Walking costs nothing, requires no gym membership or special equipment, and is manageable regardless of your fitness level.
Studies also show that going on regular walks can:
- boost your metabolism[*],
- increase fat-burning[*],
- reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes[*],
- and even brighten your mood[*].
In this article, we’ll review what scientific research says about walking for weight loss, starting with how much you should walk to lose weight.
However, it also depends on whether walking is your only form of exercise, as well as whether or not you’re following a weight loss diet.
Here’s what the best evidence tells us:
- If you’re using nothing but walking for weight loss (no diet and no other exercise), one study found that 60 minutes of brisk walking every day (420 minutes total per week) for 6 months or longer could help you lose 10% of your starting body weight[*].
- A 2017 meta-analysis found that 45 minutes of brisk walking, 4 times per week (180 minutes total per week) can create a clinically significant reduction in body weight, BMI, waist circumference, and fat mass for obese men and women[*].
- A separate 2017 study found that in overweight men and women, 2.5 hours (150 minutes) of brisk walking per week paired with a weight loss diet was more effective than diet alone, increasing weight loss by about 4 pounds over 12 weeks[*].
- A 2002 study concluded that if you’re following a weight loss diet, 30 minutes of walking most days of the week (up to 210 minutes total per week) may be equally effective compared to 60 minutes of walking paired with diet[*].
As you can see, you need more walking if you’re using it as your only means of losing weight, but can use less if you’re also following a sensible diet for weight loss.
Those recommendations are similar to the American Heart Association’s exercise guidelines for weekly exercise[*]:
- Get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as walking at a brisk pace), preferably spread throughout the week.
- Gain even more benefits by being active at least 300 minutes (5 hours) per week.
- Spend less time sitting.
So to sum up, any amount of walking is helpful, and the more you can manage, the better.
And while it’s possible to lose weight by only walking without changing your diet, pairing a healthy nutrition plan with walking is the best strategy. That way, you can address your calorie intake along with increasing the calories you burn.
How fast should you walk for weight loss?
According to a 2008 study, the peak rate of fat-burning for overweight men and women occurs with a walking pace around 3 miles per hour[*].
And brisk walking, the type of walking usually recommended for weight loss, is often defined as 2.7 miles per hour or more, or at least 100 steps per minute[*].
You don’t necessarily need to count your steps unless you want to, though–walking at a fast but fairly comfortable pace should do the trick.
And if you can’t walk very fast, you can make up for it by walking longer (for more details on this, see the Calories section of this article, below).
One of the nice things about walking is that you don’t need any gadgets to do it. But if you want to use a heart rate monitor, you can walk in a “moderate” intensity zone that’s 55-69% of your maximum heart rate[*]
To calculate your max heart rate, subtract your age from 220. Then you can determine the appropriate range for walking by multiplying that number by 0.55 and 0.69.
As an example, for a 35-year-old, the target heart rate zone for walking would be approximately 102-128 beats per minute.
One study also found that walking extremely fast, 5 miles per hour or faster, was effective and burnt even more calories than jogging at similar speeds.
Bottom line: the faster you can walk, the better, but for most people the sweet spot is around 3 miles per hour[*][*]. And if you can’t walk that fast, walking at whatever speed you can manage is still very beneficial.
Can you break up your walking or do you need to do it all at once?
The evidence comparing long, continuous walks versus intermittent walking throughout the day is mixed, and both strategies seem to work well for fat loss and health purposes.
The best approach is most likely whatever is most comfortable for you, or a mix of the two.
Here’s what studies say on the matter:
- A 2019 meta-analysis found that short, repeated bouts of brisk walking or other exercise are effective for reducing obesity[*].
- A separate 2019 study found similar results on fat loss for continuous and intermittent walking in sedentary office employees[*].
- Another 2019 trial found that for women following a weight loss diet, walking for 25 minutes twice a day, 6 days per week was significantly more effective for fat loss than a single 50 minute walk 6 days per week[*].
- A 2016 trial comparing 100 minutes of walking, 3 times per week, versus 50 minutes, 6 times per week in overweight or obese women found slightly better weight loss results in the group that did longer walks[*].
- A 2005 study found better heart health benefits with a single 60-minute walk each week compared to walking 20 minutes three times a week[*].
- A 2002 study found that walking for 10 minutes, 3 times per day was at least as effective as a single 30 minute daily walk for improving cardiovascular risk factors and mood[*].
Again, keep in mind that the results are conflicting, and either method should be fine. You can also experiment to discover what suits you best.
So if you want to calculate your calorie burn from walking, it’s easiest to measure the distance rather than use the pace and duration.
