Successful weight management programs incorporate exercise as a basic component. Here, we provide information regarding the best exercise for those focusing on healthy, sustained weight loss.
It may be surprising to learn that, for many reasons explained below, a regular program of walking is perhaps the best exercise for weight loss available.
It’s not that other forms of exercise do not provide many benefits, including increased cardiovascular health or greater strength and muscle mass – they most definitely do.
Still, for those whose primary exercise goal is to lose weight (and keep those extra pounds off), a properly structured program of regular walking is probably your best exercise bet.
Do I Really Need To Exercise To Lose Weight?
YES. Dieting alone will generally NOT produce the kind of long-term weight loss rate most dieters would find acceptable (1-2 lbs/wk). Numerous studies have shown that an appropriate exercise program should be part of any effective effort to lose weight and achieve optimal health over the long-term.
What Are The Benefits of Walking?
Walking has proven not only to be the easiest weight loss exercise program to stick with over the long term, but it also provides additional benefits including:
- Appetite suppression
- Increased energy
- Improved ability to use body fat for fuel
- Reduced water retention
- Minimal cost
Why Is Walking the Best Exercise For Weight Loss?
To understand why walking is so effective at weight loss and/or management in general, and particularly beneficial to insulin resistant individuals, we need to consider a few basic facts about our muscles and how they work.
Muscle Types and Energy Expenditure
Skeletal muscle (the kind that we use to move our bodies) is composed of two basic types of muscle fibers, called “slow-twitch” and “fast-twitch”. These two types of muscle fibers differ in the manner in which they contract and respond to exercise and training.
Slow twitch fibers fire more slowly and use oxygen much more efficiently than do their fast twitch counterparts, and walking uses predominantly slow twitch muscle fibers. This is why walking is considered by many to be the best weight loss exercise program for low glycemic dieters.
According to Rob Thompson, M.D. (a prolific writer on this subject), insulin-resistant individuals who do not sufficiently utilize their slow-twitch muscles for a day or two cause them (to use a computer analogy) to go into a kind of “sleep mode” in which they burn fewer calories and stop responding to insulin.
Daily walking reverses this trend, awakening the muscles and causing them to remain insulin sensitive to 24-48 hours, after which time, without further exercise, they return to the “sleep mode”.
Also, walking specifically focuses on the large fat-burning muscles found in the legs, hips, and “core” (trunk and lower back). These muscles comprise about 70% of your total skeletal muscle mass.
Regularly exercising slow-twitch fibers do not cause these muscles to grow in size, but does consume considerable energy supplied by body fat where available. Want convincing evidence of this? Just take a look at the bodies of most active hikers, and you will note lean, toned legs and minimal if any excess body fat.
Beginning A Walking Exercise Program
A properly planned and executed walking exercise program is very easy to begin, even for those who have not done regular exercise for long periods – even years.
Why? For one, walking requires no training since we have all been doing this since we were babies. Additionally, one can begin an effective weight loss program by starting slowly and gradually building up.
Of course, it ought to go without saying (but I will say it anyway) that anyone beginning an exercise program should first get their doctor’s OK before setting off. Unless you have an unusual problem, most doctors would likely recommend regular exercise as one of the best things you can do to manage your health anyway.
There is no need to strain yourself as you begin your new walking program. Actual experimental measurements (not the algorithms used to build online calorie expenditure “calculators”) have shown that the number of calories burned per mile varies only minimally between a comfortable “normal” walking pace of about 2.5 – 3 MPH and a so-called “power walking” pace of 4.0 – 4.5 MPH.
The reason that slow walking seems to be just as effective as fast walking at burning calories is that when walking slowly a person effectively must stop and start again with each new step, whereas when walking faster the body’s momentum increasingly (up to a point) adds to the amount of muscular energy expended.
The differences between casual strolls and walking workouts are primarily distance and pace. An exercise walk is not interrupted by frequent stops, but rather consists of walking at a regular speed sufficient to cause you to breathe more deeply than you would while at rest.
The only “equipment” required are a quality pair of shoes that have proper fit and arch support. Select shoes with heavy soles, as walking mileage will quickly wear down shoes made more for style than functionality.
The shoe “uppers” should be made of “breathable” material such as leather or mesh to allow for good air circulation.
You should try to walk every day, but don’t obsess about that. If you need a day off now and then, it’s no big deal. Just make sure you average at least 5 days/week over the long term, and you will reap the full benefits of the best weight loss exercise program for the insulin resistant.
Losing Weight With Walking: Technique
Start with a distance that you are comfortable with. Almost anyone can begin with a 10-15 minute walk, and then build up when you feel ready for a more challenging walk.
If the weather or time of day is a problem for walking outside, you may need to invest in a good treadmill. It will be a great help in keeping your walking program on track rain, snow, or dark of night.
As you begin your walk, wake up your muscles by starting with a 5 minute easy warm-up pace. This signals your muscles that they are going to be active for a while – which in turn prepares them to begin converting fat reserves to a readily available energy source (glucose). That is what you want.
If you instead begin by walking fast your muscles respond to what is perceived as a short-term need to move, and consequently they respond by focusing on the utilization of existing blood sugar only – not the result you are trying to achieve.
Learn to develop good walking habits from the outset. Keep your back and neck straight and your stomach area flat. Your feet should move directly forward (rather than at an angle to the direction of movement), and your arms should swing comfortably and naturally in the same direction as your feet.
Take natural strides without straining for extra speed or step length. With each step you should be landing on your heel and rolling your foot forward, pushing off the ball of your foot. Breathe deeply and regularly as needed, preferably inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
Increasing Your Workout for Best Weight Loss Results
As you gradually over the course of time build strength and stamina, your focus should be on increasing the walking time and distance rather than speed. This is by far the most efficient way to increase your daily calorie expenditure.
Your eventual target walking time should be between 40 minutes to an hour/day, but you should only increase the duration of your daily walks as you feel comfortable doing so. As you become more fit, your speed will naturally tend to increase also, but you need not try to consciously push it for weight management, as the few extra calories burned by modest speed increases are negligible compared to time spent walking.
Finally, you should be aware that although walking speed is not a great concern in terms of weight loss alone, walking at a faster pace is by no means negligible in terms of the benefits of increased cardiovascular health and general fitness. So as you become more fit, take advantage of that fact and allow your body to move at a faster clip. This will ensure that you are indeed engaged in the best weight loss exercise program available to the vast majority of us.
Finally, you should be aware that your walking program need not consist of a single exercise period. In fact, some recent research suggests that breaking a 30 or 40-minute walk into two walks of half those time intervals (e.g., 15 or 20 minutes) separated by a 5-7 hr “rest” interval” maybe even more effective than a single more lengthy walk.