How to Walk Off 10 Pounds, According to a Dietitian
If you've written off walking as a workout for weight loss, you should reconsider. The old-school advice to burn as many calories as you can in a workout is out. The new science is here: If you want to lose weight and keep it off, burning 500 calories at once on the treadmill is not the way. Instead, create a small calorie deficit through your diet and increase activity in a way that's sustainable and doesn't leave you ravenous. Enter: walking.
While not as intense as the Peloton or a HIIT workout, research shows that walking is associated with weight loss, fat burn, improved mood and reduced risk of chronic diseases. And the best part is that it's free and can be done anywhere. All you need is a good pair of shoes.
Keep reading to learn how to walk off 10 pounds in just a few months.
Can Walking Really Help You Lose Weight?
Yes! "Walking helps you lose weight by increasing your heart rate and burning calories. If you burn more calories than you consume, you will be in a calorie deficit, which will result in weight loss," says Tami Smith, ACE personal trainer and owner of Fit Healthy Momma.
One study found that, compared to women who maintained a sedentary lifestyle, women who walked 50 to 70 minutes per day, 3 days a week for 12 weeks burned more belly fat. Don't have time to walk for 60 consecutive minutes every day? You might be able to get the same, or better, results doing two shorter walks, according to a 2019 study in the journal Obesity. Women who did two 25-minute walks per day 6 days per week lost more weight and inches than women who did one 50-minute walk per day. Both followed the same calorie-controlled diet.
In a study in the Journal of Nutrition, one group of men and women followed a calorie-restricted diet, while the second group followed the same calorie-restricted diet but also walked 2.5 hours per week. Both groups lost weight, but the walking group lost more body fat compared to the group that followed a calorie-restricted diet without walking.
The most effective, sustainable plan for weight loss is one that combines dietary changes with exercise. But if you feel like you're doing pretty well in the eating department and still aren't getting the results you desire, it may be time to try the simple and free form of exercise known as walking.
How Long Does It Take to Walk Off 10 Pounds?
How much weight you can lose from walking depends on your current weight, diet and activity level. We recommend losing no more than 1 to 2 pounds per week for sustainable weight loss, which means you could potentially lose 10 pounds in five weeks. However, a more realistic timeline is 10 to 24 weeks, since most people don't have hours to devote to walking every day. Plus, a slower rate of weight loss means you can enjoy vacations and holidays and actually maintain your progress long-term.
How Many Calories Can You Burn Walking?
"Calorie burn from walking depends on several factors, including age, weight, sex, walking pace and difficulty of your walking course," says Alex Davis, co-creator of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. "Generally, 1 mile (or roughly 2,000 steps) walked equates to [burning] 80 to 100 calories." There are 3,500 calories in 1 pound. "This means to lose 1 pound, you'll need to walk roughly 35 miles or 70,000 steps. Over the course of a week, this means targeting 10,000 steps a day," says Davis. At this rate, you could lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks.
The more you weigh, the more calories you will burn. According to calculations by the American Council on Exercise, a 185-pound person walking at a brisk pace of 3.5 miles per hour will burn 318 calories in one hour, and a 155-pound person walking at 3.5 mph will burn 267 calories in an hour.
The faster you walk, the more calories you will burn, so pick up the pace to lose 10 pounds in a shorter amount of time.
This is how many calories a 155-pound person burns walking for one hour at different paces, according to the American Council on Exercise physical activity calculator:
2 mph (a stroll): 140 calories
3 mph (moderate pace): 232 calories
3.5 mph (brisk pace): 267 calories
4 mph (very brisk): 351 calories
5 mph (fast pace): 632 calories
Walking Plan to Lose 10 Pounds
The best walking plan for you will depend on your fitness level, how much you currently walk and your schedule. If you already walk 10,000 steps per day but aren't losing weight, you likely need to tweak your diet and increase the duration or intensity of your walks. Adding higher-intensity workouts and weight training a few times per week can help too.
If you currently walk 15 minutes per day but aren't seeing results, walk for 30 to 60 minutes. If you want to drop 10 pounds faster but don't have an hour to devote to walking every day, walk for 30 minutes at a very brisk pace and add intensity like hills or weights.
