It is a generally well accepted fact that exercise burns calories and can increase the overall health of both body and mind. Most of us also recognize that walking is one of the simplest and most effective exercises for weight loss and health. What many people don't realize is that they might not be getting the most effective returns on their efforts. It actually requires just a little tweaking of a simple walking program to make it more effective as a weight loss program.
Many experts recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of sustained physical activity every day for health. However, 30 minutes of walking a day, while it may initially cause some welcome and valuable weight loss for an overweight individual, is often not going to be the final answer. The initial weight loss results will probably not be sustained as the body makes adjustments and learns to accept the new demands made on it.
Rest assured, walking (or participating in other activities) for a sustained 30 minutes a day WILL result in better health, a greater level of energy and well-being, as well as producing SOME weight loss. However, anyone seriously overweight will probably not create the sustained, permanent weight loss they seek with only 30 minutes a day.
It's a matter of time.
Due to the manner in which the body draws on stored fat vs. other stored energy reserves, the first, and most valuable step, once you have gotten in the habit of walking, will be to increase the amount of time the activity is performed. Forty-five minutes is better than 30, and 60 is better than 45 minutes.
Admittedly, walking an hour a day, six or seven times a week may be difficult for some to fit into their schedules. However, simply increasing the time to 45 or 60 minutes of activity two or three times a week will produce more weight loss than keeping all walks at 30 minutes.
Another technique is to increase the speed with which you walk on the days that you do not walk more than 30 minutes. This also has the benefit of conditioning the body in a slightly different manner than the slower paced, longer walks. Remember, no walk should introduce extreme difficulty in breathing. A rule of thumb is that if you cannot talk and walk, you are attempting to either go too fast or too far. Always build up slowly to new levels of exertion.
You may also want to consider adding resistance training, such as with free weights, or equipment such as a Bowflex or Total Gym, or similar exercise apparatus. This builds muscle tissue which will burn more calories even in a resting state. Additionally, walking exercises only certain muscles and muscle groups. A resistance training program can be used to train muscle groups generally not included in walking.
Although the extended 45 and 60 minute walks will be somewhat more effective if done at one time, two 30 minute walks in a day will be more beneficial for fitness and weight loss than only one. In fact, many experts recommend getting a pedometer and simply trying to make sure you get 10,000 steps every day.
I would like to take a moment to address walking vs. running as a weight loss program.
Certainly, if you train to the point where you can run certain distances in certain times, you will almost certainly experience a major weight loss if that is what your body needs. However, you can get just as fit as a runner by walking with a great deal less danger of injury. A beginning walker in particular is more likely to experience less discomfort during and after an exercise period than a beginning runner.
Once you have built up muscles and stamina, you may wish to move into a running program. Also, in the beginning of any exercise program, whether for weight loss or physical fitness, extreme demands on the body and one's physical, mental, and motivational resources may result in the program being dropped. It is generally easier to slip into a permanent walking program from a sedentary lifestyle than a running program.
One last argument for at least beginning with a walking program is that you can sneak into a walking program without any special equipment or preparation, and no one but you needs to know that the shopping trip to the mall was actually your secret walk for the day. My mother is going to be 90 this year. She often drives to a nearby store and shops for a while, putting things in her basket as she walks around the store. Then she walks around the store some more and puts it all back. That way, she gets in the walk, is stabilized by the cart, and has to reach, stretch, lift, and bend in a safe, comfortable, air-conditioned setting. It's an added bonus that my son-in-law is one of the managers in that store.
There's an old saying that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step... so does a successful weight loss program.