The steps you take in the critical brisk walking zone are the most impactful for weight loss, though more steps are almost always better. It takes time to warm yourself up for intense fitness walking, which means very short walks will burn fewer calories per minute. The longer you walk, the harder it will be to maintain a fast walking pace with good walking posture. For the most calories burned per minute walked, a few medium length, intense fitness walks can be your most efficient path for weight loss. In practice, since you have limited walking time you should get your steps any way can, even if that’s very short or very long walks.
We’ll cover the pros and cons of short, medium and long walks plus important considerations to stay safe and maximize your calorie burn.
More steps are almost always better
While it’s hard to do intense, fast walking in a 2 minute walk, getting those steps is almost always better than not walking at all. Every step burns calories and contributes to health benefits. When you take a 2-minute or 5-minute walk, your alternative is probably to not get active at all. Staying seated for long periods of time is bad for your health, so getting up and walking for 5 minutes is important to fight off those negative health effects. If you have a health condition that makes it difficult to walk for more than a few minutes at a time, you definitely want to take advantage of short walks rather than pushing yourself into a dangerous situation.
On the other hand, very short walks don’t allow you to warm up and cool down effectively. It takes at least 3-5 minutes to properly warm up for exercise, and you should spend a similar amount of time cooling down. For a very leisurely, short walk (to the water cooler, or once around a small block), you may not need to do an extensive warmup. Because your joints and muscles haven’t prepared for sudden exercise, trying to speed walk or fast walk up and down steps puts you at risk of pulling a muscle or hurting a joint.
There is some research that shows that multiple short exercise sessions may actually help people lose more weight than one long walk. Keep in mind that most studies define a “short” walk as typically between 10 and 25 minutes. If you plan to do multiple 10-minute walks, you’ll need to make sure that you actually get all of these walks despite the distractions of the day. If you do need to change into walking shoes and walking gear and/or take a quick shower after your walk, it can make sense from an efficiency standpoint to make those “short” walks closer to 20 minutes than 10.
Medium walks (20-40 mins) are perfect for weight loss
A walk long enough to warm up and cool down properly (3-5 minutes each), and get a solid block of brisk or fast walking will typically give you the most bang for your buck for weight loss. 20-30 minutes is often ideal fitness walking because you can focus on getting as intense as possible without worrying about getting so tired that you can’t finish your walk. It’s easier to fit 20 minutes into your schedule, which means you’ll often have better success planning two 20-minute walks rather than one 40-minute walk.
The faster you walk, the more calories per hour you’ll burn. The more calories you burn, the more effective you’ll be at losing weight. It’s hard to keep up a brisk walking pace for extended periods of time, so two fast paced 20-minute walks will almost always burn more calories per minute than one slower 40-minute walk.
Interval training to maximize your calorie burn
Interval training can maximize your calorie burn by alternating periods of very fast walking with slower recovery periods to rest up. You’ll get the cardiovascular benefits of heart pumping fast walking without having to maintain that pace for more than a few minutes at a time. Interval training is meant to be intense exercise that’s done over a shorter period of time, but you do need at least 15-20 minutes to warm up, cool down and still have time for your working intervals. Try this 30-minute walking workout to increase your calorie burn.
Maintain proper posture and stay safe
Walking with proper posture and foot strike is key to using your joints and muscles correctly and preventing injury. As you tire, your posture will naturally slip. Cutting your walks short before this happens can ensure you’re maximizing the benefits of the steps you take. If you’re looking to get very intense with your walks, try splitting your time into two (or three!) shorter walks and paying close attention to your form.
Walk too long and you’ll see diminishing returns
What you consider a “long” walk depends on your fitness level and health, but everyone gets tired eventually. Fatigue makes it harder to keep up a brisk walking pace, or tough it out over hills or inclined sections. Even slower steps are still burning calories and getting you healthier, but after a certain point you’ll start to see diminishing returns in terms of calories burned per hour.
Long walks are great for people who have longer blocks of free time, or who don’t enjoy very fast-paced fitness walking. If you have 2 hours and you enjoy taking a leisurely stroll with breaks here and there, using that time to walk may be your best bet for weight loss. While your calories per minute will be less than a more intense, shorter walk, you may be able to make that up by walking longer.
If your health condition or experience means that you can’t easily walk very quickly, taking longer walks will be the main way that you get more steps and burn more calories. Just be sure that you maintain good posture and don’t walk so long that you’re feeling pain or soreness.
Pay attention to your posture slipping
As you tire, your posture will often start to slip. Walking with poor posture increases your risk of soreness and injury, and it simply isn’t fun. You can often fix posture by simply noticing your posture as you walk, but eventually you’ll lose focus or be too tired to maintain that good posture no matter how fit you are. If you feel your posture slipping, try stopping to take a rest before continuing. It’s also good to note how long you were able to walk with good posture, and work on trying to increase that time over a few weeks and months.
Don’t over-snack on long walks
If you’re walking for a very long time (1-2 hours or longer), you may need a sports drink or light snack to replenish electrolytes and give yourself an energy boost. For shorter walks, you’re usually fine with plain water. Walk for hours, however, and you may find yourself craving whatever snacks you can find. If you do need to snack, pack your own if possible so you can control the calorie count. Try mixing energy drinks with water (you can pour some out and fill the bottle with water), or choosing lower-cal versions. Make sure that whatever snacks you choose don’t offset all of the work you put into a long walk!
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