Walking can definitely move the needle when you’re looking to shed pounds, but it also has lots of other benefits, like fostering creativity, promoting heart health and improving balance. Another oft-overlooked benefit: Walking regularly can help you maintain your weight, especially if you’ve recently shed some pounds. For many people, maintaining weight loss is even more challenging than losing it in the first place.
Here, experts explain why walking is so great for losing weight and keeping it off.
As you lose weight, your metabolism adapts and requires fewer calories. One of the reasons many people struggle with weight regain is they return to their pre-weight loss diet with this newly adapted metabolism. One way to help keep your metabolism churning is via non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). “This includes walking around the house or running errands, which can help keep your metabolism running at a higher level to maintain your body composition,” explains Nick Garner, a certified personal trainer.
“Because it’s a lower-intensity form of exercise, it’s easy to recover from a walking workout,” says Garner. There are a couple big benefits here. First, if you’re doing other forms of exercise, your performance in those won’t be impacted by walking. This means you can add to your activity level without compromising your primary workout.
Second, there may be benefits to getting your heart rate up multiple times a day. “Being active keeps the heart pumping blood, delivering nutrients all around the body and aiding digestion,” says Garner.
Not only is walking easy to recover from, it’s also active recovery in its own right. “Walking will help you recover from workouts so you can train with high intensity more often,” Garner says. “A recent review found several things can be done to accelerate recovery from training. Active recovery, like walking, was found to improve symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness to allow for more training throughout the week. While walking was not as effective as therapies like massage or compression garments, it is much more accessible and cost-effective.”
Staying active consistently is a big part of maintaining your weight, and it’s hard to do if you’re injured. “There is lower impact on joints such as the lumbar spine, hips, knees and ankles when you compare walking to running,” says Kerry Gustafson, a licensed massage therapist and athletic trainer. “You’re also more apt to stick to a routine if you aren’t in pain.”
Since you only need a pair of comfortable shoes, and not specific instruction or a specific location, it’s relatively easy to stay consistent with walking no matter where you are. “Not everyone can run, lift weights or get to a gym,” points out Liz Smith, a certified trainer. “Walking can be fit into any part of your day, whether it’s early morning, during your lunch break, to beat an afternoon slump or post-dinner,” she adds. While you can always improve your form, walking is something you innately know how to do so it doesn’t require complicated instructions.
“Most people find themselves enjoying walking, and that’s a major plus when working on consistency,” says Gustafson. “I see clients who may not have liked exercise before, who now enjoy pushing themselves while walking at a higher intensity. After establishing a routine, they are surprised to find they enjoy it as a form of exercise and it leads to signing up for goals like local races or fun runs/walks. The more enjoyable an activity is, the higher chance my clients will continue doing it which makes weight-loss management easier.”
“Mental well-being is an essential part of any weight-loss journey,” says Ashlee Van Buskirk, a certified personal trainer. Studies show stress and weight gain are linked, so to keep weight off, it’s important to regulate stress levels. “Similar to other types of physical exercise, walking can help decrease feelings of stress, depression and anxiety by stimulating the release of endorphins in the brain. A daily 30-minute walk may also help improve your memory and brain function, and lead to long-term positive changes in the brain. That kind of mental support is invaluable for anyone who has recently lost weight.”
In some ways, walking can become a catalyst for healthy decision-making and positive habits, says Mike Clancy, certified strength and conditioning specialist. “When you choose to take a walk, you put yourself in an environment that’s away from cravings and boredom,” says Clancy. “When you move your body, you tend to feel good, and those good feelings often equate to healthier food choices and decisions as the day goes on.”