And it also follows that if you walk slowly, you can increase your walking times to burn more calories by covering more distance.
That said, micromanaging your calories isn’t really the best way to lose weight, anyway.
And while some evidence does suggest you can use walking to lose weight without changing your diet, it’s less likely to work for people who overeat[*].
Let’s say you need a calorie deficit of about 3,500 calories (kcal) to lose one pound of fat. That number isn’t 100% accurate, but it’s close enough for this illustration[*].
Now, if you walk for 60 minutes every day at a brisk 3 miles per hour, you’re burning approximately an extra 2,100 calories each week due to walking.
At that rate, you might lose up to a pound of body weight every 11-12 days, or nearly 2.5 pounds per month, but only if you don’t eat any extra calories.
Overeating (especially unhealthy foods like sugar and other processed carbs) is usually the reason people are overweight to begin with, and a walking program doesn’t do anything to address your calorie intake[*].
Ultimately, there isn’t much point to worrying over the calories you burn walking. Instead, simply walk as often as possible, and if you aren’t losing weight, consider fixing your diet.
According to a study from the American Journal of Sports Medicine, walking for 60 minutes per day, every day for 6 months, can reduce body weight by up to 10% in obese young women[*].
However, these results aren’t guaranteed for everyone, and most people will get their best weight loss results by combining walking with a sensible diet that prevents overeating.
Doing nothing but walking to lose weight is a lot of work, and it’s all too easy to undermine your hard work with an unhealthy diet.
In other words, because belly fat is one of the most unhealthy types of fat, adding walking to a well-rounded fat loss regimen is a great way to improve your health and your fat loss results.
Use these simple walking tips to get the best possible weight loss results.
Walk Whenever You Have a Chance
Because it’s such a gentle, low-risk physical activity, walking as much as possible is a great idea for weight loss.
That means that even if you already go on extended, scheduled walks regularly, there’s still room for more walking when you get the chance.
Research suggests that increasing your movement by taking the stairs, parking farther away, and walking more whenever possible can help you achieve better weight loss results[*].
Keep Walking Long-Term
Walking isn’t a quick fix.
Studies show that the longer you stick with walking, the better your results.
A 2019 meta-analysis found that walking for longer than 10 weeks provided better results than doing it for less than 10 weeks[*].
And other studies have shown the most significant progress after 6 months or longer[*] .
For best results, you need to make walking part of your long-term health plan–preferably for life.
Avoid Carbs and Sugar Before Walking
If you follow the keto diet, you probably already know this, but eating carbs can reduce the amount of fat you burn.
For example, a 2012 study found that eating carbs before a brisk walk, especially sugary carbs, reduced fat-burning–and this effect was greater the more carbs that subjects ate[*].
The simple solution is to walk on an empty stomach, or at least avoid all carbs and sugar before you go on a walk.
Walk During Fast Periods
If you already engage in intermittent fasting, make sure to go on walks during your fasting periods.
Cut Cravings In Half By Walking
Any time you feel an urge for sugary or unhealthy snacks, try going for a walk instead of indulging your craving.
A 2015 study found that going for a 15 minute brisk walk reduces the desire for sugary snacks in overweight people, even under stressful situations[*].
And a separate 2012 study found that a short, brisk walk could reduce cravings by half[*].
Increase Speed and Distance Over Time
A six-month study found women got excellent fat loss results by increasing their walking volume over time, eventually reaching 60 minutes per day[*].
If you’ve been sedentary for a while, you might find it easier and more agreeable to work your walking speed and distance up gradually over time.
You can try starting with shorter walks of 15-20 minutes each day, then go up from there.
Or, if you’ve already been walking regularly for a while, you can walk faster and farther to get even better results.
Walks Hills or Go for a Hike
Along with increasing speed and distance, you can also walk in hilly areas for a greater challenge.
Evidence shows that walking hills burns more calories and more fat compared to flat areas[*].
A 2017 study also found that hiking outdoors in nature provided a better increase in positive mood compared to walking indoors on a treadmill[*].
Use Walking to Maintain a Healthy Weight
Also, evidence suggests that as people gain weight and become obese, they tend to stop walking and become more sedentary[*].
So if you aren’t currently walking regularly, now might be a good time to assess your body fat and consider where your health is headed.
Walking is an incredible option for weight loss, weight maintenance, and overall health.
No matter your current fitness level or weight loss goals, walking is an easy and effective way to improve your health and boost your results.
For most people, walking 150-180 minutes (2.5-3 hours) per week total, at a speed of around 3 miles per hour, is an ideal target–but any amount of walking is beneficial, and doing more can earn you even better progress.