It would be difficult to overstate the value of an activity like walking to lose weight. Sure, it doesn’t give you that deep endorphin buzz from pushing yourself to your absolute limits as you may be able to get from more intense exercise, but because of it’s relatively low intensity it is ENJOYABLE to more people. And because it is enjoyable, people are more likely to do it more frequently than more intense exercises.
It’s the kind of thing you can do in place of two hours on the couch watching TV. Or, if your mobile phone has the data speed for it, you can even watch TV on your mobile phone while you walk. Or you can talk on the phone, or walk with someone, or with your dog.
And unlike almost any other exercise activity, there is almost no barrier to entry. You can walk almost anywhere, there really isn’t any mandatory specialized equipment, or technique, or expertise required. Nor does it really require some amount of natural ability or pre-existing fitness level.
Walking at a speed of 4 miles per hour (a slightly fast pace, but doable for most people) burns around 2 calories per pound of body weight per hour, so a 180 pound person would burn 360 calories in a 4 mile walk (which, at 4 mph obviously takes an hour).
Running at 6 miles per hour burns around 4.6 calories/lb/hour, so for a 180 pound person a four mile run would burn around 550 calories (but it would only take 40 minutes instead of an hour). But only the most serious runners run EVERY day. Most more casual runners would never do this four miler more often than every other day. But most people walking to lose weight can do the four mile walk every day.
There is another important factor involved in walking to lose weight that comes to mind.
At first it seems like a downside that it takes longer to burn calories than other higher intensity activities. Since walking is so low-intensity you can do it longer, and you MUST do it longer to burn the calories (but you won’t mind as much since you can do other things at the same time).
But for an activity that requires 1-2 hours plus cleanup time, you most likely will end up doing it in the late afternoon/early evening, assuming you have any normal kind of daytime schedule with work, school, etc. The effect of that timing is that your walking time replaces couch/TV/snacking time. And that’s critical.
I know at least for me when I’m being undisciplined about my diet, far more than half of my daily calories are consumed between 7pm and 11pm (and worse, the calories consumed in that window of time are often the worst calories: chips, dips, cheeses, cookies, ice cream, etc.).
So even if walking to lose weight really didn’t do anything else beneficial, the time it requires may keep you occupied at the weakest time of your day (nutritionally speaking). While it may be true that you can do other things while walking, such as watch TV on your smartphone, talk on phone, talk with companion while walking, one thing that is difficult to do while walking is EAT CHIPS/DIP/CRACKERS/COOKIES/ICE CREAM/BEER.
Instead you arrive home at 8:30PM pretty exhausted, shower, catch an episode of your favorite sitcom, then go to bed.
Case studies in walking to lose weight
Obese high school girl turns thin by walking
A friend of mine was obese while in high school. She was around 5’5″, 180 lbs. Then she decided to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. She did two things. First, she started strictly counting her calories. No KIND of food was off limits, and she still eats what everyone would agree is a HORRIBLE diet, but she just made sure the calories came in under her daily target calorie count. Second, SHE WALKED ALMOST EVERY DAY, usually 1-2 hours. Now she maintains a nice, trim 120 lbs (give or take).
Another case is the Amish. The Amish are known to eat a diet high in carbohydrates, sugar, saturated fat, and cholesterol. I have read that the typical Amish diet “…begins with breakfast that typically includes a stack of pancakes with syrup, scrambled eggs, sausages, hash browns, bread, butter and pie. Lunch: a taco salad with potato crisps, ground beef, shredded cheese, beans and canned peaches. And dinner: beef, gravy, potatoes, bread and butter, more gravy, followed by chocolate pie.” (The Amish Obesity Studies)
That article points out the obvious: If a typical modern American ate like that he/she would gain weight immediately.
So what is the Amish secret? Well, according to that study the average man walks 18,425 steps per day (the women a little less at 14,196 steps per day). Assuming an average stride length of around 28 inches, that’s over eight miles per day for the men. I would also bet that most Amish don’t “veg out” until their head hits the pillow at night.
I might add my own observation of other countries where walking is a far more regular part of their everyday life. I have visited a few Eastern European cities where it is very normal for someone to not have a car, but to get around on foot, metro (subway, commuter train), or bus. But even those who use the metro or buses WALK a half mile from their apartment to the metro station. Then at the other end they walk another half mile from the metro station to their job. Then at their lunch break they may walk another half mile to the post office, then another half mile to someplace else, etc. Double all those estimates to include the return trip distances.
This is very anecdotal, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they average 3-5 miles/day on their feet.
You would be hard-pressed to find an obese person among them. I look back at pictures where there were scenes with many people in the backgrounds. Maybe one out of twenty look significantly overweight (which I might note is the Amish average obesity occurence).
So START WALKING!
In order to start walking to lose weight you don’t need much. Maybe your most comfortable pair of walking shoes and a watch or smartphone to measure your time and distance if you want to be systematic about it.
And if you have an Android/iPhone there are great apps to help you track your time, distance, AND calories. See Five Best Fitness Apps for iPhone and Android for a review of a few options.
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