The Best Way to Walk to Lose Weight: Slow or Brisk?

the best way to walkDoes it matter if you walk slowly instead of briskly for exercise? Is 30 minutes a day of slow walking good enough, or are you better off walking for an hour?

Choosing the best way to walk to lose weight depends on what your goals are, says Robert Ross, an exercise physiologist at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario.

“The current national guidelines for physical activity recommend exercising either 150 minutes a week at a lower ­intensity level or 75 minutes a week at a higher intensity,” he notes.

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These guidelines assume that higher intensity isn’t better than lower intensity, so Ross and his colleagues recently tested that assumption. They found that the intensity of exercise does matter for some health benefits, but not for others.

“We had people walk four or five days a week for six months,” says Ross. They were about 50 years old, sedentary, and overweight or obese with big waistlines. “In other words, these were 300 typical middle­aged North American adults.”

The researchers randomly divided the participants into four equal groups. Two of the groups did slow, purposeful walks on a treadmill, with one group walking for 30 minutes a session and the other 60 minutes. This compared the benefits of a longer versus a shorter bout of moderate exercise.

A third group walked briskly for 40 minutes four or five times a week. This addressed whether the best way to walk to lose weight is brisk or moderate walking.

These three groups were compared with a control group that did not exercise. All four groups ate a balanced, healthful diet under the guidance of dietitians. They weren’t reducing their caloric intake, but they weren’t increasing it, either.

The results of tests for the best way to walk were surprising

“We were surprised to find that all three exercising groups reduced their waist circumference by about the same amount, a little over one inch, compared with the non­exercising controls,” says Ross. “So more intense or longer sessions of walking didn’t matter there.”

But it did make difference for the risk of diabetes. “We administered a glucose tolerance test which measures how efficiently someone processes 300 calories of sugar within two hours,” says Ross. The results can predict someone’s risk of developing diabetes. Only those doing the vigorous exercise saw an improvement in the test. The moderate walkers didn’t get better at clearing glucose, whether they walked 30 minutes or 60 minutes.

Additional results show flexibilty in the best ways to walk to lose weight

Results for cardiovascular fitness fell in the middle. While all three exercising groups improved their fitness, those walking at a moderate intensity improved more if they walked 60 minutes than if they walked 30 minutes.

“And the gold star went to the group that did the higher intensity walking,” notes Ross. “Their increase in cardiorespiratory fitness was really outstanding.”

The results of this study are encouraging, Ross says, because it suggests that people have options in deciding the best way to walk to lose weight. “If someone wants to walk a little longer and slower, or someone wants to walk faster for a shorter time, it’s win-­win because they can improve their fitness and waistline with either one.”

If they increase the amount of walking or the intensity, they’ll see even more improvement in fitness, and their risk of diabetes can decrease if they walk at a brisk pace, he says.

“Our participants were pleased that they could increase the intensity of their exercise by simply raising the incline of the treadmill by one percent or two percent,” Ross notes. “That’s an amount that is hardly perceptible, but it makes a big difference.”

Do you prefer to walk slowly, briskly, or run? Has it helped you lose weight? Let us know in the comments. 

Sources: Ann. Intern. Med. 162: 325, 2015.

7 Replies to “The Best Way to Walk to Lose Weight: Slow or Brisk?”

  1. I walk dogs 4 days a week. A typical day is about 75 minutes of slower walking, but it is not all at once: it will be 20 minutes, then a drive to the next dog’s house, then 20 minutes, etc. I wonder if breaking up the walking into smaller amounts of time changes results?

  2. Walking definitely works to lose weight. Both my wife and I eat healthy and workout in a gym 5 days per week. While on vacation this year in Quebec, Beijing and Harbin which are great cities for walking, we walked everywhere rather than taking transportation. Our concern was not to lose fitness being away from the gym and also knowing that we’d be eating more than usual because of the great restaurants in these cities. Our walking rate was moderate as we were sightseeing. When we got home, to our pleasant surprise, we both had lost significant weight and inches. So we experienced the best of all in seeing city sites that couldn’t be seen without walking, eating well and losing weight. I’m 72 and my wife is 52. Walking works!

    1. From Nutrition Action Healthletter: According to Catherine Tudor-Locke of the Walking Behavior Laboratory, 100 steps a minute is a moderate-intensity pace. At more than 130 steps, people are running. So something between 100 and 125-130 steps a minute would be brisk walking.

  3. I would guess one’s age and health status should be a factor. I’m 79 yrs. old and have had heart surgery several yrs. ago.

  4. I am probably not a good candidate for a valid response since I have been exercising most of my adult life (began running when I was 27 and am now 64). After my second back surgery (2010), I knew I had to face the reality of giving up running. I had always been overweight, until I began running at age 27. From age 30 through my early 60’s my weight fluctuated between 130-140 lbs. with an average around 135. Then suddenly two summers ago, I dropped down to ~123, and have puzzled over this. What did I do so differently? My walking program is usually daily, whether or not I play tennis that day. I make a good effort to lift hand weights twice a week (I have a number of routines I follow borrowed from the various physical therapy sessions I have needed over the years), along with stretching, and I changed my eating habits in the summers (due to tennis matches being played late in the day), I have my more substantial meal early in the day, so that when I return home after a tennis match at 8PM, I make a smoothie with plain yogurt, frozen raspberries and any other fruit I have around.
    Bottom line is that I walk very briskly about 5 times week.
    And the weight loss was a good thing since I also lost some of my height (about an inch and quarter), and this weight loss has kept my with a healthy BMI (I am now 5′ 4-1/2″ and 123 lbs.).

  5. I am 57 years old, and had knee replacement 4 years ago. I was told by my surgeon that running was out (not that I ever was much of a runner), so now I do brisk walking for exercise. If you walk with your arms bent 90 degrees at the elbow, more like a running arm position, then you can walk more briskly. Shorter but faster steps will give you a better aerobic workout than longer slower steps. Steps per minute matters more than overall speed.

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