9 Types of Walking That Actually Burn Calories

Do you ever watch those dedicated runners on the road in all sorts of nasty weather conditions and think, “Is it really worth it? Maybe I should be doing that.”.

After all, you don’t see too many overweight runners.

There are a few reasons for that besides their extreme dedication, and in some cases a (healthy) addiction, to running. 

First, running is not recommended as a starting exercise for most overweight people. It’s just too much stress on their joints and in some cases, their hearts, to bear that impact.

Second, many distance or avid runners pay attention to what they consume. I mean, sure they have cheat days; but, you won’t typically see them piling on the carbs or eating fast food on a daily basis.

Last, many runners exercise daily. Even if they aren’t running every day, they are weight training or doing the elliptical, etc… on their “rest days”.

Maybe you’ve thought about running? Or maybe you used to be a runner and stopped for health reasons?

Whatever your reason, you’re reading this article… which means you’re just not sure that running is the right thing to get you moving right now.

So, let’s talk about walking!

There are at least 9 types of walking that can actually burn calories and improve your overall health as well. In fact, walking shares many of the same long term benefits as running if you do it on a regular basis.   

We will discuss all of that in this article.

What are the benefits of walking?

For starters, walking is considered a low-impact exercise. This means it’s more gentle on the joints than others… but it will still get your heart pumping if done correctly.

Additionally, walking can:

  • Improve heart and lung fitness
  • Reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Help manage conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis and joint disorders, and diabetes
  • Promote stronger bones and improved balance
  • Increased muscle strength and endurance
  • Lower body fat

Like running, walking can be done almost anywhere… outside or even on a treadmill, without a costly gym membership (unless you’re into that sort of thing).

Unlike running, though, almost anybody can start out walking.

Overweight people, and those with arthritis or other muscular conditions, often start out walking when they want to begin an exercise routine.

People recovering from surgery will often start walking to get the blood flowing.

Slow and steady, as they say.  

Walking can also be a less daunting alternative to someone who is looking to start an exercise program than running.

In fact, many times people who get comfortable walking at a fast pace, will ease into jogging eventually.

So What’s Your “Why” For Walking?

Why do you want to walk?

Are you looking to lose or maintain weight?

Are you looking to improve your overall health and trying to avoid certain medications?

Fact: when my doctor told me after my fourth c-section that I had an ulcer from all of the scar tissue, he recommended heartburn medication.  He neglected to point out that I’d put on about 40 lbs since my pre-baby weight six years earlier (he was probably being nice)… and hadn’t been on the most healthy of diets or exercise plans to get it off.

Hey, I was tired! Having four kids in just under 6 years tends to shift your priorities a smidge. 

Still, it was a wakeup call for me. The thought of medication was scary when I knew my body could possibly self correct. 

So, I told the doc to give me 3 months to lose weight and eat better. My husband signed us both up for Weight Watchers and we did just what I set out to do. After dropping even 10 pounds, the heartburn was less frequent.

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Walking can also be a less daunting alternative to someone who is looking to start an exercise program than running.

I was jogging, walking, golfing and doing fitness videos regularly. Whatever. Just moving every day for at least 25 minutes.

After losing 15 pounds, the heartburn was a distance memory.

Within 2 years I’d lost 45 lbs and was close to my end of high school weight… just by moving and eating better, without ever completely depriving myself of the food or drinks I loved. 

Sometimes a little change in your lifestyle can go a long way.

Not only did my health improve, but I had more energy to keep up with the kids and actually felt good about myself. I liked shopping again!

What is your “why”?

Tips For Walking to Burn Calories

Walking to burn calories isn’t as complicated as it sounds. I mean, you’ll burn calories just moving and taking steps… but the amount of calories varies by the types of walking you elect to do.

Gradual changes in your routine may be all that’s necessary to get you that max calorie burn your seek.

1. Integrate interval training.

Interval training is simply alternating short bursts of intense activity (30 seconds is usually recommended) with longer intervals (1 – 2 minutes) of less intense activity.

So when you’re out for your walk, warm up for five minutes or so at your normal pace. Then, incorporate 30 seconds of speed walking (or jogging if you’re not a newbie). Then go back to your normal walking pace for 1-2 minutes. Then do it again. Repeat this for the duration of your workout until you decide to start your cool down.

2. Walk in your “target zone”.

Your “target zone” has to do with how hard your heart has to work in order to burn calories… which varies from person to person, based on age.

The target zone to burn calories and actually burn fat usually involves moderate to intense physical activity. This means you should be walking fast enough that you can still speak, but it may be a little difficult to do so. You should not be completely out of breath.

As a rule of thumb, your maximum heart rate can be found by subtracting your age from 220. Your fat-burning heart rate is at about 70 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Most fitness trackers will tell you when you’re in the “fat burn” zone, but if you don’t have one you can still figure it out by taking your pulse for 1 minute. That, or just pay attention to how you’re breathing as you walk.

