By Mark Faries, PhD

Howdy, I am Dr. Mark Faries and we are here separating lifestyle medicine fact from fiction.

Some fitness experts claim that walking is not a great way to lose weight. But, is this conclusion fact or fiction?

No one will argue that a higher intensity activity, that requires more energy, will also use up more energy.

But, just because jogging might use up more energy than walking, it does not mean that walking is an unacceptable option for weight control or weight loss.

Plus, I’ve had numerous patients and commenters on my Website say that they’ve lost 20 or more pounds by walking on a regular basis.

So, to clear up the confusion, let’s look at the research on this subject.

Research actually supports these commenters and not the so-called fitness experts. We have plenty of scientific evidence to support walking as a completely acceptable form of physical activity for weight loss, especially when it’s combined with a healthful, nutritious diet. As shown in this graph, diet produced nine pounds of weight loss, while diet plus walking either 30 minutes per day or 60 minutes produced about 13 pounds of weight loss in the same 12 weeks.

In addition, a group of researchers found that diabetics classified as obese were able to lose 17 pounds in eight weeks with diet and walking of at least 10,000 steps per day. The diet-only group lost nine pounds. As another benefit, the walking group saw an improvement in insulin sensitivity, while the diet-only group did not.

Even without the dietary changes, a review has shown that pedometer-based walking is effective for weight loss. Plus, these results improve the longer we stick with a regular walking routine!

What about those who have successfully lost weight and then kept it off?

No surprise here either. Walking is one of the most frequently chosen and important aspects of physical exercise reported by individuals who have successfully lost and maintained their weight for at least six months.

If you enjoy walking, then keep walking and enjoy its many benefits. The fact is that not everyone can participate in highly intense exercise, running or even jogging.

Beyond being the most commonly chosen activity for weight control, we can also gain other important benefits from walking, ranging from mood enhancement to improved metabolism to better health and fitness.

Simply walking, along with a healthy diet, can improve aerobic fitness. A decline in aerobic fitness may actually be seen with diet alone—with no physical activity.

So you see how the aerobic fitness of the green line—diet only—went down over the 12 weeks, while the two walking groups experienced an increase?

Walking to lose weight is NOT a myth. Walking should be promoted, rather than demoted to second fiddle to other, more intense forms of exercise.

So, if you enjoy walking, and want to use it as a way to lose or control you body weight, then go for it!

Shoot for 30 minutes per day of brisk walking about 2.5 miles per hour at least five days per week, or around 150 minutes per week.

Use a pedometer, and try to reach at least 7,500 steps per day. Also, try not to get less than 5,000 steps per day. In other words, sit less.

So the bottom line is that walking actually can be a great way to lose weight.

And claims to the contrary are fiction.

Dose-response effect of walking exercise on weight loss. How much is enough? Brill, J., Perry, A. C., Parker, L., Robinson, A., & Burnett, K. (2002). International Journal of Obesity. 26(11), 1484-1493.

Who succeeds in maintaining weight loss? A conceptual review of factors associated with weight loss maintenance and weight regain. Elfhag, K., & Rössner, S. (2005). Obesity Reviews. 6(1), 67-85.

A meta-analysis of pedometer-based walking interventions and weight loss. Richardson, C. R., Newton, T. L., Abraham, J. J., Sen, A., Jimbo, M., & Swartz, A. M. (2008). The Annals of Family Medicine. 6(1), 69-77.

Daily walking combined with diet therapy is a useful means for obese NIDDM patients not only to reduce body weight but also to improve insulin sensitivity. Yamanouchi, K., Shinozaki, T., Chikada, K., Nishikawa, T., Ito, K., et al.(1995). Diabetes Care. 18(6), 775-778.

Mark D. Faries, PhD

Mark has a PhD in Behavioral Health and an MS in Exercise Physiology. He is an Associate Professor and State Extension Health Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and has developed lifestyle medicine curriculum and advocacy. He has served on the Board of Directors of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, is founder of Lone Star Lifestyle Medicine for Texas and is founder of FitnessPudding.com.

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