William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
In this Article
- Do you remember your first step?
- What are the top 10 reasons to walk?
- What types of walking are there?
- Where can I find tips on walking techniques?
- Is walking really a workout?
- What are the biomechanics and types of foot strike?
- What type of foot do I have?
- What type of shoe should I buy?
- How many calories will I burn walking?
- How can people measure steps and calories burned during exercise?
- What's a good average walking speed?
- How much walking should I do?
- How do I get started?
- Where can I walk?
- Should I walk or run?
- Where can I get more information about walking?
How many calories will I burn walking?
A 150-pound man burns 100 calories per mile; a 200-pound man burns 133 calories per mile; and a 250-pound man burns 166 calories per mile. You burn virtually the same number of calories whether you run or walk a mile; you just get there faster if you run. See below for a chart of calories burned during walking at different speeds and body weight.
How can people measure steps and calories burned during exercise?
Smartphone apps and wearable fitness devices are all the rage. But are they accurate?
Estimating calories burned
Recent research shows that wearable activity monitors can be in error anywhere from 9.3%-23.5% in detecting how many calories you burn during your workout, with the average error being 12.9%. This means that if you were to burn 300 calories during your workout, your device could be inaccurate by about 39 calories. But the error could be far greater because measuring calorie expenditure in a laboratory where the temperature, humidity, and terrain (studies are conducted on treadmills) is held constant is much different than outdoors where the weather can make a big difference in how many calories you burn and so does what you wear. For instance, you burn more calories...
- when the temperature is cold compared with hot because your body works harder to keep you warm,
- when it's humid and warm than dry and cool in an attempt to stay cool,
- when the terrain is hilly than when it's flat because it requires more energy to climb hills,
- when you wear heavy, restrictive clothing compared with workout gear.
Wearable fitness devices and smartphone fitness apps are smart, but not that smart. They don't add the above factors to the calculations that help them estimate how many calories you burn. One could argue that if the error is constant then you can use the device as a method of determining whether you burn more or less calories from workout to workout. That argument has merit, but I don't recommend deciding how many calories to eat if you want to lose weight based on how many calories the device tells you to burn. For example, if it says you burned 600 calories working out and you figure you can splurge on ice cream as a treat, well, that's all well and good, but what if you really only burned 500 calories and the ice cream is 600? You won't lose weight that way. But aside from that, I like the idea of the feedback from devices, even if there is some error. Just don't count on the calorie burn estimate as a precise way to decide how much to eat if weight loss is a goal.
Smartphone apps and wearable devices are more accurate at estimating steps than they are at estimating calories burned. They use sophisticated accelerometers, or motion sensors, to count the steps. Interestingly, recent research shows that smartphones were often more accurate than wristbands. Smartphones were off by -6.7% to +6.2% whereas wearable devices were off from -22.7% to -1.5%. Pedometers and accelerometers were most accurate with error of just 1.0% or less.
What does it all mean? Don't throw out your devices! Even if there is error, they still provide feedback which research suggests can motivate you to be more active. And if the error is consistent, then at least it's going to tell you whether you did more or less from workout to workout. And they're fun, I say wear them and enjoy them!
What's a good average walking speed?
- A good average walking speed is 3 to 4 miles per hour (mph) and depends on your leg length and how quickly you can move your legs.
- You may need to start at a slower pace if you're out of shape, but you will build up quickly if you walk regularly.
- Once you exceed 4 mph, it gets tricky because you don't know if you should walk or run. Proper speed-walking technique will help at fast speeds.
- Treadmill and outdoor walking yield the same benefits. Set the elevation to 1% to mimic outdoor walking.
How much walking should I do?
There are two exercise recommendations in the United States.
- The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association (ACSM/AHA) recommend 30 minutes or more of accumulated moderate intensity physical activity on five or more days per week to improve health and fitness. "Accumulated" means you can do it in shorter bouts throughout the day (for example, 10- or 15-minute intervals throughout the day), and "moderate intensity" means you feel warm and slightly out of breath when you do it. Walking counts!
Here are some suggestions to incorporate walking into your day and accumulate 30 minutes. Think about your day and how you can increase walking.
- Get off the bus before your destination (you may even save time this way).
- Park your car farther from the store.
- Take a walk at lunch instead of having your food delivered.
- Walk for errands instead of driving short distances.
- Get rid of your riding lawnmower!
- Keep your walking shoes handy. Leave a pair at your office for quick 10-minute stress-reducing walks.
- The ACSM/AHA recommend 20-60 minutes of continuous vigorous activity, three to five times a week, at 60%-90% of maximum heart rate, and two to three days of resistance training. Walking can certainly be done vigorously, so go to it!
Next: How do I get started?
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