Why you need to eat healthy AND walk more: diet vs exercise

When walking for weight loss, your diet is just as important (if not more important) than how many steps you take or calories you burn from walking. Even though walking is extremely beneficial for your health, it’s very difficult to outwalk a diet filled with fatty, sugary foods. The truth is, it’s simply easier to eat (or drink) calories than it is to burn them through exercise – even intense fitness walking.

You should still keep walking because it’s still extremely important to strengthen your muscles and decrease your risk of getting heart disease, diabetes, and even some types of cancers. If you’re looking to lose weight walking, however, you’ll want to pair walking with a sustainable healthy eating plan to see the weight loss results you’re looking for.

Here’s why what you eat is just as important as how far you walk, plus how eating better can get you more steps!

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Calories IN vs. Calories OUT

Sporty man eating healthy fruit during a walk
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Getting 10,000 steps per day is a fantastic feat, and it can do wonders for your overall health. However, you can put all of that time and effort into burning calories and hitting your step goal and then eat (or drink) those calories back and more in minutes. Some people get the false illusion that by exercising, they can eat or drink anything they want. That’s not the case, unfortunately.

At a brisk walking pace, you’ll burn somewhere around 300 calories per hour. Your actual burn could be more or less depending on your weight. That’s less than a McDonalds cheeseburger (313 Cal) or a Pumpkin Spice Latte with Whipped Cream (380 Cal). Those are just a few examples. There’s a limit to how much you can walk daily. Since you can eat back the calories you burn walking a whole extra hour a day in minutes or even seconds, it’s just as important to eat healthier as it is to walk more.

However, a sustainable eating plan is a lot easier to implement than you may think. And with a few simple swaps, you can still get in your delicious treats without negating all the health benefits your walking routine brings.

  • Sweet treats:  The next time you want a sweet snack, grab a piece of fruit like a banana. You can also add some flavorful spices to it like cinnamon. The nutrients and fiber in the fruit will leave you full while giving your tastebuds the sweetness it craves.
  • Salty snacks: Instead of reaching for those salty chips that contain high amounts of saturated fat and a lot of calories, turn to some plain popcorn. You’ll be providing your body with a much-needed boost of fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants while saving yourself a lot of fat and calories.
  • Frozen treats: Ice cream or that frozen sugary coffee drink or milkshake may sound delicious in the moment, but when you examine how much sugar and fat are in them, you may second guess your choice. Not all is lost though. Grabbing a sugar-free drink, fruit sorbet or even a dairy-free ice cream instead can give your sweet tooth the flavor it needs while being more manageable for your body to digest.
  • Sugary drinks: Sodas, sweetened iced tea and many juice drinks are loaded with sugar and lack much in the way of useful nutrition. While you can drink sugar-free versions instead, try swapping out soda for water, black coffee, unsweetened tea or make your own fruit-flavored water using fruit slices.
  • Restaurant meals: Restaurants often serve extremely large potions of food, and what may seem like healthier options may actually have huge calorie counts. You can eat healthier and enjoy your meals more by drinking plain water, sharing large dishes keeping the side dishes low-cal, and cutting down the number of courses are all great ways to keep your calorie count low when eating out at restaurants.

The Many Benefits of Walking

Group of people power walking in a city park
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Brisk walking is one of the few physical activities that can be done almost anywhere and by anyone, including individuals of all fitness levels. Walking is a great low impact exercise that will improve your overall health while strengthening your bones, improving your mood, and reducing body fat. To fully maximize your walking routine, you need to focus on the walking duration, intensity, and frequency.

Research shows that the ideal walking routine to maintaining a healthy body is a brisk walk for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. However, the great thing about walking is that even small amounts of brisk walking can have incredible impacts on your body. Walking is a fun, free activity that you can do anywhere and at any time. Try sneaking the below-walking suggestions throughout your day to not only get in those steps but enjoy the amazing health benefits that walking will provide you for years to come.

Calories burned still add up

Diet vs exercise comparison concept
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Just because it’s hard to outwalk a poor diet doesn’t mean that walking isn’t useful for weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight. The calories you burn from walking do add up, and will help you maintain a healthy weight over time.

If you keep the number of calories you eat the same, and add in daily fitness walking, you’ll get healthier and quite possibly lose weight (or help to maintain your current weight) based on that walking alone. It’s important that you don’t accidentally start eating much more because of your walks, however.

Eat Better – Walk Better

Sporty woman eating healthy fruit in the park
Eugenio Marongiu / Shutterstock

A great side effect of incorporating a walking routine into your lifestyle is that you may begin to start changing other aspects of your life, like what you eat. Likewise, a great thing about improving your diet is that you can start seeing how it improves your walks. You may simply feel better by reducing your junk food intake, allowing you to walk faster and longer almost instantly. This can create a never-ending cycle of health and wellness.

Some of the first things that people will notice when they begin opting for a healthier diet is that they will have more energy, less bloat, and stronger muscles. The key to optimizing these benefits is to make sure you are feeding your body the correct nutrients that it needs, specifically a healthy balance of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

  • Eat Carbs for Weight Loss and Energy: The complex carbs that are found in whole grains, vegetables, and legumes, can aid your body in extracting glucose, also known as blood sugar. As you exercise, your muscles will burn this stored up glucose and provide the energy you need. Carbs aren’t necessarily evil, but they do tend to be less filling. Complex carbs that have higher fiber amounts can leave you feeling fuller longer, unlike sugary snacks or drinks.
  • Eat Healthy Fats for Immunity and Endurance: Most people steer clear of fat when trying to lose weight. While fat has about double the calories per gram compared to protein or carbs, fat is still a critical nutrient for maintaining good health, brain function, energy, and vitamin absorption. Research further shows that fat intake will help increase endurance and help boost your immunity as well. The key is moderation, plus avoiding excessive fat intake from things like french fries (or really deep-fried anything).
  • Eat Protein for Building Muscles: Protein is critical for repairing body tissue and building muscle. You don’t need to consume vast amounts of protein, either. Grabbing a yogurt after a walking workout or eating some chicken for lunch is not only nutritious, but they are the perfect protein foods for your body. If you find a meal or snack is all carbs (like a bowl of sugary cereal), reducing the carb portion and adding some protein (like a hard-boiled egg) is often a better choice. Protein tends to help you feel full as well.
  • Eat Calcium for Bone Strength: Getting in enough calcium in your diet can help fight osteoporosis and stress fractures, as well as preventing those pesky muscle cramps. Many people get the calcium they need from dairy, but you can get it from other food items as well. This will go a long way in protecting your bones after your long walks. If you have special dietary needs and find you’re not getting enough calcium, consider calcium supplementation.

Final thoughts

Happy woman standing next to bridge after walking
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At the end of the day, the number of calories you consume and where those calories come from are just as important as how many miles and steps you walk. Yet, maintaining proper nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated or hard. Eating for a healthy body can not only taste amazing, but it can also leave you feeling satisfied all day long. Give the simple tips above a try and see how good your body will start feeling instantly!

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The Best Power Foods For Walkers. (2011). By Prevention Editors. Prevention Online Magazine. 

Walking for good health. (ND). Better Health Channel. Victoria State Government.

Walking: Your steps to health. (2018). By Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Medical School. 

10 Healthy Food Swaps. (2019). By Real Buzz Team. Real Buzz.




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