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Can Walking Burn Fat?
Everything You Should Know

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: August 2, 2021

Although not the most strenuous form, walking is one of the easiest forms of aerobic exercise that almost every average healthy person can incorporate into their fitness routine - no special equipment or skills needed.

Although there’s no single exercise promising to spot-reduce fat, walking in your day-to-day life can help you lose belly fat when paired with a well-balanced diet.

BUT, the key is in walking fast enough and long enough.

We’ve asked professionals how to do it right, and we’re happy to share their expert tips.

How to Maximize Weight Loss While Walking

Woman outdoor wearing pink sneakers ready to do a morning walk

Here are some tips that can help you burn as many calories and as much fat as possible while walking.

Walk in the Fat-Burning Zone

Walking briskly in your fat-burning zone can help you maximize calorie and fat burn, particularly targeting belly fat [1].

By burning internal belly fat or visceral fat accumulated around your internal organs, not only that you’ll reduce your waist circumference and have a slimmer waistline, as a small study on obese women has proven [2], but you’ll also reduce the increased risk for heart disease, insulin resistance, diabetes, anxiety, depression, obesity, and many other health risks [3].

Health experts recommend that you walk regularly at 2.5-3 miles per hour for at least 30-45 minutes a day or around 150 minutes per week in total to maintain weight, and 200-300 minutes per week for long-term weight loss and to prevent weight gain [4].

How do you know that you’re walking in your fat-burning zone?

You’ll probably be sweating, feeling increased exertion, and breathing heavier, still able to speak but not sing.

“Walk at a consistently brisk pace at your heart rate fat burning zone (which could be 117bpm-130bpm depending on your height and weight) for no less than 30 minutes. This is because when your body recognizes that you are walking at a consistent pace for a prolonged period of time, it will go to your fat stores for energy instead of going to muscle glycogen.”

 

- Ellen Peker, Certified Pilates Instructor and Wellness Coach

Your target heart rate for moderate-intensity aerobic exercise such as brisk walking should be between 50% and 70% of your maximum heart rate [5] [6].

To calculate it roughly, subtract your age from 220, then multiply by 0.6.

Increasing the duration during physical activity of low-to-moderate intensity like brisk walking is an effective way for burning more calories.

At the same time, it ensures that your body burns fat released from your fat cells as an energy source instead of stored carbs and sugars typically burned for quick bursts of exercise (which brings us to the next tip).

Increase Your Walking Workout Duration, Intensity, and Step Count Consistently

Man walking in red race track

These simple methods can help you lose weight while walking, i.e., increase your metabolic rate and calories burned from fat:

  • Beginner walkers should start small (15 mins/day, five days/week) and progressively increase their activity level and intensity (walking time and speed), aiming for a few more steps each day.
  • To make your workout more intense, add distance and time, making your walk 5 minutes longer each weekly session.
  • Vary your walking pace, alternating more intense, short intervals of fast strides with walking more slowly while taking a longer stride because it burns 20% more calories than maintaining a steady pace [7].
  • To burn 5-10% more calories, bend your arms at 90 degrees and pump from the shoulders, and wear a weighted vest, wrist, or ankle weights (but with caution as weights may lead to muscle imbalance, soreness, and injuries)
  • Pick new, challenging routes, try “retro” or backward walking, join a walking group, get a fitness tracker to log your steps, or do whatever else to motivate yourself to walk more and remain interested in the activity for as long as you can.
  • Whenever you can, vary the terrain (walk up hills outside on gravel, grass, or flat surface, change the incline on a treadmill in the gym, take the stairs, etc.)
  • Mind your posture and focus on a good walking technique and form to build strength and stay injury-free (walk with a purpose, look ahead, keep your back straight, shoulders back, abs, and glutes tightened).

Here’s a sample workout: 

  1. Warm-up: Begin with an easy walk, gradually increasing your pace.
  2. Main set: Alternate 2-minute walks at a moderate pace with 1-minute walks at the fastest walking pace you can tolerate for min. 20 minutes to raise your heart rate and calorie burn as much as possible. If you need to catch your breath, rest at the halfway point. You can also challenge yourself - add some strength exercises or try jogging or light running in 1-minute intervals (which puts more stress on your joints) to burn more calories per minute.
  3. Cool down by walking at a comfortable pace and stretch a bit to get loose and speed up recovery.

Note: Ten minutes of easy walking is enough to warm up at the beginning of each workout and cool down afterward so that you avoid injuries.

Walk in a Fasted State for Burning Fat More Efficiently

Woman brisk walking in a green park

The aim of walking workouts in a fasted state is to speed up your heart rate before eating or drinking anything.

That enables your body to burn stored fat to fuel up the workout instead of the sugar you’ve just consumed.

One study found that people tend to burn up to 20% more body fat when they exercise in the morning on an empty stomach [8].

Even better:

Another research published in 2016 suggested that fasted morning workouts may reduce 24-hour calorie intake and increase fat oxidation during exercise, supporting body weight management [9].

Keep in mind that experts advise lower intensity exercise for the best results while the workout duration increases over time.

More importantly, your daily nutrition for refueling your muscles after exercising should be your primary concern.

Your body requires plenty of protein and carbs when you’re done with a fasted cardio workout because it can also burn your stored protein in the form of lean muscle in addition to stored carbohydrates and stored fat.

Also, if you feel too tired or light-headed during the fasted cardio, completing the training after a meal may be a better option for you.

Fasted cardio works differently for everyone, but it’s worth experimenting to see whether it’ll help you achieve your weight loss goals.

Mix Up Your Workouts

Woman walking while listening to music

As a result of doing the exact same workout day after day, your body eventually adapts, meaning it’ll burn fewer calories in as much time, making the workout less efficient.

That’s why it’s critical for losing fat that you vary your workouts as much as possible.

So, switch up between shorter interval sessions and longer distances to train both your aerobic and anaerobic metabolism for weight loss so that you notice results faster and keep your exercise routine interesting.

Increase your exercise intensity with a 30-minute interval training once or twice per week for an extra boost in reducing subcutaneous abdominal body fat.

It’s also beneficial to include some total-body strength training into your workout program.

Try to break things up slightly by adding a few exercises like push-ups, lunges, burpees, or squats to the second half of your walking workouts.

Related: Do Muscles Burn Fat?

Can You Burn Fat By Walking?

You can reduce overall fat, including belly fat, walking if you stay active and persistent.

However, to lose weight faster, boost your body’s ability to burn the most calories possible, and reap the other benefits, you need to walk in your fat-burning zone for at least 45 minutes every day, preferably before breakfast or lunch, and to constantly challenge yourself according to your fitness needs and goals.

Plus, eat clean to fuel your active lifestyle adequately.

Consult a trainer, seek professional medical advice, and get started today.

And remember to share your experience with us.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17637702/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25566464/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18220642/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19127177/
  5. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/target-heart-rates
  6. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/measuring/heartrate.htm
  7. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rsbl.2015.0486
  8. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130124091425.htm
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5050386/

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