How to walk off weight

Wednesday January 10, 2007
Be sure to choose a good walking shoe.

Walking is the most popular form of exercise in Australia, but a recent study showed that most walkers don't get the true benefits. Author and online weight-loss coach Andrew Cate spoke about the common mistakes walkers make and the five key steps to getting results from walking.

Common walking mistakes

  1. Slowing down on hills: Hills are a walker's best friend. They help you increase the intensity of your walks without having to go fast or rely on running. Actively seek out hills and power up them. Think positively about hills and view them as a shortcut to getting results.

  2. Walking after breakfast: If you are hungry, your body is craving food because stored blood sugar levels are running low. If you go for a walk in the morning before breakfast, your blood sugars are low and you are more likely to use stored fat as fuel. You don't necessarily burn more kilojoules, but you burn off a higher proportion of fat as fuel than you would walking after breakfast. The difference isn't massive, but if mobilising and burning off stored fat is your goal, it all helps.

  3. Poor technique: Looking down and not swinging the arms are common problems. It's the more pronounced, purposeful swinging that helps burn those extra kilojoules. Swinging your arms energetically can help you to burn up to 10 percent more kilojoules while you walk. Swinging your arms a little faster will also encourage your legs to come along for the ride and is a good way to increase your pace. Keep your elbows bent to a 90-degree angle, keeping your shoulders down and relaxed.

  4. Not doing strength training: As you get older, you naturally lose muscle tissue, which reduces your strength and energy levels and results in middle-aged spread. Lifting weights can reverse this process, walking can't. Walking is a wonderful exercise, but it does very little to strengthen your upper body or your abdominal core. Lifting weights also helps to protect your muscle tissue when you reduce your kilojoule intake, boosting your metabolic rate and helping with weight and fat loss.

  5. High expectations: Walking is a gentle exercise, so unless you are walking for 60 minutes, seven days a week, your progress will be slow and steady. Just don't expect too much too soon. The people you see losing significant amounts of weight on reality TV shows follow strict diets and exercise intensely for between four and eight hours a day.

Keys to walking off weight

  1. Walk long, fast and often (hear your breath): Aim for four to seven days a week for 30-60 minutes if you are serious about weight loss. Speed also matters. People who maintain a faster pace while walking will burn more kilojoules and get better results. After a few weeks of regular walking, a leisurely stroll just won't cut it any more. If you can't hear your breath while you walk, you're not walking fast enough. For beginners and those hoping to lose weight, walk like you're five minutes late or at a speed where you can hear yourself puff. Really gasping for breath should be left to the advanced walkers, who would benefit from regular bursts of very fast walking or running to get breathless.

  2. Measure your progress: As your walking improves, your legs will be stronger, you may weigh a little less and your lungs will breathe a little easier. Unless you continue to progress and up the duration, intensity or frequency of your walks, your results will grind to a halt. Keep a record of any information you can, such as the distance you cover, your personal best time over a given course, the intensity of your walks, the total duration of your walks or the total steps taken each day.

  3. Add variety: There's no doubt that variety is the spice of life and the same rule applies to walking. If you stick to the same routine all the time, it's only natural that you will get bored and find it harder to motivate yourself. Try to vary the location, time of day, intensity and duration of your walks to maintain interest. Little random bursts of effort at different intensities really boosts the kilojoule-burning, fat-burning and fitness-increasing benefits of walking.

  4. Eat well (have foods that accelerate weight loss): Whether you are concerned about weight control, fuelling your walking program or just maximising your health and vitality, what you eat and drink will have a massive impact on your results. Exercise is only half the picture. Don't just focus on walking, because if your diet is not up to scratch, you will struggle to enjoy the benefits walking has to offer. Fuel your walks with wholesome food that gives you energy and accelerates fat burning. At the same time, cut back on high-kilojoule, low-nutrient food and drinks that clog your fat cells.

  5. Have motivational support: It's really useful to have a friend, partner or health professional to help you stay on track. Andrew Cate has a free weekly e-mail newsletter on weight loss and motivation that you can subscribe to that's both informative and inspiring. Visit www.andrewcate.com and click on the free newsletter link.
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