You don’t need to kill yourself at the gym in order to look great. Here is how you can get in shape simply by brisk walking.
As a nutritionist I believe that the key to losing weight with the help of more gentle forms of exercise, like walking or yoga, is to realize that weight loss success is actually only “20% about exercise, and 80% about what you eat.”
Walking can certainly help you burn more calories and tone up, but the real benefits usually lay more in how it helps to improve how you feel and, therefore, how you eat. Some people work out very frequently only to see minimal (or sometimes zero) results until they also start paying attention to their food choices more closely.
These days, I personally love to exercise – and do so almost every day – but the biggest reason I encourage people to work out has more to do with exercise’s mental payoffs and help with weight maintenance than it does with weight loss.
Walking can help keep your weight in check and balance things out when you’ve been overindulging a bit, but if you don’t prioritize also cleaning up your diet, doing more exercise alone will likely have minimal impact on your weight.
To put this another way, people who focus on eating better but who don’t exercise are likely to lose weight still; however, people who exercise but don’t pay attention to food choices often do not have the same results. The good news is that most diet success comes from a combination of eating better and adding in enjoyable exercise – including walking.
Start slow and gradually increase your pace and distance
If you’re new to exercise, start with a 10-15 minute walk at a moderate pace and gradually increase the time and intensity over the course of several weeks.
Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your walk to stay hydrated. Fuel your body with nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and complex carbohydrates.
Remember to consult with your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or concerns.
Here are my thoughts on how brisk walking in combination with better eating can add to your diet success.
#1 Brisk walking may burn less calories than other exercise, but this doesn’t always matter.
You can eat back all the calories you burned in a matter of minutes. People tend to overestimate the calories they burn and underestimate the calories they eat. I know plenty of people who go to the gym so they can eat “whatever they want.” Most people I know who operate like this may be able to run miles and lift weights well, but the way they look usually doesn’t reflect their hard work in the gym.
It’s very, very easy to “eat back” the equivalent of what you just burned. For example, if you eat two typical slices of plain pizza for dinner you are consuming about 700-800 calories. This would equate to the average woman running at a steady pace for more than 75 minutes.
And that’s just dinner. If you don’t pay attention to your other meals, snacks, and drinks throughout the day, imagine how much exercise you would need to do in order to keep up with the calories you’re likely consuming.
We tend to feel proud of ourselves after a good work out, so we think we “deserve” that extra beer or ice cream cone. To sum it up, if you eat like crap but work out hard, you’re lucky to just be breaking even and not gaining weight.
#2 Brisk walking may increase your appetite less than other forms of exercise.
I know for me, when I’m doing more vigorous forms of exercise like running or biking, I am noticeably hungrier. I usually wind up getting hungry quicker after my last meal and require more snacks between meals. When walking or yoga is my main form of exercise, my appetite tends to stay in check more.
An increase in appetite from working out can be a good thing, since essentially it’s your body asking for more calories in order to build muscle. However, if you don’t feed your appetite the right way, you may be taking in way more extra calories than you really need to, not to mention other harmful ingredients found in most junk food. I have friends who have trained for marathons and actually wound up gaining weight in the process.
The more aware you are of your own appetite and needs, the more prepared you can be. If walking does increase your hunger levels, start to anticipate this and expect to be pretty hungry a couple hours after a walk; consider taking some snacks along with you to work or while doing errands and think ahead of time about where you will be able to get a healthy lunch.
In reality, you shouldn’t need to eat so many more calories just because you’re exercising, so keep an eye on how much extra food you’re consuming and the quality of it as well.
#3 It has tons of physical benefits, but the mental benefits can be just as powerful.
Exercise in general has tons of benefits, but if you hate the exercise you’re doing, you’re missing half of them. I’ve learned that forcing yourself to do a type of exercise every day that you genuinely enjoy nothing about can really backfire. Feeling like we “need” to go for a run or “must” go to the gym to lift weights makes us feel like we are just taking on yet another obligation, overall leading to more dreadful feelings and stress. And stress is often times the enemy of mindful, healthy eating.
In order to successfully adopt healthier eating habits and be able to sustain them, we need ongoing motivation and mindfulness around food. Feeling stressed, tired, depleted, and overwhelmed makes this very difficult to do.
It’s crucial to find some sort of fitness routine that you enjoy so that it adds to more good feelings, not the opposite. As you know, there are countless options out there in addition to walking, so make an effort to find one that you like and do it often. The mood boost, sense of accomplishment, and increased confidence that we feel from doing exercise makes us feel better about ourselves. And when we feel better about ourselves, we naturally want to feed our bodies with the best food possible.
#4 Brisk walking allows you to start slow so you don’t become too overwhelmed.
Changing your eating and exercise habits all at once can be too overwhelming. Sometimes. taking on a new exercise regimen while simultaneously trying to start a new way of healthier eating, can just be too much. When we feel like we have “so far to go”- so many new habits to start practicing – we dread even beginning the process in the first place. I’d recommend focusing on the food first, then adding more exercise like walking once you’re comfortable with the dietary changes you’ve made.
We can only learn so many new habits at one time. So, if exercise is already a habit for you, you’re in a good position to start eating better. If both are something you need to work on, take it one step at a time.
The goal is ultimately to make both eating well and working out habits – this way they require less of your attention and willpower on a day-to-day basis.
Walking a few times a week is a great way to get started because it’s something everyone already knows how to do.
#5 It can be done by almost anyone, anywhere.
I’ve never been much of a runner, but going for fast (“brisk”) walks is something I actually like doing. Brisk walking can be done anywhere, with anyone, requires no equipment at all, and costs nothing. It’s as simple as walk outside, pick a destination or route, and start moving.
Sure, it may seem like an “old lady” form of working out, but it gets the job done and I don’t really get sick of it. I like how each time I go for a walk I can go somewhere different; it almost feels like I’m exploring. This is especially true when I’m on vacation and I have unchartered territory to check out during my walk. When I walk through a new neighbourhood, I feel like I can take things in so much better than if I was to drive through it; I pick up on all the subtleties that normally I’d pass by too quickly to notice.
Even when I’m not in the mood to work out, if I just commit to a 15 minute walk and head outside with my headphones on, before you know it I’ve usually been out for more than 45 minutes. The mental boost I get gives me motivation to take care of myself in other ways, like eating better overall. Together, these two habits – gentle exercise and a healthy diet – are what consistently lead to weight loss or weight maintenance success.
So, hopefully you’re convinced that exercising doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon or hit the gym daily. It can be incorporated into your everyday life easily and get into shape.