Does 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.
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.