Depending on where you begin, you can expect to shed a half-pound to 2 pounds per week with a new walking program, says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, author of Walking the Weight Off for Dummies. (Good news: The heavier you start, the faster you’ll shrink.) To get your new program up and walking—and have a good time along the way—follow these tips from Palinski-Wade, Smith, and orthopedic surgeon Scott Mullen, MD, of the University of Kansas Hospital Sports Medicine and Performance Center.
Check with your doc.
Walking does work for just about every body—but bumping up your activity level does put strain on your muscles, joints, and heart. “If you haven’t been exercising, running it by your primary care doctor is a good idea, just to make sure they don’t have any concerns or think you need any testing ahead of time,” says Mullen.
Once you’ve begun, stay alert for signs you’re overdoing it. “Always listen to your body and pay attention to its signals,” Smith says. “Pain, light headed, or nausea can all be signals that you are exerting yourself too much.” Other red flags include chest pain, pain that shoots down your arm or up your neck, or severe headaches, Mullen says—if you develop them, stop your workout and check with your health care team.
Gear up for weight loss
Got the all-clear? Good. Your next stop—a sporting goods or specialty shoe store, where you should pick up a pair of high-quality sneakers. Look for a shop that does gait analyses to help you select the right pair for your specific foot type, Mullen says. Go a half-size up from your regular work shoes, Smith advises, since feet tend to swell when you exercise. (You can also use our sneaker buying guide.)
Walking doesn’t require a closetful of expensive athletic wear, but investing in a few key pieces can make you much more comfortable on the sidewalk or path. Start with the right sports bra—”it should support but not squish you,” Smith says. Try a few on and do some jumping jacks in the dressing room; you might feel silly, but it’s worth it to make sure you can move easily but with the right degree of uplift. (Start with our guide to the 6 Best Sports Bras For Well-Endowed Women.)
Look for tops and bottoms in moisture-wicking fabrics, which sop up sweat to keep you comfortable, dry, and chafe-free. Choose styles with a bit of stretch, so they don’t pinch if you take a bigger step or stride uphill, says Palinski-Wade. In cold weather, layer up—you’ll want to start protected from the elements but have clothing to shed as you warm up during the workout.
Fight the chafe.
The combo of sweat, movement, and clothing can leave your skin raw and irritated. Ward it off pre-workout by applying a CBD cream. Use it on your thighs, neck, arms, around your sports bra, or anywhere else you’re prone to painful rubbing.
Stop blisters before they start by pairing properly fitting shoes with socks that fit snugly without sliding, Palinski-Wade says. And if sore spots do pop up, cover them with a protection product, which fit like a second skin to relieve pain, speed healing, and prevent new irritation.
Ultimately, you’ll want to build up to 30 to 60 minutes of walking most days of the week to achieve weight loss. But start where you are—if you haven’t worked out in a while, that could mean fitting in 10 minutes of motion each day, Palinski-Wade says. Each week, boost that daily total by 5 minutes. This slow, steady ramp-up gives your body a chance to adapt, reducing your risk of injury as you get fitter.
“One of the great things about exercise in general but especially with walking is that it really can be cumulative during the day,” Palinski-Wade says. If you feel overwhelmed by a 30- or 60-minute total, break it up into three 10-minute segments. You’ll burn just as many calories and net the same health benefits with less stress on your schedule.
At first, keep your pace comfortably challenging—you should be able to speak a few sentences, but not carry on a lengthy conversation without effort, Palinski-Wade says. Maintain a steady program and you’ll build endurance—you’ll notice that you can naturally walk faster with less effort.
After a few weeks of steady striding, add in some speedier intervals—brief bursts of faster walking—to amp up your results. (Try one of these new walking workouts that blast fat.) Ohio State University researchers recently found people who varied their walking pace burn up to 20% more calories than those who stride at a steady pace.
Calm aches and pains.
With any new routine, a small amount of soreness comes with the territory—for instance, your calves might feel tight the day after you walk uphill, Palinski-Wade says. For minor muscle aches—the kinds of things that hurt a bit but feel better once you start moving—apply ice (or a cooling pack like Therapearl, which doesn’t leak and fits perfectly around spots like your knees, ankles, or lower back).
Take a day off if soreness alters your gait or limits your movements, or if your aches occur around your joints rather than just in your muscles, Mullen advises. Pain directly behind your kneecap, around your Achilles tendon, or in your ankles or hips could mean you’re pushing harder than you should. If a few days of rest and icing don’t resolve these issues, see a sports doc or physical therapist for advice.
To ward off aches and injuries before they begin, add in 2 days of strength training per week, Mullen says. As a bonus, this also turns up your burn—in a recent 12-week study, participants who combined cardio and weights shed more fat than those who did one type of exercise alone.
Stay motivated by tracking your progress in a training journal, Palinski-Wade suggests. You don’t need to get crazy-detailed—just note how far you walked and how long it took you, plus your incline if you’re on the treadmill. Over time you’ll start to see signs of improvement—”not just on the scale but in your fitness. That can be really motivating,” she says. A successful weight loss program will be rewarding.