Can You Lose Weight by Walking Slow?

Couple walking in park, smiling, autumn
A man and woman take a walk. (Image: Michael Blann/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Walking, even at a low intensity, is a great way to get active, burn calories, and start working towards the ultimate goal of losing weight and slimming down your waistline. Especially if you are just starting to workout, walking can provide tremendous health benefits that get you started with your weight loss journey.

Impact

Walking for 30 minutes at a time or more is an effective way to start increasing your metabolism and burning calories. A common misconception is that you need to do some type of high intensity running or swimming to effectively lose weight, but walking is very practical, especially for a sedentary individual not used to exercise. As long as the heart rate is elevated over your resting heart rate, you are requiring your body to expend more energy than it is used to, which is a great start. The best way to calculate the intensity of your walk is to first calculate your maximum heart rate.

Your heart rate max is the absolute highest your heart rate can physically be during exercise. A simple formula to calculate that is 220 - your age. So if you are a 30-year-old man, your predicted maximum heart rate is 190.

Effects

High intensity exercise burns primarily carbohydrates as fuel, whereas lower intensity exercise utilizes fat as its primary source of fuel. Even though you will not be conditioning your heart to prepare for a marathon, you will still burn fat and you will lose weight. Take a 30 minute walk at a low percentage of your own maximum heart rate, between 40 percent and 60 percent. It may not feel too intense, but you will burn calories, and most of those calories come from fat. By walking at even a slow speed you elevate your heart rate and increase your metabolism.

Warning

A catch always exists, however. The body is amazing at adapting to stimuli, even something as simple as taking a walk down the street. If you continue to walk the same route at the same low intensity, you will burn fewer and fewer calories. This is because your body adapts to this routine and becomes more efficient at using fuel under these circumstances. In short, you are getting fitter. As this occurs, vary your workout by walking in an area that provides more hills and valleys, increasing the total distance or increasing the speed at which you walk.

RPE Scale

Unless you have a heart rate monitor, it can be difficult to tell if you are walking at the appropriate intensity. Use the Ratings of Perceived Exertion, or RPE scale. It scales from 6 to 20 to help you identify the intensity of your workout. The higher the rating, the more difficult the exercise feels. For example, a rating of 7 feels extremely light while a rating of 19 feels extremely hard. This rating scale helps you define the intensity of your walk without having a heart rate monitor. As you walk, ask yourself how you rate the difficulty of the exercise. If it seems relatively easy, perhaps a 7 or 8, you might want to increase the difficulty of your walk to elevate your heart rate and burn more calories.

Considerations

Slow walking, while a great start, will probably not be enough to yield amazing results in terms of weight loss. To lose weight from walking slow, you have to put your body into a calorie deficit by consuming a reduced-calorie diet. Healthy weight loss comes from an exercise program that includes varying modalities and intensities, as well as proper diet and nutrition. However, walking is better than sitting. Even something as simple as taking a 30-minute stroll outside can be enough to help you burn calories and lose weight.

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