You all know about the magic of walking and its potential as a form of exercise, of course, you do, or you would not be here. With little disruption, you can walk to sustain an elevated heart rate and literally feel the benefits of better mental health and more day-to-day physical energy. Both of these benefits are great, but they are not always what we set out to achieve. The most common health benefit you are chasing, according to the people I have spoken to, is weight loss. Being that my number one principle for weight loss is that your body must burn more calories than you consume, I thought I would seek to answer the number one walking for weight loss question: How many calories do you burn walking?
And you will all be pleased to know that the answer is 43. That’s right, you burn 43 calories while you are walking. Obviously that is a ridiculous answer, and not just because a tiny satsuma would wipe away your calorie deficit. No, the truth is, this is an incredibly difficult question to answer for two reasons.
- I don’t know anything about your walking route, time or distance.
- I don’t know anything about you.
So I have taken closer look at what contributes to your calorie burn rate while walking, what calories I have burned while walking, how you can better understand how many calories you burn walking, and whether you really need to know this information in great detail.
What Contributes To How Many Calories You Burn Walking?
Please forgive me if I have dumbed this down to much, I want to keep it as basic as possible. Increased physical effort leads to increased energy expenditure and increased energy expenditure equates to more calories burned. The biggest contributors to your walking calorie burn rate are the elements that can lead to an increase or decrease in physical effort.
Your weight, muscle mass, body fat percentage, walking speed, distance covered and elevation levels will all contribute to your walking calorie burn rate.
Weight, Muscle Mass, and Bodyfat Percentage
Similar to people who love to get their exercise in the gym, walking leverages weight for effectiveness. With each step, you are pushing the weight of your upper body forward and lifting the weight of your rear leg. The one advantage people at the gym have is that as they get stronger, they can switch out for heavier weights to ensure maximum gains. Walking enthusiasts who are looking to lose weight, however, will hopefully be getting lighter and so our effort levels will reduce.
I like to think of muscle mass as the antihero of weight loss so I will just clear up some semantics. I only use the term weight loss because it is a widely accepted term and for most people, losing weight is an indicator of being more healthy. However, as with most things, there is more to the story. Muscle weighs more than fat, so it is possible to start an exercise routine and get in much better shape but not have lost weight. This is ok because it means you have built muscle mass which will utilize more energy both when you exercise and when you do not. Think of it this way, if your body loses 5lbs of fat and gains 5lbs of muscle, you will weigh the same, but fat was laying around being fat whereas the muscle is working 24/7.
Muscle mass is not a scalable measure of your calorie burn efficiency as muscles will burn more calories than fat when compared pound for pound, however, increased muscle mass will also make it easier (less effort) to perform tasks you previously struggled to do.
Similar to muscle mass, how many calories you burn walking will depend on how much “dead weight” you are carrying around. If having a high body fat percentage is the bad news that made you decide to lose weight, it can be the silver lining to its own cloud when you consider that the extra weight should make it easier for you to get more results out of less exercise.
Walking Speed, Distance Covered, and Elevation.
The faster you walk, the harder you are contracting your muscles and therefore your body is requesting more energy distributed to the affected areas. It is your walking speed that people are trying to leverage when they are suggesting brisk walking for 30 minutes every day.
The distance covered while you are walking might be a no-brainer when thinking about calories burned walking, which is exactly why it is included here today. Fast or slow, every step taken is a movement that requires energy, the further you walk, the more steps you take, and the more calories you have burned.
The elevation is my absolute favorite walking weapon when it comes to calorie burning. While gentle inclines offer up the opportunity to maintain a brisk pace but use more aerobic energy, steeper inclines will slow you down but are great for engaging your anaerobic metabolism and increasing lower limb muscle strength. Both options come with tasty calorie-burning advantages.
My Calories Burned walking
The picture on the right was taken on New Years’ Eve 2018 when I was 130 kg and the picture on the left is from May 2019 at 102 kg. (I may not look as heavy as I am but I am 6’4″ and deceptively heavy).
For the remainder of 2019, my newfound fitness carried me 88mi across the length of Hadrians Wall in 4 days in May, I ran 10k in under an hour in June before visiting BC, Canada, and completing several walking trails on Vancouver Island.
After a 2020 I would rather forget, I found myself overweight and depressed In January 2021, so I returned to the walking ways I had unintentionally abandoned. My schedule has been slightly less chaotic in 2021 so while I have not completed as many endurance walks, I have made consistent progress for the last 5 weeks. The picture on the left was taken on February 2nd when I was 1 week into my walking revival routine and the picture on the right was taken last week on March 8th. I was 125kg when the first picture was taken and 114 kg last week. All I did was walk a lot and reduce my alcohol intake.
Calories Burned When Walking The Distance
First I have compared 2 long-distance walks that were very similar from both May 2019 when I was 102kg, and from March 6th, 2021 when I weighed in at 115 kg before walking the distance to Roseberry Topping in Great Ayton.
