Walking is a great place to start when you're beginning a fitness program. Assuming you do it at a brisk pace, you can burn enough calories to help you reach your weight loss goal. However, walking alone likely won't get you there. You will have to reduce your calorie intake and consider increasing the intensity of your workout to achieve the desired results.
It is nearly impossible to lose 2 pounds a week just walking. You will need to cut calories from your diet, increase your exercise intensity and consider strength training.
How to Lose 2 Pounds
There's a basic concept behind weight gain and weight loss. Eat more calories than you burn and you'll gain weight; eat fewer calories than you burn and you'll lose weight. However, in reality, it's not really that simple. Many things can contribute to weight gain, and those same things can make it hard to lose weight. Some examples include:
- Medical conditions
- Sleep quality
So there's a lot at play in how many pounds you can lose a week. One thing is for sure: Unless you consume fewer calories than you burn, you can't lose weight. That requires creating a calorie deficit.
A common theory is that 1 pound of fat contains 3,500 calories, according to Nutrition.gov. If that's true, then burning 7,000 calories a week through walking could help you lose 2 pounds a week. That means burning 1,000 calories a day just by walking.
If you try to do this, you may have to quit your job. According to Harvard Health Publishing, the average 155-pound person burns about 150 calories in 30 minutes walking at a pace of 3.5 miles per hour. In order to reach your 1,000-calorie goal, you would need to walk for about 3 hours and 20 minutes each day. Not doable — or enjoyable — for most people.
Even walking at a faster pace of 4.5 miles per hour, a 155-pound person would have to walk for 2 hours and 40 minutes. Will that fit into your schedule seven days a week? Probably not.
A Better Option
To lose 2 pounds a week walking, you're going to have to also reduce the calories in your diet — possibly by a lot. You could burn 500 calories walking and cut 500 calories from your diet, but you're still going to be doing a lot of walking — one hour and 20 minutes to one hour and 40 minutes. Maybe you can do this by walking in the morning and again in the evening, or by walking to and from work.
But it seems more realistic to further reduce your calorie intake by 600 to 750 calories each day. That sounds like a lot, but if you consume the typical Western diet, which is high in saturated fat and added sugar, it's actually not that difficult to do. Consider the USDA's data on the calories in foods and beverages you might consume regularly:
Just cutting a coffee drink in the morning and a soda at lunch could save you over 500 calories. But it's not just what you cut that makes a difference; what you eat is just as important.
Choosing nutrient-rich high-fiber fruits, vegetables and whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats will help fill you up on fewer calories. Adding more of these foods to your diet "crowds out" less healthy, higher calorie foods, making it easier to achieve your calorie goal.
Up Your Exercise Game
Here's another option: Increase the intensity of your workout at least a few times a week. The higher the intensity of your activity, the more energy you expend doing it and the more calories and fat you'll burn. Just look at these stats from Harvard Health Publishing on the typical calorie burn for a 155-pound person who runs for 30 minutes at different speeds.
- 5 mph burns 300 calories
- 6 mph burns 370 calories
- 7.5 mph burns 465 calories
You don't have to run if you don't want to. There are plenty of other activities that count as "vigorous" exercise such as:
- Cycling faster than 10 miles per hour or on hilly terrain
- Swimming laps
- High-impact aerobics
- Jumping rope
All of these activities are going to burn considerably more calories per hour than walking. Plus, variety is an important part of any fitness program. Doing the same thing day after day is bound to get boring after a while — to the point where you may start skipping workouts. Here's a good excuse to try some new activities, and find a few you like. It's helpful when you view exercise as a fun hobby or a skill you'd like to improve rather than just a means of burning calories.
Read more: The Truth Behind 20 Diet and Exercise Myths
One More Important Component
Walking is a weight-bearing exercise that can build muscle mass — but not a lot, and not total-body muscle mass. To increase your chances of achieving your weight loss goals, you should consider strength training. This doesn't mean lifting weights in the gym, although it can.
You can also do bodyweight exercises at home or in the park, take a vigorous yoga class, such as power yoga or Bikram yoga, or you can do Pilates or barre. All of these are muscle-building activities that you should add into your rotation a few times a week.
Why? Because building muscle isn't just for looks. It also increases your metabolism and helps you burn excess body fat. According to Paige Kinucan and Len Kravitz, PhD, of the University of New Mexico, muscle is metabolically active and accounts for up to 20 percent of daily energy expenditure. Fat accounts for less than 5 percent.
When you strength train, you break down muscle and your body then goes to work to repair it. This recovery process is what makes you stronger, and it also requires a lot of energy.
Additionally, doing a lot of cardio and reducing your caloric intake puts you at risk of losing muscle mass. Not only will this actually decrease your metabolism but also affect your physical abilities in daily life. Plus, if you've been strength training, once you reach your goal weight, you'll be pleased with the look of your lean, toned muscles.
- NIH: "Factors Affecting Weight & Health"
- Nutrition.gov: "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"
- USDA: "Basic Report: 21272, Pizza Hut 12" Cheese Pizza, Pan Crust"
- USDA: "Full Report (All Nutrients): 45210295, Gourmet Cupcakes, Upc: 770981310251"
- Starbucks: "Caffè Mocha"
- USDA: "Full Report (All Nutrients): 45022000, Crispy Fried Chicken, Upc: 608623000836"
- USDA: "Full Report (All Nutrients): 45248247, Kroger, Real Sugar Soda, Orange Soda, Upc: 011110884800"
- USDA: "Basic Report: 21233, McDONALD'S, Cheeseburger"
- USDA: "Full Report (All Nutrients): 45217656, Kettle Cooked Potato Chips, Upc: 049022685345"
- American Heart Association: "Moderate to Vigorous - What Is Your Level of Intensity?"
- University of New Mexico: "Controversies in Metabolism"
- Advanced Nutrition: "Preserving Healthy Muscle During Weight Loss"