Sedentary behavior is on the rise; more than 60% of Americans don’t get the recommended amount of exercise per week and about 25% of Americans aren’t active at all according to the Centers for Disease Control. But you don’t have to start an intense workout program to stay active. In fact, walking can be a great entry into a fitness regimen since it’s simple, free to start and easy on the joints.
A big bonus of walking is that it can be a useful weight management tool for those trying to lose weight. Studies continue to show the beneficial relationship between walking and weight loss, especially when combined with dietary intervention. One of the reasons why walking is helpful for weight loss is that it can increase energy or calorie expenditure. Making walking a habit can even optimize your resting metabolic rate by promoting an increase in lean body mass. But another interesting thing to note about walking compared to other forms of exercise is that it does not appear to increase appetite, which means you can easily incorporate it into your weight loss program and still stick to your eating plan.
Editor’s note: We also want to acknowledge that weight loss, health and body image are complex subjects — before deciding to try a new fitness routine (or diet), we invite you to gain a broader perspective by reading our exploration into the hazards of diet culture.
But the benefits of walking go far beyond just benefitting the number on the scale. In fact, research suggests that walking can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and also improve longevity. What’s more, walking regularly can improve a person’s cognition and also help decrease symptoms of anxiety and improve mood. Although there are pros and cons to walking at different times of the day, our experts say the best time of day to walk for weight loss is the time that works best in your schedule and one that you will stick to consistently. Whether you’re walking for weight loss or just to improve your overall health, here are our expert tips to help you get the most out of your daily walking session.
Table of Contents
Before you head out for your walk
1. Check the weather
Getting caught in a rainstorm in the middle of your walk isn’t exactly ideal. Take a look at the weather report in the morning to see when the best time for your walk would be. If you normally walk at around 5 p.m. but the weather report expects rain, then consider rescheduling your walk for lunchtime. And always carry a charged phone with you in case the weather takes a turn and you need someone to pick you up.
If you’re heading out for a long walk, make sure that you are hydrated and figure out how much water you should drink every day. Try to stay hydrated during the day and drink 2 cups of water at least 30-60 minutes before your walk so it’s out of your system and you won’t have to use the bathroom while you’re out. When you return from your walk, make sure to down a glass of water to rehydrate the body. Avoid any sugary sodas or electrolyte drinks; if you’re walking at a moderate intensity, water will do just fine to rehydrate the body.
3. Get the right gear
Toss away the old flip-flops and opt for your best walking shoes to add comfort to your stroll. This will help with your posture during your walk and can also reduce the risk of injury. Plus, if you have the right sneakers on, they can help improve your stride and make walking a longer distance more comfortable.
4. Wear layers
Dressing in layers can prove especially handy as your body warms up throughout your walk. Try a two- or three-layer system, with the first layer against your skin being a moisture-wicking workout top. Depending on the weather, a second and occasionally third layer can provide a barrier from the cold, wind, rain or all of the above. If you heat up, just tie that extra layer around your waist.
5. Invest in reflective clothing and accessories
If you frequently walk outside, reflective workout gear is essential for significantly increasing your visibility and keeping you safe. Whether you are walking during the day or in the evening, it can be hard for cars to see pedestrians at any time of day, so reflective gear and bright colors can make a big difference. Look for clothing and accessories like hats with reflective accents on both the front and back.
During your walk
6. Focus on form
Walking itself doesn’t take much skill and is very natural, but certain posture and form cues can help enhance your walk. Focus on keeping your chin up and shoulders square. Your core should be activated and your back should be straight. Most importantly, your glutes should be engaged with every step; try to think about tucking your butt inward. You’ll want to land on your heels and roll forward to push off of your toes with each stride.
7. Pick up the pace
Walking in intervals is a great way to help you burn more calories and keep your walk interesting. When it comes to walking, there are three different paces:
- Stroll: Similar to window shopping, about a 3/4 difficulty on a scale of 10
- Brisk walking: Make a small effort here, about a 4/5 difficulty on a scale of 10
- Power walking: Moving with a purpose, about 5/6 difficulty on a scale of 10
Our experts recommend warming up with a stroll, then aiming for a brisk pace throughout your walk and pushing to a power walk pace every five minutes to get your heart rate up. See how long you can maintain a power walk pace and then try to increase it by a few seconds every time you go out for your walk. Power walking can make a big difference in your overall health.
8. Set a goal
How far can you walk in 30 minutes or in 1 hour? In order to optimize your walking pace, try to aim for 1.5 miles per 30 minutes and 3 miles per hour, which is a brisk pace of about 20 minutes per mile. If you can’t commit to walking for a full hour or 30 minutes, do what you can. Remember that anything is better than nothing when it comes to activity and even a short walk can tremendously contribute to your daily step count.
Our experts say it is also a good idea to set a goal for the number of walks you would like to reach per week and write them down so you can check off each walk as you go and feel a sense of accomplishment.
9. Walk on an incline
If you’re indoors, a treadmill will allow you to manipulate your incline which can enhance the caloric burn of your walk. If you’re outside, try to opt for a hilly area to optimize your walk. Research suggests that increasing the incline can enhance the intensity of the workout while also reducing the impact on the legs and joints. Plus, it activates many muscles throughout your body including your legs and core, while also increasing cardiovascular stamina and calorie burn.
10. Sprinkle in some reverse walking
Reverse walking, a fancy way to say walking backwards, may sound silly but it actually provides a variety of health benefits. It can help enhance body coordination and increase strength in leg muscles that are not as heavily used. A recent study even found that backwards walking reduced pain and improved physical function in individuals with knee osteoarthritis. Try doing a short burst of reverse walking a few times throughout your walk, just be sure to stay aware of your surroundings.
