Walking is low-impact cardio that can aid in weight loss and improve body composition. Specifically, walking in the fat-burning zone can help target visceral fat (referred to as the most dangerous kind), which typically accumulates around the waistline. Here, three steps to help you shed belly weight.
The first step to begin losing weight from your midline is to elevate your heart rate during your walking workout to a level that begins using fat as its primary energy source. To reach this specific intensity, your heart rate needs to be between 60–70% of your maximum heart rate.
A basic calculation you can use to find your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. Once you have this number, you can use a fitness app to determine your five heart rate zones. The zone for fat burning is Zone 2. Using a fitness tracker app along with a heart rate monitor is the easiest way to make sure you stay in the correct zone while you workout.
Keep in mind that as your heart rate rises, you will burn more calories. However, burning more calories and raising your heart into Zone 3, 4 or 5 won’t necessarily burn more fat. In these zones, you use more of your storage of sugars and carbohydrates as energy. By staying in this more moderate range, about 85% of the calories you burn comes from your fat stores, with the other 15% coming from carbohydrates and protein.
If you’re having a hard time maintaining a walking speed that allows you to stay in Zone 2, try power walking, hand weights, Nordic walking poles or walking on an inclined treadmill or trail to raise the intensity.
Shorter workouts of 30 minutes or less will use mostly sugar and carbohydrates for energy. But because these energy stores are relatively small, as your workout progresses you will begin to use fat for energy instead.
The key is to aim for longer duration workouts, ideally 45 minutes or longer. It’s OK to start small if you’re just beginning and each week, try to add 5–10 minutes to your walking workouts until you’ve reached a duration that begins to use fat as your primary fuel source. Since it takes more time, use the weekend or other days when more free time is available to increase your duration to around 90 minutes.
Since this type of workout is at a low-to-moderate intensity, you won’t risk injury by completing these workouts on consecutive days like you would with a higher intensity workout.
However, doing the same type of workout day after day can result in mental fatigue, burnout and a plateau in your overall fitness level. For this reason, if losing weight is your primary goal, it is recommended that you complete long-distance workouts in Zone 2 for 3–4 of your weekly workouts.
You can occasionally alternate your fat-burning workouts with higher intensity efforts that are shorter in duration. These efforts in Zone 3, 4 and 5 help you improve your walking speed, build muscle and still burn a good amount of calories in a shorter period of time. Higher intensity workouts may also be ideal on those days when you don’t have as much time to exercise.
For walking, you just need a good pair of shoes and the time to make it happen. That being said, there are a few other things that can make your workout easier and more efficient.
Here are a few items to help you achieve your weight-loss goals:
- A heart rate monitor: This makes staying in the desired heart rate zone much easier to manage.
- Nordic walking poles: These help you improve walking form and posture.
- Pedometer: Counting your steps can be a good way to keep track of daily goals and challenge yourself during workouts.
- Hand weights: They can help tone the upper body and raise your heart rate without having to walk at a faster speed.
- Fitness apps: An activity tracker helps you keep track of things like mileage, time, cadence and heart rate.