My 2021 walk was over 30km (about 19 mi) with 622 metres of elevation and I completed it in 5 hours 46 minutes of walking time. I burned over 3000 calories while I was out walking but I was dragging 115 kg of human, which according to the website weight and things, is the equivalent of 767 bananas. Imagine carrying 767 bananas up and down hills for 6 hours.
The distance was comparable, however, I burned about 200 fewer calories which may not seem like much but it’s an extra hash brown at breakfast, yum. In order to account for the extra calories burned in 2021, I would look at 2 details; body weight and elevation.
If we look at this in percentages, in 2021 I achieved 7% more elevation while I was carrying 13% more weight and my calorie burn rate increased by 8%.
With both weight and elevation at play, it is hard to ascertain which one contributes to more calories burned so I looked at the remainder of my day when I was no longer climbing hills. To be fair the results are also comparable with my connect app estimating my calories burned at 2570 for the remainder of my day in 2021 and at 2471 in 2019.
I would conclude the differences to be fairly insignificant when looking at weight alone as a 13% increase in body weight only accounted for a 4% increase in calories burned across about 16 hours, although I was fairly inactive during that time.
Shorter Walking With Elevation
Disappointed with my findings relating to body weight’s contribution to calories burned walking, I decided to take a closer look at elevation using two smaller walks occurring 4 days apart.
On the 8th March, I walked 7.8 KM in 88 minutes covering 136M of elevation, and burned 750 calories. I then walked 7.2 KM on 12th March, taking me 73 minutes covering 239 meters of elevation and burning 718 calories.
Because these two walks were different, I needed to perform a few other calculations:
Even though I was clearly walking faster, therefore, burning more calories per minute on my walk with significantly more elevation, I burned marginally fewer calories per metre on average than I did on my walk with less elevation.
So What Increases Calories Burned Walking?
In fact, as I look over the data from my walks, the chief contributor to my total calories burned is always distance/number of steps. There you have it, your best leverage point here is just to walk more, nothing fancy, nothing difficult, just more of the same. Once you have achieved this you can start changing the way you walk to optimize it.
To illustrate this point, I will compare 10KM in 2019 running vs the same distance walking in 2021. In 2019 I ran 10k in 59 minutes 36 seconds spending 54 of those minutes in my cardio heart rate zone… I was really pushing myself.
However, despite the efforts of my running, when compared to my walk, you might be surprised.
I traveled almost double the meters per minute so it stands to reason that I would burn more calories per minute, but calories burned per meter was barely any different. I finished my run having burned 1006 calories whereas my walk burned 923 over the same distance.
Yes, my walk had more elevation at 173 meters, and yes I was a little heavier when I walked but based on today’s findings, those details do not count for anywhere near as much as the distance traveled.
Walking more will burn more calories, however, walking faster or running can burn calories faster over the same distance.
How Can I Know How Many Calories I Burn Walking
Without extensive medical testing, it is difficult to know exactly how many calories you burn walking, however, there is a way to calculate it manually. It is thought that we will burn 1lb of fat if we maintain a caloric deficit of 3500 across a safe time period. If you monitor your calorie intake and walking routine over 2 weeks and weigh yourself at the beginning and end, you can guesstimate. If you have lost 1lb then you have burned 3500 more calories than you have eaten.
If you then repeat the process keeping everything the same except you add in extra walking sessions, you should be able to estimate how many extra calories your extra walking has contributed. However, this takes time so I would recommend getting a smartwatch with health metrics like my Vivoactive 3 from Garmin.
Whichever watch you choose, it can help you with all metrics including estimated calories burned.
Do You Need To Know Know Exactly How Many Calories You Burn Walking
Knowledge is power, and knowing how many calories you burn while you are walking could be a huge advantage when attempting to get in better shape. However, whether you are spending 4 weeks trying to manually work it out, or your watch tells you all you need to know, neither will be 100% accurate.
The important thing is not to know exactly how many calories you burn walking, but to know if you are burning more than you were yesterday. Raising your effort while appropriately regulating your calorie intake every day will achieve results even if you do not have the exact figures to work with.
My advice is not to worry exactly how fast, how far, or how much elevation you need when walking to burn a good amount of calories but to focus on doing something a little more challenging than your previous walking workout. Making sure you are trying to raise your walking heart rate for at least 30 minutes every day will go along way to achieving all of your healthy walking benefits.
Calories Burned Walking More
Increased bodyweight might make it easier to get weight loss results, however, as you lose weight, your walking workouts will not lose a whole lot of effectiveness. Similarly, walking uphill will increase your effort expenditure across the same distance on flat land but even those gains are not as much as I first imagined. If you have time, the most effective way to increase your calories burned walking, is simply to walk more. However, at some point, you will run out of hours in the day and you will need to consider other measures to maintain your walking gains.
Did you find this article to be interesting? Do you have experience of learning about your calories burned walking? Why not join in the discussion below.