Walking and weight loss
The basics of weight loss
The basics of weight loss are really quite simple - you have to burn off more calories each day than you consume.
Sadly, for most of us, achieving this is really quite difficult.
Whilst drastic reduction of the calories you consume may achieve a short term weight loss, the best and most sustainable approach is to increase your body metabolism. This is achieved over time by building up energy expending muscle - and walking regularly is a really great way of doing this.
However, there are also short term benefits to be gained from your days out walking.
Walking and weight loss - what's realistic - some data
1 pound of fat is equivalent to 3,500 Calories. So to lose 1lb in weight you need to expend 3500 Calories more than you've consumed.
The calories expended (and therefore the weight lost) when walking depends on a number of factors - crucially your level of fitness, your weight and the distance walked.
A good rule of thumb is that a reasonably active person weighing 168 lbs (12 stones) walking at approximately 2 mph will consume just under 100 Calories per mile walked.
Putting this another way, on a 6 hour walk over mixed terrain with an average walking speed of 2 mph:
a 14 stones person (196 pounds) will burn 1370 Calories (approx.)
a 13 stones person (182 pounds) will burn 1300 Calories (approx.) and
a 12 stones person (168 pounds) will burn 1190 Calories (approx.)
Perhaps surprisingly, you'll actually expend a little more energy walking at slower speeds because your lack of momentum will mean that each step is more 'energy consuming'.
On the other hand, at a higher walking speed you are likely to be using more muscle groups (e.g. by swinging your arms) which will also have the effect of increasing the calories burnt per step.
It's also possible to increase the calories expended by using walking poles. In fact, this is the source of some of the benefits provided by Nordic Walking.
Predictably perhaps, walking uphill does consume significantly more calories than walking on the flat at the same speed. However, walking downhill also uses more calories because you use energy to resist your downward momentum.
Uphill/downhill sections will increase the effect on your quads (the muscles at the front of your thighs that lift your legs). If you want to increase the impact on your hamstrings, hip flexors and buttocks - lengthen your stride and walk faster.
If you've experienced a 'second wind' along a stretch of asphalt road at the end of a long, long day - then this may be because walking on asphalt or concrete also require less energy than walking on clay or sand.
Measuring your progress
After an initial weight loss (usually a water loss), your regular walking will start to build the long, lean muscle that will aid in increasing your basal metabolic rate (bmr). This increase in bmr is valuable even when you're resting and is key to keeping weight off in the long term.
The development of this important muscle may not show initially as a weight loss - but the fat will be reducing and your shape will be changing. You are better off measuring your waist and hips rather than angsting about your actual weight.
Food for the hills
You need to keep your body properly 'fuelled' during a day's walking. If you're walking as a way of losing weight, you should try to get the energy your body will need from high-carb, low-fat foods.
So these are great options for your lunchbox:
Try fresh fruit, dried fruit, chicken or tuna sandwiches, malt loaf, scones, fruit juice or jaffa cakes.
Chocolate has a high fat and sugar content (1 x 49gm bar of Cadbury's Dairy Milk contains 255 Calories) - but for some (me!) it can provide a huge psychological boost. Add it to your lunch box in small amounts - but consider eating the dark variety which is considered to be generally the healthier option.
After walking, try to re-hydrate first - ideally with water or some other low-cal/calorie-free drink. This is important for two reasons:
a) to replace fluids lost throughout the day and
b) to reduce the desire to eat large amounts immediately which may be a response to low fluid levels.
NB. 1 x pint of beer = 182 Calories!!
So, losing weight through walking and hiking is a long term process - but it is a lot of fun and sure beats some of the more extreme dieting fads out there (which probably don't work in the long term anyway).
For some general advice on nutrition and hill walking see Hill Skills > What to Take > Nutrition.
“I walked El Camino from St. Jean to Santiago. My departure weight was 74Kg and my weight on return was 65Kg. I eat normally with an additional breakfast and am 66kg 4 months later. It was lovely.”
Tom Clarke, Dublin
“As you loose weight your body don't need as much muscle so will use muscle as food and try to preserve the body fat. So increasing excursive a little will make the body use its fat reserves.”
Philip Lee, Doncaster
“Very good post. You raise some very important points. Exercise doesn't have to be painful or a chore to be effective and walking as part of an overall weight loss strategy certainly does work.”
“I started walking to work and back (3 mile round trip) about six to eight weeks ago. After about four weeks I still had not lost any weight but felt fitter. I have an underactive thyroid and went for my routine blood test and discovered it was low and this was the reason for my not losing weight despite walking and changing my diet. I have been on a new dose of medication for 3 week now and combined with a low GI diet and my walking routine plus some toning exercises I have lost 6lbs! I feel fitter, more awake and I sleep better.”
Julie Lomas, Manchester
“I started walking a few months ago and coupled with a change of diet to more fresh fruit and veg I've managed to burn off quite a bit of weight. I think the main trick is to stick at it no matter what. I try and get out to the New Forest at least 3 times a week for a good hours walking minimum. It's great fun and a fantastic way to relax, couldn't recommend it more. Although be prepared to save some cash for new clothes when you shed the weight! My waist is 2 inches smaller already!”
David Yell, Southampton
“I retired 7 years ago and was shocked to find that I weighed 17 stones. My wife bought me a Labrador puppy and he and I started to walk. As I became fitter and the puppy became a dog, we walked further. I had never "dieted" before as I enjoy my food but what I did do was eat the correct amount of food rather than the biggest portion I could manage. During the next 14 months, I lost 4 stones. I have maintained this weight since by walking at least three miles each day. In addition, the dog and I walk as often as possible in Wales and the Lake District. I have proved that it is possible to loose weight by walking but, like my dog, I only eat the amount of food that is required by the exercise I have taken.”
Mike Plowman, Stratford Upon Avon
“I got (relatively) fit walking both Saturday and Sunday walks with a local group for a couple of months about 3 years ago. But every year there is a pattern where I can't seem to keep going past February - so the benefits never last for long. It is possible that typing this is part of my prevarication to avoid a Sunday walk! I completely lose my appetite whilst walking and so never bother to eat during a walk - I just take water with me. Perhaps I'll toss a coin to decide for the walk - now, where can I find an appropriate coin to use? ;)”
Ian Gough, Brighton
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