Here are two five-week walking plans—one for beginners and one for seasoned walkers, those already in the habit of walking every day. After five weeks, increase the duration, frequency and/or intensity of your walks to continue seeing results. Create a calorie deficit through your diet and add strength training two to three times per week to help burn fat while preserving muscle.
5-Week Beginner Walking Plan
Smith created this five-week walking plan for newbies. "If the person is starting from sedentary or very little structured walking, they will want to start out on the lighter side," she says, "Here's an example of a five-week walking routine progression for someone new to taking dedicated walks for workouts."
Week 1: Three 15-minute walks during the week with little to no incline and at a moderate pace of 2-3 mph. This should feel like a leisurely stroll, nothing intense.
Week 2: Three 20-minute walks with little to no incline and at a slightly elevated pace of 2.5-3.5 mph. This speed should feel as though you're walking with some urgency, but you're not in a rush.
Week 3: Three 30-minute walks with little to no incline and at that same slightly elevated pace (2.5-3.5 mph).
Week 4: Four 30-minute walks with some incline or hills added; your speed can stay on the higher end of the 2.5-3.5 mph range. The addition of some incline changes will begin to engage your muscles more and rev your heart rate and calorie burn.
Week 5: Five 30-minute walks with incline and hill intervals and at a speed ranging from 3.5-4.5 mph. This should be a purposeful power walk.
5-Week Intermediate Walking Plan
Brett Durney, co-founder, personal trainer and running coach at Fitness Lab, developed this walking plan best suited for those who already do some walking each day.
"At a high level, I'd always set 10,000 steps as a daily minimum target and often advise that this is broken down into three 20- to 30-minute purposeful walks," he says. "Ideally I try to get my clients closer to 15,000 steps per day over time and do this by increasing the walk session times by 1 minute per month over the course of five to six months."
Week 1: Three 15-minute walks, achieving roughly 7,500 steps per day
Week 2: Three 16-minute walks, achieving roughly 8,000 steps per day
Week 3: Three 17-minute walks, achieving roughly 8,500 steps per day
Week 4: Three 18-minute walks, achieving roughly 9,000 steps per day
Week 5: Three 20-minute walks, achieving roughly 10,000 steps per day
Ways to Increase the Burn
While these plans increase walking duration each week, walking 60 minutes per day at a brisk pace only burns 250 to 350 calories—not quite the 500-calorie-a-day deficit needed to lose 1 pound per week. Here are five ways to increase calorie burn without walking longer.
1. Pick up the pace
"Walking speed directly affects your calorie burn. Picking up your pace from a stroll (2 mph) to a moderate walk (3 mph) burns 33% more calories," says Davis.
2. Find hills
"Hill walks are great for your muscles. They activate your calf, glute and hamstring muscles even more than a flat walk, without any added risk of injury. In addition to increasing your heart rate and workload, hills also increase your calorie burn. On a treadmill, setting an intense incline of 18% can increase calorie burn even more," says Davis.
3. Listen to upbeat music
"One of my favorite ways to track and increase walking speed is by walking to music. On popular music apps like Spotify, you can even search for playlists that are 100 bpm (beats per minute) to upward of 180 bpm. Each week, try increasing your walking speed by listening to progressively faster songs," says Davis.
4. Take a hike
Hiking often involves walking on uneven terrain, which engages more muscle groups. The more muscle you build, the more calories you will burn both during the workout and afterward. Hiking uphill will boost calorie burn even more.
5. Try the Run-Walk Method
"The secret to keep burning calories is to not stop moving while you're doing the exercise. The run-walk method is a hack to increase the calories that you burn in the simplest way. It involves running for a short period of time, without extremely tiring yourself, and taking a 'break' by walking, and repeating this for the rest of the route. This helps you lessen your stress and exhaustion while doing the exercise, so you can do the routine for a longer time, burning more of your calories. What's good about this is it can be done even by beginners, since it takes no complex routine to reach your goal faster," says personal trainer and marathon runner Andrea Chapman.
Walking is a free and effective form of exercise for weight loss. When combined with dietary changes, you can lose 10 pounds in 10 to 24 weeks. Start with walking 10 to 15 minutes per day and work up to 30 to 60 minutes per day, depending on your fitness level and schedule. Increase speed and intensity to boost calorie burn, and consider doing two to three shorter walks each day versus one longer walk. For faster results, combine daily walks with two to four strength training sessions or high-intensity workouts per week.