow pace, holding the weights, and progress in speed for 3 minutes. Then find a safe place for a break and set your weights down.
- For one minute, alternate lifting one knee up toward your hips as both arms reach overhead, drawing abs deeper into the spine, and lowering your arms with each step down.
- Next, take a wide step to the right and bring your left foot to meet your right; immediately repeat on the opposite side. Move back and forth at a brisk pace and let your arms move naturally, alternating for one minute.
Chest Squeeze: Stand tall with your feet at hip width, elbows bent at 90 degrees and arms open to sides of shoulders, holding weights with palms facing forward (your upper body should resemble a goal post). Draw abs in tighter to the spine as elbows come together in front of shoulders, maintaining the 90-degree angle. Return to start and repeat. Do 15 reps total.
3-Minute Walking Interval: Walk forward, lifting knees high in front of hips at a quick tempo, holding dumbbells at hips.
Single-Arm Reverse Fly: Standing with feet at hip width and maintaining a straight spine, hinge torso forward from hips 45 degrees, reaching dumbbells toward the ground. Keeping elbows slightly bent, raise left arm out to the side to about chest or shoulder height, squeezing left shoulder blade in toward your spine. Hold there for one count, then slowly lower down to start.
Perform 15 total reps with the left arm and then repeat with the right. (Doing one arm at a time challenges the core more and makes you focus on form.)
3-Minute Walking Interval: Turn your body sideways and walk to the side, leading with your right foot, as quickly as you safely can for 90 seconds. Then switch and lead with the left foot for 90 seconds.
Bicep Curl to Front Chest Scoop: Stand with your feet at hip-width, arms extended down and holding weights by your sides. Curl forearms up toward your body until they form 90-degree angles, keeping elbows bent and close to rib cage, with palms facing up. Next, extend arms out in front of chest in a forward scooping motion, with elbows remaining slightly bent and palms facing up. Then bend elbows back in by your sides and lower arms to return to start. Repeat for a total of 15 reps.
3-Minute Walking Interval: Power up your pace and walk as quickly as you can.
Rear Row and Triceps Kickback: Stand with feet at hip width, knees slightly bent, and hinge forward about 45 degrees from hips, maintaining a straight spine. Extend arms toward the ground with palms facing in. Bend elbows and pull weights up to sides of rib cage, squeezing shoulder blades back and together. Keeping elbows pulled back and in place, extend arms behind your body, squeezing through backs of arms. Reverse the move to complete the movement Repeat for a total of 15 reps.
3-Minute Walking Interval: Keep up your brisk pace and walk in a zigzag formation as you travel forward. The quick change of direction keeps your brain sharp and helps build agility and coordination.
NOTE: When you're on your third time through the circuit, replace the zigzag walking interval with a 3-minute cool down at an easy pace to bring your heart rate back down to normal and finish with the post-walk stretches below.
A walking workout for your glutes
If crummy weather is keeping you inside or you have no time to hit the gym, don't worry. You can do this power-packed walking workout by Sansone at home—no treadmill required.
Your pro: Leslie Sansone, executive producer of Walk at Home Workouts
Warm-ups are essential! Smart workouts begin slowly and increase gradually. The goal is to raise body temperature, warm muscles, and prepare lungs, bones, joints, and the circulatory system for the challenge of the workout. It’s the “rehearsal” for the main event.
Train your abs while you walk. Draw your belly button back toward your spine. This engages the big, deep muscle that runs horizontally across your lower abdominal region. It’s like doing a standing crunch or holding a plank position while doing brisk exercise!
Don't underestimate stairs! Gluteal muscles (your back end) are called on more with each step up stairs or on an incline. This means that even short bursts of quick climbing—just 15 seconds—can enhance your calorie burn in a big way.
These tempos are suggestions. To figure out your pace, march in place and count the number of steps you take in a minute. This is your starting line. If it's fewer than 130 steps per minute, try picking up the pace.
Add music! Listening to music can increase your performance and make your workouts fly by faster. Powermusic.com and musclemixes.com offer playlists that are engineered for fitness.
Speed: 130 steps per minute
Time: 3 minutes
Instructions: Repeat this circuit for your warm-up:
- March in place for 16 counts.
- Sidestep for 16 counts.
- Alternate front kicks for 16 counts.
- Alternate knee lifts for 16 counts.
Speed: 140 steps
Time: 4 minutes
Instructions: Repeat these moves to begin your circuit:
- March in place, raising hands overhead with every other step, for 16 counts.
- Sidestep, opening arms with each step out and closing with each step in, for 16 counts.
- Alternate front kicks, reaching both hands toward your foot on each kick, for 16 counts.
- Alternate knee lifts, touching elbows on your knee in a "standing crunch" motion, for 16 counts.
Speed: It should feel brisk.
Time: 1 minute
Instructions: Climb up and down a flight of stairs. If you don't have a full flight, use one step. Step up right, step up left, step down right, step down left for 30 seconds, then lead with your left foot for 30 seconds.
5 best post-walk stretches
After each walking workout, perform these stretches to help reduce tension and help your muscles recover.
Reach for the Sky: Raise hands up overhead, then (with knees slightly bent), slowly bend forward and touch toes. Repeat four more times.
Calf Stretch: Stand two feet away from a wall, with hands on wall. Bend arms and lean your upper body toward the wall, hold for 15 seconds, and repeat twice more.
Hip Opener: Sit on a chair or bench and put your right foot on top of your left knee for 30 seconds. Do the same thing on the other side, then repeat once more with each leg.
Hamstring Easer: Remain sitting and move forward toward the edge. Reach your right hand toward your right toe. Hold for 30 seconds, then release. Repeat with the left leg, then do once more with each leg.
Quadriceps Stretch: Stand up and hold on to back of chair. Try to touch your right heel to your butt, using your right hand to assist. Hold for 30 seconds. Do the same with your left leg. Repeat once more with each leg.
Additional reporting by Cindy Kuzma
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