Take a hike to give your metabolism a boost.
By Annie Hayes
Heading out for a stroll might not seem like much of a workout, but depending on your pace and the terrain, the calories burned walking can be significant. If you find it hard to fit exercise into your routine, hitting the pavement is a simple way to give your metabolism a boost.
Not only is walking cheap and accessible – all you need is a pair of decent trainers – but it improves almost every aspect of your health. Getting out for just 15 minutes per day is even enough to extend your life expectancy, according to the Taiwanese Institute of Population Science.
We asked Maximuscle fitness expert Sean Lerwill – a former Royal Marines commando physical training instructor – and Emily Servante, personal trainer at Ultimate Performance Kensington, to explain how to calculate the calories burned walking, reveal how to get the most out of each walk, and share tips for staying motivated:
Calories burned walking
Walking is one of the simplest but most effective tools you can use to increase energy expenditure, says Servante. It contributes to Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT), which describes activities ‘that aren’t formal exercise but burn calories, such as gardening, household chores, walking the dog or playing with the children in the garden,’ she says.
The difference in energy expenditure between ‘highly active’ and ‘sedentary’ can be hundreds, even thousands of calories.
NEAT can contribute between 15 and 50 per cent of your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) – how many calories you burn each day – depending on how active you are, Servante continues. As a general guide, activity levels can be split into four categories:
- Less than 5,000 steps: sedentary
- Between 5,000 and 9,999 steps: lightly active
- Between 10,000 and 12,500 steps: active
- Above 12,500 steps: highly active
The difference in energy expenditure between ‘highly active’ and ‘sedentary’ can be hundreds, even thousands of calories. While exact figures vary, walking burns between three and five calories per minute, she continues. ‘An hour of walking could add up to 300 extra calories burned. Depending on your energy intake, this could be the difference between maintaining your weight and creating the calorie deficit required to lose weight.’
How to calculate calories burned walking
Your total number of calories burned walking depends on a variety of different factors, including your age, sex, weight, height, muscle mass, pace, terrain and distance. The simplest way to calculate the calorie burn takes your body weight and walking speed into account.
According to Harvard Health, if you weigh 57kg, you’ll burn:
- 120 calories walking at 3.5 mph (17 min/mi) on a level surface for 30 mins
- 135 calories walking at 4 mph (15 min/mi) on a level surface for 30 mins
- 150 calories walking at 4.5 mph (13 min/mi) on a level surface for 30 mins
If you weigh 70kg, you’ll burn:
- 149 calories walking at 3.5 mph (17 min/mi) on a level surface for 30 mins
- 167 calories walking at 4 mph (15 min/mi) on a level surface for 30 mins
- 186 calories walking at 4.5 mph (13 min/mi) on a level surface for 30 mins
If you weigh 84kg, you’ll burn:
- 178 calories walking at 3.5 mph (17 min/mi) on a level surface for 30 mins
- 200 calories walking at 4 mph (15 min/mi) on a level surface for 30 mins
- 222 calories walking at 4.5 mph (13 min/mi) on a level surface for 30 mins
If you’re looking for more accurate analysis, you can use a calculation to figure out your calorie burn. It factors your basal metabolic rate (BMR) – that is, your age, sex, height and weight – with the duration of your walk, and your exercise intensity, known as metabolic equivalents (METs). One MET is defined as the energy you use when you’re at rest.
This calculation is: calories burned = BMR x METs/24 x hour. Using this equation calculator, a 35-year-old woman who weighs 65kg, is 165cm tall (BMR = 1,362), and walks for 60 minutes at 3.5 mph (3.5 METs) will burn 199 calories. A 35-year-old man who weighs 75kg, is 185cm tall (BMR = 1,782) and walks for 60 minutes at 3.5 mph (3.5 METs) will burn 1260 calories.
