How to burn calories while walking.

Posted by Dr. Michael White, Updated on February 20th, 2024
Reading Time: 4 minutes

GET MOVING! You hear it constantly. For many folks, it is an annual New Year’s Eve Resolution to join a gym...with disheartening but predictable results. The gym is packed in January, begins to thin out by February, and by March, the gym has returned to its “before the New Year’s Eve Resolution crowd” waddled in.

Why is this? So many people cannot stay with a fitness routine for several reasons. But one of the most common is the time factor. Today’s fast-paced, high-tech, stress-filled, always “ON” environment makes incredible demands on our time.

An elaborate fitness regimen requires dedication, discipline, motivation, and, most important, FREE TIME! For the average person, free time is a rare commodity.

But most of us should be able to find time for a good, old-fashioned walk.

It’s common knowledge that walking is a low-impact way for all ages to stay healthy. Many strive to get in those recommended 10,000 steps daily that our wearable fitness technology urges us to achieve. But is walking enough? How many calories are we actually burning?

Wearable devices might not be the answer. There are several wearable and online calculators to count the calories burned while walking. However, research has found they are not entirely accurate,

One study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that many folks are burning more calories than reported by fitness monitoring tools. In the vast majority of cases examined, too few calories burned were reported

Having said that, wearable technologies aren’t entirely useless. They can chart the progress of your calorie-burning goals. Using a fitness tracker to help you recognize when you hit your target heart rate zone can help you maximize your walk's calorie-burning and health-boosting benefits.

So what to do?

How do you get an accurate idea of your calorie-burning potential when walking? You burn more calories in a shorter amount of time with a fast pace of exercise that elevates your heart rate.

However, walking is a moderate-intensity exercise, not an explosive type of exercise that you do in short bursts called high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

Therefore, walking at a consistently brisk pace that keeps your heart pumping would burn more calories.

But research has found that changing your pace to vary your intensity while walking can increase your metabolic rate by 6% to 20% more than remaining at a steady pace throughout the duration of your walk.

However, the National Institutes of Health discovered that hitting the pavement is the key, regardless of whether you rotate the pace between slow and steady or HIIT.

The significant takeaway between these two conflicting studies is to walk, regardless of the pace. Just get moving. Listen to your body. Monitor your heart rate and see how you feel.

The American College of Sports Medicine puts your target heart rate for moderate-intensity physical activity at 64% to 76% of your maximum heart rate. Because walking is not a high-intensity exercise, you will achieve the most extensive caloric burn by doing it at moderate intensity, which means a brisk but sustainable pace for you.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a simple formula for estimating your maximum age-related heart rate: subtract your age from 220. For example, if you’re 73, your estimated maximum heart rate is 220-73 = 147 beats per minute.

Therefore, for a 73-year-old, a moderate-intensity heart rate is between 94 and 112 beats per minute. While exercising, you will feel your breathing rate increase, but you should still be able to carry on a conversation.

Based on the above research showing an even more considerable metabolic boost with varied intensities, you must also change your pace to include short durations of low intensity.

You achieve light-intensity exercise at a heart rate of 57% to 63%, according to the ACSM. For a 73-year-old, that would mean 84 to 93 beats per minute, which should feel like a very comfortable pace where you can easily carry on regular conversations.

The fat-burning difference of walking

Walking is often touted as a great fat-burning exercise and for good reason. The human body is highly efficient. When we run, the body knows it needs energy and will go after carbohydrates, a more efficient form of energy than fat.

But when walking, the body, in its innate wisdom, will call upon fat for fuel and keep the carbs in reserve when needed.

The existence of a “fat-burning zone,” where you blowtorch belly fat, is primarily a misconception, but, as just mentioned, you can get your body to burn fat for energy. When you’re walking at a lower intensity with your heart rate in the 57% to 63% range, you are more likely to be using fat for fuel.

Because you are strolling with a slower heart rate, you will be expending less caloric energy — but the calories you burn will be from fat. No matter your speed, form matters. Most of us learned to walk as infants, but as we aged, many of us developed bad walking form.

Like any other form of exercise, walking in bad form can lead to chronic pain and even injury. So pay attention to your stride. When done correctly, walking is a safe, convenient, and beneficial way to deliver all-around good health and longevity and burn calories.

There are no trips to the gym, no gym fees, and no need to purchase expensive equipment for a home gym or buy unique clothing. All you need is a comfortable pair of shoes and the motivation to get off the couch!


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