3. Incorporate hills or inclines.

Adding hills or inclines to your walk is a great way to burn extra calories. Studies have found that for every 1% of uphill grade, a 150-pound person burns about 10 more calories per mile (an increase of about 12%) than walking on a flat surface.

There are additional benefits for your muscles to walking uphill as well… including and activation of the hamstrings, glutes, and calf muscles 

4. Go “off-roading”.

Walking on uneven surfaces like grass, hiking trails or along the beach makes walking more challenging… which means your muscles work harder. And that equates to higher calorie burn.

In fact, one study found that walking on sand requires 2.1 to 2.7 times more energy than walking at the same speed on a solid, flat surface.

5. Add some weight.

Adding a weighted vest or backpack, or even hand or ankle weights, to your walk can also rev up calorie burn.

Once again, this theory is based on making your muscles work harder to increase the amount of calories you expend.

Be sure to start slowly with 1 or 2 pounds of extra weight and increase it gradually over time. This will help you to avoid injury or muscle strain and soreness. You also never want to exceed 10% body weight. 

So if you weigh 200 pounds, try and keep your max weight carry to 20 pounds at your peak.

6. Pick up some walking poles. 

Skiers use poles to help them keep their balance and rhythm… as well as for accuracy, timing and support (pushing). So when someone suggested I use them for walking, my initial reaction was, “Is it going to snow later?”.

After all, I do live on the base of a mountain.

But the truth is, I have seen this man walking with poles every day for almost 2 years… in all sorts of weather. One day, I finally asked him why.

Walking with poles, sometimes referred to as Nordic walking, gets almost all of your body’s muscles involved… including your arms, shoulders and back muscles.

Nordic walking also increases heart rate while strengthening the upper body.

Is it estimated that walking with poles can increase calorie burn by more than 50%. And the best part is, it doesn’t feel any harder than regular walking!

7. Swing your arms and shorten your steps.

I used to have this boss who was a competitive speed walker. He’d show us training videos of himself, walking almost like a duck, taking short steps and swinging his hips… keeping his arms close to his sides.

I’ll be the first to admit, I had to contain myself from chuckling the first time I watched it.

But once I got past the visual, I couldn’t help but be impressed over how fast he was going. I mean, he was outpacing some joggers!

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The theory is that swinging your arms generates power and momentum.

The trick, he said, was in your gate and the arm swing.

Do tell.

The theory is that swinging your arms generates power and momentum. This helps thrust you forward at a greater speed… which, in turn, burns more calories and builds upper-body strength.

You should be bending your elbows at a 90° angle, swinging your arms forwards and backwards for the entire duration of your walk… except for the warm up and cool down.

Also don’t forget to pay attention to your steps, placing the heel of the landing foot just in front of the body.  This is called the foot strike. Shorter steps are key in power walking.

8. Switch directions.

If you’re walking on a flat surface, try mixing in intervals of side steps or backwards walking.

As silly as it may sound, doing this forces your body’s muscles to change the way they work. And this muscle confusion increases calorie burn.

As a bonus, you’re engaging different muscles by doing this… including your core (abs and obliques), buttocks, calves and thighs. 

9. Throw in some strength training.

Another type of interval training incorporates strength training exercises into your walk.

Instead of increasing your speed for 30 seconds at a time… try incorporating 30-60 seconds of knee lifts, squats, pushups, jumping jacks, planks or lunges.  Whatever you want really.

The idea is to switch up your muscle use, which makes your body work in a different way to burn more calories.    

Final Thoughts on Walking to Burn Calories

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week. That breaks down to at least 30 minutes per day, five times a week.

Obviously, you can break that down into whatever works for you.

But no matter how busy life gets, it’s important to make time for your health. And that means eating better and exercising whenever possible… preferably a little bit each day.

Walking makes it hard to make excuses not to move. Most anyone can do it. Heck! We all do it every day anyway, why not make it count for something?

A fitness tracker or phone app can help you on your quest, with helpful “nudges” to get your steps in and move more. There are also basic pedometers, which are less fancy and less expensive. Fitness trackers range in price from $50-$350.

But if you don’t have, or can’t afford one right now, you can still enjoy the benefits of the different types of walking to burn calories. 

Keep tabs on your pulse and make sure you’re walking in the “fat burn” zone… and the rest of these tips will fall into place. 

Nicole Krause has been writing both personally and professionally for over 25 years. Her work has appeared in some of the country’s top publications, major news outlets, online publications and blogs.

She is an avid runner and incorporates walking, hiking, golfing and kickboxing into her weekly workout routine to keep things fresh and maximize calorie burn. She lives in the beautiful Sourland Mountain area of New Jersey, which offers many challenging and scenic trails.

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