Learn more about the benefits of walking and get started with two options to select from for your science-backed walking for weight loss program!
Please talk to your healthcare provider before starting any physical activity program, including walking. This guide is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical guidance.
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The Scientific Benefits of Walking for Weight Loss
Did you know… research has found that physical activity is the most important factor for maintaining your weight loss progress for life (Wing & Phelan, 2005)! In a study of over 5000 adults who maintained an average weight loss of 66 lbs for 5 years, 94% of participants were regularly physically active, and the most common type of activity was walking (The National Weight Control Registry)!
Research has found that the effects of walking on weight loss were just as obvious when participants walked for 30 minutes on 5 days per week compared to walking for 60 minutes on 5 days per week (Brill et al., 2002). This is good news– just a 30-minute walk can make a big difference for your weight loss progress!
Interestingly, Madjd et al. (2019) observed that, in a 24-week weight loss program for adult women, walking for 25 minutes in the morning and another 25 minutes in the evening on 6 days per week was actually MORE effective than walking for 50 minutes all at once on 6 days per week. The participants who walked twice per day for 25 minutes lost, on average, about 1lb more and an impressive 3cm more off their waists! If you’re able to work in two walks each day, then this may be the most ideal schedule based on the current research!
How to Maximize Your Effort!
Everyone wants to make the most of the time they put into physical activity, so here are my top tips to maximize your efforts when walking for weight loss.
Tip #1: Walk for 15-20 minutes after your main meals of the day to reduce the impact of your post-meal blood sugar spike.
- Keeping your blood sugar (glucose) as stable as possible has behind-the-scenes biological benefits for weight loss. By walking after meals, you help your blood sugar recover to its normal level more quickly because you are burning up the excess sugar from the food you ate. This is especially key for individuals who have type 2 diabetes, where glucose control can greatly improve your health (Reynolds et al., 2016). Learn more about glucose control here!
Tip #2: Do not increase your calorie intake on days when you walk (or do other types of physical activity).
- Unfortunately, in most cases, it is a myth that you can “eat back” the calories you burn from physical activity and still lose weight. We tend to underestimate the number of calories in the foods we eat, and activity trackers/exercise machines significantly overestimate the number of calories we burn from exercise. Unless you are doing high-intensity or endurance workouts, it is unlikely that you’ll need to adjust your calorie intake each day.
Tip #3: Set your walking goals in minutes rather than miles or calories burned.
- The science all supports the benefits of walking based on the number of minutes you walk, rather than the miles or amount of calories you burn. This is good news! Set your timer and know that your best effort during that time is enough.
Tip #4: Integrate walking into your daily routine.
- Routine makes it more likely that you’ll follow through with walking, because it will just feel like another thing you do each day. For example, you could get into the habit of going for a morning walk with your dog before work and another walk after dinner with your family. Or, maybe you prefer to walk each day over your lunch break to help manage stress. Find the routine that works for you!
Tip #5: Reach out for accountability and support from your loved ones!
- Consider making your walks a social event– invite your co-worker to join you on your lunch break or ask your friends to walk around the park to catch up with you on the weekend! Even better, maybe there is someone in your life who is also trying to start a walking routine, so you could work together to set goals and keep each other accountable!
Step-by-Step Weekly Walking for Weight Loss Program
I understand how challenging it can be to feel pressured to make lifestyle changes all at once. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it this way! I suggest slowly working walking into your routine and paying attention to how your body and mind feel in the process. Give yourself some compassion if this feels difficult– it will get easier over time as you start to feel stronger and more empowered!
Based on the science, I have created two 12-week programs: one that works up to walking 30 minutes daily on 5 days per week and a second that works up to walking 25 minutes twice daily on 6 days per week. I know that each person reading this will have a different activity level, so feel free to start at whichever week feels like it would be a slight increase from your current routine. On the other hand, please stay at a week’s level for however long it takes for you to feel confident about taking the next step!
