Do You Need Fast, Intense Walking To Burn Calories And Lose Weight?

Increasing the intensity and speed of your walks can boost your calorie burn by up to 50% or more, but that’s not the only way to lose weight walking. While walking is a low-impact exercise, more intense walks like walking inclines or speed walking can put more strain on your body. That tradeoff works for many people, but if you can’t or don’t like to do intense exercise it doesn’t mean you have to give up on weight loss through walking.

These 3 questions will help you decide if you need to get more intense to lose more weight by walking, or whether you take another route to walking weight loss.

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How much time do you have?

Woman checking watch on a walk in the park
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You can burn just as many calories through regular, leisurely walking as you can with intense fitness walking – it just takes longer! A 180-pound man would burn about 245 calories per hour at 2.5 mph, and about 409 at 4 mph. Incline walking can boost your calories burned by 50% or more, but you could always walk 50% longer and get the same effect. In reality, it may actually take less time than you’d expect to catch up. Most people don’t walk on an incline for their entire walk (unless they’re on a treadmill), and it’s important to warm up and cool down at a reduced pace.

If your walking time is limited:

If you only have a short time to walk during the day, then getting intense is the only way to increase your calorie burn. Unless you can find more time to walk, you’ll want to consider walking faster, walking on an incline, or doing an activity like power walking to burn more calories.

Alternatively, you can work on eating less in combination with your intense walks. If you can’t burn more calories, taking in fewer calories will help you lose weight.

If you can walk much more if you wanted to

Walking for longer periods of time will allow you to keep burning more calories, even at a slow pace. If you work from home, have a flexible schedule or are retired, you may be able to walk for much of the day if you want to. While you can save time by getting more intense, you can always take long walks as an alternative.

Be aware that spending large parts of your day walking can lead to burnout and feeling like you’re missing out on other areas. Keep your walks fresh, and make sure your walking is a positive and not interfering with your daily life.

Are you able (and willing) to get intense?

Man running up steps for fitness
Igor Palamarchuk / Shutterstock

If you’re able to get more intense, you will burn more calories. If you jog, for instance, you’ll burn a lot more calories than you would doing a slow walk. However, not everyone can do intense fitness walking, like long periods of incline walking or many flights of stairs. Many others are cable of intense walking if they want to, but just don’t like it.

You’re not able to do intense walking

People with preexisting injuries or serious health problems may simply be unable to do high-impact exercise. While walking is lower impact than jogging and many other exercises, inclines, stairs and fast walking are harder on the body than a leisurely walk. If you’re not able to do intense walking, do what you can! Even small amounts of walking are very beneficial to your health, plus the steps you do take will help with weight loss. Since dramatically increasing your calorie burn will be tough in this category, consider working to eat less. Eating better is open to anyone regardless of fitness level.

You’re interested in getting intense

Getting more intense will burn more calories and make it easier to lose weight! There is a catch, however. While you can increase your calories burned per hour by 50% or more, that assumes you’re walking for the same amount of time. Increasing the intensity of your walks may tire you more quickly – at least at first. That’s natural and completely ok. Just do realize that it will probably take a bit of time to realize that full 50% increased calorie burn or whatever your number will be.

Here are some ways to increase your intensity and increase your calorie burn:

  • Simply walking more quickly
  • Speed walking at a very fast pace
  • Interval training – alternating fast and moderate periods of walking
  • Light jogging (we know it’s not walking, but it’s similar!)
  • Power walking (engaging your arms and core)
  • Nordic walking or walking with poles
  • Walking on an incline or walking hills
  • Walking up and down stairs

You can also burn more calories by adding in non-walking activities instead of sedentary time, including:

You just don’t like intense walking

Just because you physically can do intense walking doesn’t mean that you necessarily like it. That’s ok! You can still get the same benefits by walking for a longer period of time. Even so, you may want to look at how you can get a bit more intense and make it fun. You can try using Pacer’s GPS tracking feature (or a similar feature) to track your pace or walking speed. Increasing that pace slightly over time will burn more calories. It may be that you need to switch up your walking location to make it easier to walk quickly. Experiment with different walking styles as well. If incline walking or stairs aren’t your thing, try power walking or using walking poles for a different workout.

Can you eat healthier?

Woman choosing between cupcake and apple
Artmim / Shutterstock

It’s much easier to eat (or drink) calories than it is to burn them off by walking or any other exercise. By adding healthier eating to an existing intense walking program, you’ll lose weight even faster. Even if you don’t get more intense with your walking, you can lose much more weight by eating better in addition to the walking you’re already doing.

You’re ready to start eating healthier and smarter!

While burning more calories by faster or more intense walking can still help, eating healthier will likely make an even bigger impact on your weight loss progress. While more intense walking can boost your calorie burn by as much as 50%, that might add up to 100 or 150 calories per hour. 100 calories really does add up over time, but swapping just one soda for water can save you that 100 calories or more. 

You don’t have to choose between more intense exercise and eating healthier. Doing both together will maximize your weight loss progress. Realistically, there are limits to how long you can walk and how intense you can get. If you’re hitting your limits and still not seeing the progress you’re looking for, it’s a good idea to focus on what you eat instead of trying to push yourself past the exercise intensity level that you’re comfortable with.

You don’t want to dramatically alter what you eat

If you’re having trouble eating healthier and you’re not losing weight at the rate you want, you probably will have to get more intense to boost your weight loss progress. You can also walk for longer periods of time to increase your calorie burn as well. It makes sense when you think about it – if you’re not losing weight now and you don’t significantly change anything, you can’t really expect a switch will flip and you’ll suddenly start to lose weight.

You can actually make significant progress through little changes. Eliminating soda and sugary juices, cutting down on sugar and cream in your coffee, or cutting back just a bit on high-calorie snacks like chips and cookies will really add up. Focus on making one small change, and stick with that until it’s part of your routine.

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