Why You Haven't Been Losing Weight With Walking

Thinking of walking

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It can be frustrating when you've been walking for weight loss, yet aren't seeing the results you want. If this is how you're feeling, don't give up. With just a few changes, you can start to see the numbers on the scale go down.

It helps to remember that weight loss and weight gain are simple math.

  • If you eat more calories than you use each day, you gain weight.
  • If you eat fewer calories than you use each day, you lose weight.

So, if your goal is to lose weight walking four miles a day, for instance, you need to eat fewer calories and/or burn more calories each day. For sensible, long-term weight control and to reduce health risks, you'll want to do both: eat less and exercise more.

Research suggests that exercise alone isn't always enough to lose weight, but is more helpful for sustaining weight loss.

Burn More Calories Per Mile

The American Heart Association recommends 30 to 60 minutes of brisk walking or other moderate-intensity exercises almost every day of the week to help lose weight. This amount of exercise is also associated with reducing major health risks.

The value of moderate-intensity exercise is that the higher the intensity, the more calories you burn. And you use up these extra calories in less time than if your workout is lower in intensity.

Each mile you walk burns between 55 and 140 calories, depending mostly on your weight with speed and technique being secondary factors. You can calculate your specific calorie burn a few different ways:

There are a few strategies you can use to burn more calories for each mile you walk. Some of these are easier than others and they each have their benefits and drawbacks.

Speed Up

Pick up your pace to 12-minute miles and under by using racewalk techniques. You will burn more calories per mile because you will be using more sets of muscles than you do at a slower walking pace or by running. Racewalkers burn as many as a third more calories per mile.

Once you begin to lose weight, you will find yourself speeding up. An extra 20 pounds can really drag you down. You may burn fewer calories per mile, but you'll be able to cover more miles in the same period of time. That can work out to more calories burned per walking workout.

Add Poles

Use fitness walking poles to increase your calorie burn per mile, as you use the muscles in your arms as well as your legs.

Wear Weight

The more you weigh, the more calories you burn per mile. As you lose weight, you are burning fewer calories per mile. Some walkers add weight belts, weighted vests, or weighted backpacks to increase their calorie burn.

Be careful in doing this. Don't throw off your walking posture or put more stress on your joints. For those who are losing weight and whose body is used to carrying around more pounds, a weighted vest would be a more natural way to carry more weight. Also note that if the extra weight slows you down, you might end up burning fewer calories than if you skip the weight and speed up.

Add Intervals

Interval walking is a great way to increase your calories burned. One study of 15 women found that interval training helped them decrease body fat and reduce the size of their waist while also increasing their lean mass (muscle).

This type of workout involves alternating moderate and high intensity intervals throughout your walk. An example is walking at a moderate pace for two minutes, speeding up for 30 seconds, returning to a moderate pace for two minutes, and repeating this five times in a row.

Because interval training places more stress on the body, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends starting with one session per week. Once you feel ready to do more, increase to two sessions per week with a few days in between to fully recover.

Change Your Route

Another way to challenge your muscles even more is to not walk the same route or path day after day. One day, take a route that has a lot of hills as uphill walking can boost your calorie burn. The next day, take a path that has a different terrain.

Changing your route often also keeps your walks interesting. You're able to see new scenery from one day to the next. Wherever you walk, take precautions to stay safe. This includes making sure you can be easily seen and paying attention to your surroundings.

Add Strength Training

If you don't add exercise while cutting calories, your body doesn't just burn fat, it also burns muscle. When you're trying to lose weight, your goal is to maximize fat loss. But if you're only cutting calories, along with the fat loss, you'll also be losing lean body mass such as muscle.

This is a problem because muscles drive your metabolism. If you're losing muscle, your metabolism will likely slow, making weight loss (and maintaining any weight loss) more difficult. You can end up in worse physical condition after changing your eating habits than before. Sitting still for much of the day is also recognized as its own health risk.

If you build muscle while also changing your diet, you are increasing your metabolism. Those muscles burn a few more calories than fat, even while at rest and sleeping.

If you have just taken up walking or have begun to racewalk, you are building muscle. If you have always been a walker, add some strength exercises to build muscles. Upper body exercises are recommended since walking will not build your upper body. Walking is a weight-bearing activity and will help prevent osteoporosis as you age.

Consume Fewer Calories From Food

If you have increased your walking and are still not seeing weight loss, it might be a good time to look at what you are eating. You may need to take in fewer calories. There are many strategies for this, but the key is to maintain good nutrition.

Explore what the right number of calories is for your level of physical activity and your weight loss goal. Use the weight loss calculator to find the right number. Then use the recipe and nutrition calculator to analyze your favorite foods to ensure you are eating what is best for health as well as weight loss.

Sometimes it helps to to track what you eat with a food diary or app. To track the calories you burn with activity, use a pedometer or fitness tracker. Some will link directly to your food diary, keeping all of your calorie burning information in one place.

A Word From Verywell

It is frustrating when you've been increasing your physical activity and watching what you eat but you aren't seeing results. Take a step back and analyze your eating habits with a calorie goal and a food diary or app. Use a fitness tracker to measure your exercise (consider one that has inactivity alerts too). Better nutrition and regular physical activity offers big health benefits, even if you don't see immediate weight loss.

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Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Cox C. Role of physical activity for weight loss and weight maintenance. Diabetes Spectr. 2017;30(3):157-60. doi:10.2337/ds17-0013

  3. Hazell T, Hamilton C, Olver T, Lemon P. Running sprint interval training induces fat loss in women. Appl Physiol Nutr Metabol. 2014. doi:10.1139/apnm-2013-0503

  4. American College of Sports Medicine. High-intensity interval training. Published 2014.

  5. Owen N, Healy GN, Matthews CE, Dunstan DW. Too much sitting: The population health science of sedentary behavior. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2010;38(3):105-13. doi:10.1097/JES.0b013e3181e373a2

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