The Health Benefits of Walking + a Walking Workout

a woman walking in a park
Walking For Fitness

If you have not exercised for a long time and are now carrying a lot of extra weight then a walking plan may be the best way to ease you back into exercise and help to lose some weight at the same time. Walking is an effective weight management activity, it burns calories, helps keep your legs strong and improves cardiovascular fitness.

Of course, the biggest advantage that walking has over most other forms of exercise is that everyone knows how to do it and it is a very safe form of exercise. You do not need to buy anything to start a walking plan either, so rather than wasting your money at the local gym (which you will hardly use) just put on your shoes and go for a walk.

Start a Walking Plan

OK, so walking is not the most efficient form of exercise. You will not burn calories as fast as if you were running, going to Zumba classes or learn kickboxing. However, it can burn a lot more calories than most people give it credit for.

There are really 2 levels of walking and the calories burned vary quite a lot. It may surprise you to learn that a brisk walk can burn as many calories as a slow jog. So if you are overweight and unfit, a brisk walk is certainly the best choice. Your mass will affect the total number of calories that you burn so this is just a guide.

  • Walking at 3 mph burns about 280 Calories per hour
  • Hiking / Brisk Walking burns about 500 Calories per hour
  • Jogging burns 500 Calories per hour
  • Running burns around 700 Calories per hour

As you can see, a brisk walk or hike burns as many calories as jogging and is not that far off running. However, were walking really starts to work better than the more intensive exercises is that you can maintain it for longer.

If you were to start running today then you may only be able to run for 5 minutes at the speed required to burn 700 Calories an hour. If you went for a slow jog then you may be able to manage 15 minutes. This would burn just 60 Calories and 125 Calories respectively. However, even if you have not done any exercise you could probably manage 30 minutes of gentle walking that will burn 140 Calories, and if you can do this twice a day then you are burning 280 Calories from day 1 of your walking plan.

Once you are able to pick up speed you should be able to manage 30-45 minutes of brisk walking that will burn off 250 – 375 Calories.

Within a few weeks you should be able to manage a 60 minute every day and burn 500 Calories. If you combine this with a healthier diet and restrict calories by 500 fewer than your current daily needs, then the total calorie deficit will be 1000 Calories per day which means that you should be able to lose 2 pounds (about 1 kg) each week.

So a walking plan really can help you to lose weight. Walking will get you stronger, fitter and slimmer. It is also great to get out for a walk daily, you get to see more of your local neighborhood. If you are unsure about walking by yourself see if you can arrange a local walking group to go for longer walks each week.

Ideally within a few months of starting a daily walking plan you will be able to do a 60 minute fast walk each day plus an additional 30 minute walk. You should try to incorporate more walking into your lifestyle in general with more walking in town as well as family walks in parks. Walking outside not only improves physical fitness and aids weight loss it is also good for mental health and mood.

Walking Workouts

Fitness and weight loss through walking is best done by pushing yourself to walk faster than is normal. However, it is not usually possible to sustain a brisk walk for long, so we will take an interval training approach to walking.

The basic workout:

  • 5 minutes of normal walking to warm up
  • 1 minute of brisk walking – should be tiring but not your top speed
  • 2 minutes of a moderate pace (but not as slow as normal walking)
  • 1 minute of brisk walking
  • 2 minutes of normal walking (slow)
  • 2 minute brisk walking
  • 2 minutes at a moderate pace
  • 1 minute at top speed – walk as fast as possible
  • 4 minutes of normal walking
  • Carry on walking home if you are not already there!

This walking workout should take 20 minutes. When walking briskly you should feel invigorated. When walking as fast as possible you should start to get out of breath and feel the burn in your legs.

As soon as this seems easier progress to longer workouts. Increase the time walking briskly to 3 or 4 minutes and add an extra top speed walk at the end. Ideally double the walking time to around 40 minutes for the best fitness and weight loss gains from walking.

Health Benefits of Walking

We know that walking helps us to lose weight and keep fit, but is it an effective way to increase our lifespan? Will it give you a longer and more fulfilling life? The answer appears to be yes.

A study published in November 2009 that was published in the British Medical Journal the message is clear: if you walk slowly you are 3 times more likely to develop heart problems. The simple act of taking a regular brisk walk can ward off heart problems and make you live longer.

“Analyses for specific causes of death showed that participantswith low walking speed had about a threefold increased riskof cardiovascular death compared with participantswho walked faster. There was no relation with cancer mortality. In stratified analyses, cardiovascularmortality was increased across various strata defined by gender,median age, median body mass index (BMI), and level of physicalactivity”. Dumurgier et al, 2009

The reason given by the researchers at University Pierre and Marie Curie in France is that walking increases the levels of HDL (the good cholesterol) in the blood. HDL helps to protect the arteries from the damaging LDL (bad cholesterol). It is this bad cholesterol which increases heart disease and other heart problems.

Walking also helps to keep older people fitter and less likely to suffer from falls and injuries too. As we age the amount and type of exercise that we do reduces, and as we become less flexible and less agile, exercise reduces and bones and muscles weaken. However, walking is something that most people are still able to do effectively into very old age.

“These findings show that assessment of motor performances in older people with simple measures such as walking speed can be performed easily and that the role of fitness in preserving life and function in older age is important.” Dumurgier et al, 2009.

So, if you are looking for a simple and effective way to improve your health and maybe lose a few pounds, just start walking.


Slow walking speed and cardiovascular death in well functioning older adults: prospective cohort studyby Julien Dumurgier, Alexis Elbaz, Pierre Ducimetière, Béatrice Tavernier, Annick Alpérovitch, Christophe Tzourio
BMJ 2009;339:b4460, doi: 10.1136/bmj.b4460 (Published 10 November 2009)

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