11. Try adding light weights
Looking to level up your walks? Walking with light weights can be a great low-impact strength training exercise and intensify both calorie burn and muscle toning. You can try a weighted vest, ankle weights, wrist weights or light dumbbells that you hold throughout your walk. Even light 1- to 3-pound weights can get heavy quickly, so start with very light weights and a short walking route to test things out and see how your body feels.
12. Walk with a friend
An accountability buddy can help you stay on track and make that daily walk non-negotiable. Try to find a friend, family member or co-worker who will go for a walk with you a few times a week to keep you motivated and change things up. When you and your friend encourage each other, you may end up working harder. Plus, you’ll know someone else is counting on you to show up too.
13. Stroll with a furry friend
Regular walking can work wonders for both you and your dog. Improved cardiovascular fitness, lower blood pressure, stronger muscles and decreased stress are some of the many benefits for humans. Walking is vital for your pet’s health too. Just like humans, it helps manage their weight and reduces the risk of medical complications like osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease and more. Consider adding an extra 10 minutes to your regularly scheduled dog walk to ease into things for both you and your furry friend.
14. Walk for a cause
Apps like Charity Miles allow you to turn your steps into charity money. The app donates 25 cents to a charity of your choice for every mile you complete. Plus, you can create your own pledge page where friends can sponsor you, even if you’re not doing a marathon or race.
15. Find a motivating playlist
Create your own playlist or head to the Workout tab on Spotify for a variety of curated playlists to suit your workout preference. Choose from options like pumped pop, classic rock, heavy beats and more — opt for something upbeat and motivating! Research shows that walking to music may help you stick with it and also keep you walking at an effective stride rate.
16. Download a great audiobook
Take your favorite book outdoors by downloading a great audiobook to keep you busy during that afternoon stroll. Apps like Audible make your walks educational and can help pass the time while also keeping you engaged. If you’re looking for extra motivation to start your walk, a self-development audiobook may be just what you need to lace up and get moving.
17. Listen to your favorite podcast
Choose from one of our 50 best podcasts to keep you entertained on your daily walk. Whether you’re into true crime or celebrity interviews, this list is sure to have a podcast choice for everyone. A great podcast can help pass the time by and give you something to look forward to listening to, especially on those longer walks.
18. Find the right walking app for you
A walking app can be just the thing to keep you motivated and track your steps as you make note of your walking progress along the way. An app like Pacer is essentially a pedometer built into your smartphone, which is excellent for keeping track of your steps both on your walk and throughout the day. Alternatively, apps like 99 Walks provide a supportive community and guidance for walking and weight loss.
19. Walk around the world
Certain high-end treadmills offer beautiful scenic walking trails all around the world that you can enjoy from the comfort of your own home. Choose from destinations like Bali, Japan and more. Alternatively, you can take advantage of free walking tours on YouTube that go through destinations from Paris to Greece and more on your smartphone or tablet as you walk on the treadmill at home or at the gym.
20. Maximize your walk with a smartwatch
Investing in a smartwatch like the Fitbit Sense or Apple Watch can help upgrade your walking experience by providing enhanced stats, encouraging you to complete your steps for the day and keeping you hands-free while you stroll. Check out our best smartwatch picks to find one best suited to your needs.
21. Try an audio-based walking course
Our fitness experts love the on-demand audio-based walking classes on the Peloton Digital app. Seasoned instructors guide you through different walking intensities with curated playlists; it’s like walking with your very own personal trainer. Another great option that our pros recommend is Time to Walk, a feature on Apple Fitness+ where users can immerse themselves in a walk alongside influential and interesting people as they share meaningful stories, photos, music and more.
22. Stay safe
If you’re concerned about safety while out for your walk, apps like ROAD iD allow your friends and family to track you while you’re out on your route and offer other safety features. Always be aware of your surroundings and tell a friend or family member ahead of time where you are planning to walk and when you expect to be home.
23. Calculate your calorie burn
Calorie burn while on your walk can vary greatly depending on several factors like your weight, distance walked, incline, terrain and more. A smartwatch can help give you a fairly accurate estimate, but if you prefer not to use one then you can try estimating your burn with walking calorie calculators that are available for free.
After your walk
24. Finish with a 5-minute stretch
Squeezing in even just five minutes of stretching after your walk can improve your range of motion and prevent injury. Move muscle recovery along by taking at least five minutes to do some static stretching, which involves moving a muscle or joint as far as it can go and then holding it for a period of time. Static stretches like a quadriceps stretch, hamstring stretch and tricep stretch are all examples that can help provide relief and relaxation of the muscles after your walk.
25. Consider building a walking plan for future walks
A structured walking plan can help hold you accountable and keep your walking routine interesting. Walk Your Way to Better Health, a walking plan from our sister magazine Prevention, comes with a preloaded MP3 player, dozens of walking workouts and 140+ healthy recipes to support your overall health. You can even map out a walking plan for yourself on your monthly calendar and find the best time of day that typically works for you to get moving during your schedule.
A registered dietitian and NASM-certified personal trainer, Nutrition Lab Deputy Director Stefani Sassos oversees all nutrition and fitness content and product testing for the Good Housekeeping Institute. With a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Sciences from Pennsylvania State University and a Master of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition from NYU, she is a nationally recognized nutrition and fitness expert, regularly appearing on national TV and radio outlets. Prior to joining GH in 2020, Stefani worked as a Senior Clinical Oncology Dietitian at The Cancer Institute at St. Francis Hospital and ran her own private practice on Long Island. An avid CrossFitter, she is dedicated to leading a healthy and active lifestyle, and inspiring others to do the same.
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