You know that walking burns calories, but just how many calories does it burn? In general, a 150-pound person walking at average speed (from two to three-and-a-half miles per hour) can count on burning about 80 calories a mile. (This amount increases with your weight, your speed, and the shortness of your legs. A 200-pound person burns about one-third more calories than a 150-pound person.)
So a brisk walk, covering three-and-a-half miles in an hour, burns about 280 calories. When repeated each day, this excellent habit burns about 3,900 calories -- more than a pound of fat -- every 2 weeks.
This rate of weight loss is a far cry from the "pound-a-day" claims of the crash diets. But when combined with sensible eating habits -- a balanced diet with smaller portion sizes and fewer fats and sweets -- a walking program can soon translate into a better-looking and healthier body. Weight loss in this moderate range (one or two pounds of fat a week) is easier to maintain. In contrast, higher loss rates tend to involve losses of water and lean muscle, as well as body fat.
If you are out of shape or overweight, you should follow a "go-slow" approach when you begin your exercise program. Don't walk at an unrealistic pace; you'll just become exhausted and discouraged, and you may increase your risk of injury. Your goal in walking should be to walk as far as you can for as long as you can. Don't worry about speed. You'll be able to burn more calories by keeping to a moderate pace, exercising for a longer time, and covering more distance.
Walking's weight-loss potential is just as flexible as you are. So as your fitness level increases, you can raise the intensity of your regimen to increase the number of calories you burn. Walking at a brisk pace of four or five miles per hour and vigorously pumping your arms, for example, or hiking with a backpack are just two of the possible options for boosting the intensity of your walking routine.
Indeed, racewalking can actually burn more calories than can slow jogging. At high racewalking speeds (like six or seven miles an hour), your body yearns to break into a jog. Forcing yourself to continue walking by keeping at least one foot on the ground at all times takes more energy than jogging at the same speed.
There are also substantial slimming payoffs for tackling hilly terrain. Even at a slow pace, going uphill dramatically raises walking's calorie costs, compared with following the same pace on level ground. Surprisingly, even going downhill burns more calories than covering level ground, because it takes extra energy for the body to resist its natural tendency to travel down the hill too fast. Walking on sand or dirt, rather than rigid asphalt or concrete, can also boost the calorie cost.
The advantages of walking don't stop there, either. The warm glow you feel after exercising is a sign that your metabolism is still revved up. This slight increase in postexercise metabolic rate can help you burn a few extra calories even while you're resting.
Walking does more than burn calories, however -- it also burns fat. In the next section learn how walking can improve your body mass index.
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