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How to Burn More Calories Walking
Hacks to make your walk work for you.
Walking is one of the most underrated forms of exercise. Not only does it require no equipment (except for a solid pair of walking shoes) but it also helps you live longer. A recent study found that benefits of walking include a lower risk of heart attack and stroke.
But not all walking is created equal. Walking faster not only helps you live even longer (see this study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine) but it also helps to burn more calories. Yet another study showed that walkers in their fifties burned 25% more calories when they increased their walking speed by just a half mile/hour (from 3.6 mph to 4.1 mph).
Anyone who thinks walking can’t be a calorie-torching workout just isn’t doing it right. So, to find out how to burn more calories walking, we turned to some experts to learn more.
If you want to burn calories and are trying to decide between walking and running, the latter can often seem like the obvious answer. But besides improving heart health, lowering blood pressure and reducing anxiety, walking can burn quite a few calories, too. “Even though walking is much less metabolically stressful than running and other forms of cardio, it’s still a great way to build a baseline fitness that will help you get into more intense forms of exercise that will have a greater impact on your overall health and body composition,” says owner of Salt Lake City’s 212 Fitness Josiah Schultz. “To get the most out of your walking, build up to brisk walking for 30-40 minutes 5-6 days each week. If you’re starting from a completely sedentary lifestyle, start with a moderate pace for ten minutes a day and build from there.”
It’s clear that walking can burn calories but it can also help prevent those calories from stacking up in the first place. Personal fitness trainer Heidi Butler says walking can help tame a sweet tooth and lower blood sugar, as well as reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes. “Walking has so many health benefits,” she says. “It improves your mood and mental state, enhances creative thinking and gives you a boost of energy, not to mention it boosts Vitamin D by getting you outside and interacting with nature.”
It’s important to note that easing into a new workout—even one that focuses on something as basic as walking—is key to preventing injury and burnout. “Don’t go straight from the couch to tackling the highest mountain peak nearby,” Schultz says. “To see a physical improvement, you only need to do slightly more than what your body is used to.”
Pay Attention to Form
Even when we’re walking to burn calories, it can be tempting to look down at our phones while we’re doing it. Don’t. That kind of multi-tasking puts unnecessary strain on your neck and leaves you vulnerable to tripping, rolling an ankle or worse. Butler says to focus on standing tall with your chin parallel to the ground and your ears aligned above your shoulders. Imagine your head being pulled up gently by an invisible piece of string that’s attached to the ceiling (this helps prevent you from dropping your head into your chest while you walk). Keep your eyes and gaze forward and focus on an area about ten feet ahead.
As for strides, Butler says to keep them on the shorter side, which will alleviate stress on lower leg joints. “Your power should be coming from the push off your rear leg,” she says. “Keep your hips as level as possible and avoid slouching. This will protect you from back and shoulder strain. Keep your shoulders down and back, and focus on keeping your spine elongated.”
Finally, engaging your core will not only burn more calories while walking but also keep your form in check. “Your core muscles play an important role when you’re walking,” Butler says. “As you take each step, focus on tightening and engaging your core muscles by pulling your belly button in towards your spine. This will help maintain balance and stability.”
To up the calorie burn, think about adding some resistance to your walk. One way to do this is by choosing a route with hills. “Hills are a great way to add more effort to your walks,” says Schultz. “As an added benefit, your stability is much more challenged on a trail versus a road. If you don’t live in an area with good trails/elevation change, try finding stairs to increase the level of difficulty in your walks.”
Besides finding resistance in nature, think about adding your own weights to burn more calories while walking. “Carry light weights or wear a weighted vest,” says Butler. “Carrying weights while you walk can help incorporate other muscles that you otherwise wouldn’t use in your walking workouts. Hold two- or three-pound weights and walk for five minutes, then perform one-minute intervals of upper-body exercises like bicep curls, shoulder presses and lateral shoulder raises while continuing to walk.” Butler also suggests switching up the direction of your walking with intervals of backward or sideways walking to work different muscle groups, which can also help improve balance and stability.
Get the Gear
If you want to burn more calories walking, you can’t be doing so in flip-flops or loafers. Wearing supportive walking shoes with air cushioning and a molded heel is key. “A good walking shoe should feel comfortable and support proper form,” says Schultz. “You want to initiate your step with a soft heel strike and finish by propelling yourself off your big toe.”
Butler says a good walking shoe should be light with proper lateral support. You shouldn't be able to bend or twist it easily in your hands. It should also have adequate padding for support and be evenly cushioned, rather than a huge heel cushion. Ready to take that first step?