Plan One: Walk for 30 Minutes on 5 Days Per Week
- Week 1: Walk for 5 minutes on 2 days per week
- Week 2: Walk for 5 minutes on 3 days per week
- Week 3: Walk for 10 minutes on 3 days per week
- Week 4: Walk for 10 minutes on 4 days per week
- Week 5: Walk for 15 minutes on 4 days per week
- Weeks 6-7: Walk for 15 minutes on 5 days per week
- Weeks 8-9: Walk for 20 minutes on 5 days per week
- Weeks 10-11: Walk for 25 minutes on 5 days per week
- Weeks 12 and beyond: Walk for 30 minutes on 5 days per week
Plan Two: Walk for 25 Minutes Twice Daily on 6 Days Per Week
- Week 1: Walk for 5 minutes in the mornings and evenings 2 days per week
- Week 2: Walk for 5 minutes in the mornings and evenings 3 days per week
- Week 3: Walk for 10 minutes in the mornings and evenings 4 days per week
- Week 4: Walk for 10 minutes in the mornings and evenings 5 days per week
- Week 5-6: Walk for 15 minutes in the mornings and evenings 5 days per week
- Weeks 7-8: Walk for 15 minutes in the mornings and evenings 6 days per week
- Weeks 9-11: Walk for 20 minutes in the mornings and evenings 6 days per week
- Weeks 12 and beyond: Walk for 25 minutes in the mornings and evenings 6 days per week
How to Make Walking More Fun!
If you have found it challenging to stick to a physical activity routine in the past, make sure to approach this process differently! I encourage my patients to figure out what motivates them and incorporate those rewards into their walking routine.
If you’re motivated by making walking more enjoyable, consider:
- Picking an audiobook or podcast that you only listen to when you’re walking. If you want to know what happens next, this can entice you to go walk!
- Making a new playlist with upbeat songs– maybe your favorite throwbacks or the hottest new music releases!
- Choose a new route, perhaps that park by your home that you haven’t explored yet!
If you’re motivated by tracking your statistics and progress, consider a fitness tracker! Learn more about the different types of fitness trackers and my top picks here! For accuracy and a motivating user-friendly interface, I prefer (and personally use) the Apple Watch. Other notable mentions based on my patients’ feedback are the Fitbit Charge and Fitbit Versa (the battery life is impressive!).
If you’re motivated by new gear, consider:
- Headphones that excel in sound quality. I just purchased the Bose 700 Wireless Bluetooth headphones and have been absolutely blown away by how dynamic the music sounds. They have truly upped my workout game! Other excellent options I tried on were the Sony WH-1000Xm4 wireless headphones and Jabra Elite 75t Bluetooth earbuds.
- Stylish and supportive new shoes. My go-to options for cushiony walking support are Asics (men and women) and HOKA One One (men and women).
- Workout gear that makes you feel confident and strong. Having comfortable athleisure can go a long way to make you feel prepared in your walking routine, and perhaps you could reward yourself with a new piece after each week or month you accomplish your goal! Consider looking into some buttery soft leggings, breathable tops, and a cozy fleece-lined hoodie for those colder months.
Dr. Schulte’s Summary:
Walking is the most common form of physical activity practiced by people who are successfully maintaining their weight loss progress. Research shows that the most ideal walking schedules would be 1) 30 minutes on 5 days per week or 2) 25 minutes in the morning and 25 minutes in the evening on 6 days per week. Find the routine that works for you, and take it slow as you get comfortable with walking greater distances. Use my step-by-step weekly walking program as a guide! Most importantly, find ways to enjoy walking, such as listening to your favorite podcast or audiobook, using a fitness tracker, and wearing comfortable shoes and clothes you love showing off!
Questions? Drop a comment below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Brill, J. B., Perry, A. C., Parker, L., Robinson, A., & Burnett, K. (2002). Dose–response effect of walking exercise on weight loss. How much is enough?. International journal of obesity, 26(11), 1484-1493.
Madjd, A., Taylor, M. A., Delavari, A., Malekzadeh, R., Macdonald, I. A., & Farshchi, H. R. (2019). Effect of a Long Bout Versus Short Bouts of Walking on Weight Loss During a Weight‐Loss Diet: A Randomized Trial. Obesity, 27(4), 551-558.
Reynolds, A. N., Mann, J. I., Williams, S., & Venn, B. J. (2016). Advice to walk after meals is more effective for lowering postprandial glycaemia in type 2 diabetes mellitus than advice that does not specify timing: a randomised crossover study. Diabetologia, 59(12), 2572-2578.
Wing, R. R., & Phelan, S. (2005). Long-term weight loss maintenance–. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 82(1), 222S-225S.
Disclaimer: all opinions are my own and are not affiliated with my employers. Please seek medical guidance before pursuing weight loss or making significant changes to the way you eat or your physical activity routine.