How to boost calories burned walking
While you can’t do much about your height, sex, age or weight – not overnight, anyway – there are plenty of variables you can modify to transform your next amble into a full-blown walking workout. Follow these tips to boost your calories burned walking:
🔥 Walk for longer
The first variable is distance or time spent walking, says Servante. ‘If you are currently sedentary for most of the day and only do an average of 2,000 steps per day, start by doubling it and work your way up to 10,000 steps per day,’ she says. ‘If you are already hitting 10,000 steps, there is nothing stopping you from increasing this further.’
🔥 Up the intensity
The harder you work, the more calories you burn, so focus on upping your pace. ‘Interval training is a great way to get faster at walking over time,’ says Lerwill. ‘Instead of going for one long 7-mile walk, try three 2.5-mile walks per week. For each one, increase the speed of your walks, aiming to knock a couple of minutes off your overall finish time.’
🔥 Change your terrain
Walking on a flat, level ground is easier on your body, so change the trajectory of your walk, says Lerwill. ‘Hiking uphill can increases your heart rate, which gets your body pumping more blood. You burn more calories as a result, because your body is working harder to push more oxygen into your muscles.’
🔥 Add extra weight
Follow the example of the military, which uses ‘rucking’ – walking or marching with a weighted vest or backpack – to increase output, strength, endurance and physical fitness, says Servante. ‘The benefit with weighted packs is that as you lose weight and get lighter, you can progressively add weight to your backpack to offset any decrease in energy expenditure.’
🔥 Use your arms
Don’t let your legs reap all the benefits. ‘Focus on propelling your arms forward and backwards in a skiing-like motion,’ says Lerwill. ‘It’s a common tip for walkers to use walking poles, which engages the upper body and gets you burning more calories. Position the walking poles at a 45-degree angle behind you and then push against the poles, moving your body forward.’
How to stay motivated
Getting started is the easy part, but walking consistently requires dedication. Here’s how to make your healthy habit stick:
✅ Set a goal
You’re more likely to walk regularly if you have a goal in mind. ‘Setting yourself a challenge of achieving a daily step count goal can be an excellent way of staying focused and giving yourself that extra motivation to get outside,’ says Servante. ‘You could even add an extra edge and get competitive with friends by signing up for a step challenge.’
✅ Track your walk
Accessing data about your pace, distance and calorie burn for each walk will help you track your progress, says Lerwill, ‘so you can see how far you’ve come’. It’ll also show you the effect of adding variety – increasing your pace, adding intervals or changing your walking routes – which is motivating, he adds.
✅ Walk with friends
Buddying up is a great way to connect with friends, and it’ll keep you accountable. ‘You could recruit a walking partner – someone who shares similar goals and who can keep you accountable and on track with your regular walking plan, especially when you are tired or the weather is poor and you feel like skipping a walk to watch Netflix,’ says Servante.
✅ Plug into a podcast
Listening to upbeat music or a podcast can increase your willingness to step outside, says Lerwill. ‘If you have an episode of your favourite podcast to catch up on, it’s best to save it for your walk, giving you something else to look forward to,’ he says. ‘Listening to upbeat music not only boosts your mood, but will also facilitate your increase in pace.’
✅ Go early…
Getting out in the sunshine for a walk before noon helps to maintain normal circadian rhythm and sleep patterns, says Servante, so head out first thing. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment, too. ‘Ticking a goal off before your day has begun can give you a sense of achievement and gratification that has a knock-on effect to the rest of your day,’ she says.
✅ …Or late
If you’re prone to a late night snack – who isn’t – heading out at dusk can help clear your mind and re-establish your health goals. ‘Switching up your evening routine with a regular walk is a good way to keep you away from temptation, take your mind off snacking and increase your daily energy expenditure,’ says Servante.
✅ Walk and work
If you have a tendency to get bored, try making your daily walks a source of productivity. ‘Why not take work calls or online meetings on foot?,’ says Servante. ‘Walking and talking kills two birds with one stone – you can burn some calories and improve your health, fitness and well-being while doing work.’