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Want To Lose Weight? Don't Walk! Exercise and Weight Loss Myths Exposed

Updated on October 4, 2011
Two girls exercising and walking with their dogs at Cayucos State Beach, Cayucos, California, February 14, 2007.
Two girls exercising and walking with their dogs at Cayucos State Beach, Cayucos, California, February 14, 2007. | Source

Biggest Loser Results: 5 Before & After Shots

Biggest Loser: "Just Do It"

Why The Biggest Loser Works: Walking Doesn't Cut It For Significant Weight Loss

Walking has many health benefits. Unfortunately, aiding weight loss is not one of them.

In fact, if you want to lose a lot of weight, over 15 lbs., doctors have found that you need to exercise hard for 55 minutes at least 5 times a week in addition to cutting calories. That means you need to work out almost five hours a week if you really want to see weight loss, according to a study of overweight women by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh.

These findings help to explain why the contestants on The Biggest Loser are able to drop so many pounds so fast: in addition to a carefully controlled diet at The Ranch, their days during the contest pretty much consist of working out, and working out hard.

Exercising for 55 minutes a day 5 times a week is twice the amount that doctors recommend for general fitness. This underscores what anyone who has ever lost significant amounts of weight and kept off that weight already knows: losing weight requires a major time commitment. But with these studies, now at least people now know what they need to do if they are serious about losing weight and losing weight for good.

Low-Intensity Walking and Strolls Do NOT Improve Aerobic Fitness

Magazines and news stories tout the health benefits of adding light or moderate activity to people's daily lives. Considering the obesity epidemic in America and elsewhere, there is no question that there is a benefit to getting people up off the couch and moving. The push for people to incorporate at least 10,000 steps each day, and to use a pedometer to track those steps, is surely a positive thing overall.

Unfortunately, going for an easy walk may calm your nerves or feed your soul, but it won't get you more fit. A study has found that walking has to have some intensity to it to have real health benefits; those who went for low-intensity walks saw no cardiovascular improvements.

Aerobic fitness is a measure of the body's ability to use oxygen, and it turns out the heart rate must be elevated to achieve this. Study subjects who walked briskly, who got out of breath and/or broke a sweat, did see improved aerobic fitness and lower blood pressure.

You may want to consider investing in a heart rate monitor or a GPS watch to help keep track of your workout lengths and also of their intensity. Both a heart rate monitor and a Garmin GPS watch can sync with computer programs and give you so much moe insight about the quality of your workouts, in turn making them more effective and more fun. I own both, but am better about using the GPS watch than the heart rate monitor, though I know I am missing vital information by not using it!

Is There Any Good News About Walking? Yes!

While walking may not be the silver bullet solution for weight loss and heart health that many people have wished it to be, walking certainly is good for you. It is worth it to invest in a pedometer and strive to take 10,000 steps each day.

In fact, walking can give you a better brain. A study at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign found that when previously sedentary adults over the age of 59 started walking three times a week for more than 40 minutes at a stretch, their memories improved. Walking was decisively linked to better attention, better memory and better neural connections.

Seems that the brain gets active when the feet start moving.


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    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Excellent but, you should try walking in the Grand Canyon with a 65 lb pack, it might change your mind on walking ;-) I walk an hour a day and it has never helped me lose weight -- but maybe maintain.

    • whcobb profile image

      William Cobb 4 years ago from Clarksville, TN

      Low carb diets and avoiding the processed foods and sugars are far more beneficial than just cutting calories and doing physical exercise. Now, cutting carbs like Atkins recommends may be a bit extreme but it does work. However, by reducing carbs, your glycogen stores become depleted and very limited and thus, your aerobic exercise becomes anaerobic and you start burning muscle. Therefore, anyone serious about running for health or training for 5K, 10K, whatever, should aim to keep their heart rate at 65-75% of your maximum HR. the more consistent you are at doing that, the better you will be at weight loss/control and conditioning for for overall health and physical prowess.

    • teresapelka profile image

      Teresa Pelka 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Most weight loss exercise fails to involve the smooth muscles. Feel welcome to peek at my routine in one of my hubs, 'Don't kill yourself - exercise'.

    • s.carver profile image

      s.carver 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Impressive! I need to get back into running more, and know the only way to get there is just to start. And intervals, of course! Hopefully I can report similar progress in a couple of months.

    • Don Simkovich profile image

      Don Simkovich 5 years ago from Pasadena, CA

      Yep. I'm now running below 9-minutes a mile during my fast workouts and training mid-9.

      My goal is to run a 7:30 mile in the next few weeks and then get back into the mid-8s for a 10K.

    • s.carver profile image

      s.carver 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Great advice, Don, to alternate running and walking for those new to fitness. It's amazing how fast one can build endurance, and as you say, suddenly you will be running more than walking and your times will get faster! It's important to remember that you need to build up slowly your endurance and fitness.

    • Don Simkovich profile image

      Don Simkovich 5 years ago from Pasadena, CA

      Useful article. Voted up. Walking can be beneficial -- you're right that low intensity walking isn't going to burn many calories. However, walking rapidly can be useful. In January, when I started really getting back in aerobic shape, I'd walk fast on a treadmill for several minutes at a time and alternate with the elliptical hard and running for a few minutes. Now, i'm mostly running and my times are dropping. Walking is less stress on the joints. Carry hand weights to get the heart rate up. I suggest alternating walking and running for those just getting into shape.

    • s.carver profile image

      s.carver 5 years ago from San Francisco

      It's true. Walking is great for so many reasons, but not high enough intensity to get the desired weight LOSS.

    • Kirsten Lew profile image

      Kirsten Lew 6 years ago from Portland, OR

      Great article!! Thanks for the info, confirming what I thought, but was always questioning it because so many kept saying just walk, that's all you need to do.

    • s.carver profile image

      s.carver 6 years ago from San Francisco

      It's true, Glen. I don't want to discourage anyone from walking, but people also need to be realistic and informed about the limits of walking as a weight loss tool!

    • Glen619 profile image

      Glen619 6 years ago from Camden, New Jersey

      I have seen so many people walking and walking for wight loss, and you have described it quite well that this does not affect your weight loss issue at all you need some spark.