Step up your weight loss!
Moderate walking enhances the effects of an energy-restricted diet on fat mass loss and serum insulin in overweight and obese adults in a 12-week RCT.
According to the Center for Disease Control, over 150 million American adults take at least one 10-minute walk each week – making it the most common form of aerobic activity in the US.
However, when it comes to weight loss, the effects of walking are not clear. In theory, any form of exercise should contribute to the calorie deficit needed to lose weight. Yet, actual energy expenditure from moderate intensity activities like walking tends to be low and controlled trials suggest that aerobic exercise on its own is not an effective weight loss strategy.
While reductions in blood pressure and other cardiometabolic risk factors might make walking a good activity for overall health, it should not be assumed that walking alone translated to weight loss.
A common problem among dieters is a decline in resting energy expenditure (REE) attributed to a reduction in lean tissue and a possible drop in the metabolic rate of major organs. High-intensity exercise has been shown to help preserve lean mass and offset decreases in REE, but this type of exercise is not always possible for those who are overweight or obese. So, can lower-intensity activity like walking accomplish the same thing in a more sustainable way?
A randomized controlled trial (RTC) of overweight or obese men and women from Germany were assigned to follow a calorie-restricted diet with or without a walking program for 12 weeks. All participants were habitually sedentary, so any amount of walking would be above and beyond what they normally performed. The walking group was told to walk at a brisk pace for a total of 3 hours per week.
Changes in REE, body composition, and cardiometabolic markers were measured.
REE did not significant change throughout the intervention and was not significantly different between groups. However, total daily energy expenditure was significantly increased (by about 200 calories) in the walking group, as was expected.
Ultimately, both groups lost a similar amount of weight. However, the walkers lost significantly more fat mass. The walking group also showed greater reductions in fasting insulin and heart rate. Both groups showed improvements in blood pressure and blood lipids.
Sustainability is an important aspect of any weight loss or weight maintenance program. It should be noted that the walking group had a higher dropout rate than the diet-only group.
This study suggests that the main benefit of walking on fat loss is through increasing the energy deficit rather than by impacting REE.
This study contributes to the body of research that suggests that walking, while not a compelling weight loss tool on its own, can bolster fat loss during periods of dieting.
As opposed to calories burned through higher-intensity activities, like running, calories burned while walking are less likely to be compensated for by food intake and more likely to result in an actual energy deficit as walking does not trigger increases in the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin.
Walking is also a very practical tool accessible to most populations. Compliance is what drives results and is the main factor in any weight loss program’s success.
How much do I need to walk?
The American College of Sports Medicine found that between 150-250 minutes per week of walking can improve weight loss when combined with a calorie-restricted diet.
What else is walking good for?
Walking can combat depressive symptoms, reduce anxiety and insomnia, benefit sleep quality, benefit mood and cognitive restoration, result in calming effects, and increase longevity.