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Walking for weight loss: How to burn fat during walks

Trying to shed those last 10 pounds? Here's how to do it by walking every day.

Two women walking on a trail.
Walking at a brisk pace can help with weight loss. (Getty Images)

Whether you're just starting to get physically active or you're looking for a lower impact exercise to do, we can all agree that walking daily is great for your body. But if you're walking to lose weight, there are several steps you'll need to follow, including walking at a faster pace (aka brisk walking).

While you've likely been walking for years (you're basically an expert), it's always a good idea to check your form. Walking with good form can improve efficiency and help prevent injuries, so keep your head up, shoulders back and engage your core — no slouching. You should also make sure you're wearing the best type of walking shoes (no flip-flops for this venture).

We'll walk you through some ways you can lose weight by walking, including the number of steps you should take and the intensity levels you should work your way up to. And when you're ready for a bigger challenge, consider the benefits of wearing a weighted vest on your daily walks — it may help speed up your weight loss progress.

"Adults should aim for a healthy, stable body weight," Katrina Piercy, director of the division of prevention science at the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, told Yahoo.

Brisk walking is one way to meet that goal, as it's a form of moderate-intensity exercise that helps burn calories and maintain (or even improve) muscle mass. That said, weight loss is a highly individual process that hinges on factors like your current activity level and your height, weight, sex and muscle mass. Additionally, how much weight you want to lose and how much you'd like to lose per week both impact the amount of walking you should aim to achieve each day.

You've likely heard that you need to take 10,000 steps every day, which is just over 4 miles for the average female and nearly 5 miles for the average male. This is a good guideline to shoot for, but if you're just starting out, you may find that 10,000 steps feels like an overwhelming goal. You may want to invest in a fitness tracker to gauge what your baseline level of walking is, then gradually add more steps over time. Consider adding an extra 500-1,000 steps per day each week.

Active choices, such as taking the stairs rather than the elevator or adding short episodes of walking to your day, can also be helpful in weight control, Piercy said. It can also help you meet your steps goal.

You should also consider your diet and the number of calories you consume each day. If the calories you consume is significantly higher than what you burn, you probably won't see significant weight loss results. Nutrition and exercise go hand in hand, so if you're looking for a way to better manage your diet while also kickstarting your walking routine, you may want to consider subscribing to a meal kit delivery service.

If you're walking to lose weight, Piercy says, you may need to do more than the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity every week (which breaks down to 30 minutes a day, five days a week). "Some people will need to do the equivalent of 300 or more minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week to meet their body weight goals." This boils down to your metabolism, your current weight and your weight loss goals.

Physical activity can help reduce abdominal fat and preserve muscle during weight loss, Piercy says. Additionally, it can be beneficial to maintain your body weight and can also help prevent weight gain around the midriff area that tends to happen as you get older.

Walking is great exercise, and it's something you can do easily, whether at home, outside or at a gym. As long as you're keeping up with a moderate-intensity walk rather than a stroll, you should see results.

If you feel like you've reached a plateau while walking, try taking a different path. Increasing your intensity level is a surefire way to burn more calories and see results faster. To increase intensity, consider:

  • Walking hills. Try walking hills or on an incline on a treadmill instead of on flat ground. In addition to offering a greater cardiovascular challenge, it will also help build more muscle mass in your legs and glutes.

  • Increasing your speed. Pick up the pace as you feel more comfortable walking. For instance, if you usually walk at a 2.5 mph pace, see if you can complete your walk while maintaining a 2.8 mph or 3.0 mph pace. Each walk should feel challenging, so as you become more fit, it's important to continue to test your own limits.

  • Adding intervals. You can also add intervals to your routine. Try walking at your typical pace for a minute then increasing your speed for another 30 seconds. Cycle between these higher and lower paces for the duration of your walk.

  • Consider adding hand or ankle weights. Added resistance can also increase the intensity of your workout.

Piercy recommends using the talk test to determine the intensity of your walk. Generally, a person doing moderate-intensity aerobic activity can talk but not sing during the activity, she said. "A person doing vigorous-intensity activity cannot say more than a few words without pausing for a breath."

As your walking journey progresses, pay attention to these signs: If you're able to carry on a conversation without needing to catch your breath, it may be time to kick the intensity up a notch.

In addition to losing weight, walking — or any physical activity — has numerous benefits that are great for your overall well-being.

For adults, Piercy says, physical activity can help prevent eight types of cancer and reduces the risk of dementia, all-cause mortality, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and depression. It also improves bone health, physical function and quality of life.

You might also see immediate benefits after your exercise. A single session of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, Piercy says, can reduce blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity, improve sleep, reduce anxiety symptoms and improve some aspects of cognition on the day that it's performed.

"There isn't a wrong way to walk," Piercy says, but "comfortable shoes can make walking more enjoyable." You may also want to consider orthopedic shoe options if you have foot, knee, hip or back pain, especially while walking.

Most importantly, if you're walking to lose weight, make sure you're keeping up a brisk pace. As mentioned above, a moderate-intensity pace or higher will provide the best results. But if you're just getting started, simply walking is better than sitting, and you'll also see results.