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Does walking increase metabolism?

Walking is one of the most accessible and straightforward forms of exercise. It requires no equipment, can be done almost anywhere, and has numerous health benefits. One commonly touted benefit is that walking increases metabolism. But is this really true?

What is metabolism?

Metabolism refers to all the chemical processes that occur in the body to maintain life. These include:

  • Breaking down food and converting it into energy
  • Building and breaking down muscle tissue
  • Converts fat stores into energy
  • Transportation of nutrients and oxygen via the bloodstream

The number of calories your body burns each day represents your daily metabolism. This includes calories burned:

  • At rest – Known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR)
  • During physical activity
  • Digesting food – The thermic effect of food

Factors like age, gender, body size and composition impact BMR. Men tend to have a higher BMR than women. BMR also declines with age as muscle mass decreases.

Does walking increase BMR?

BMR represents 60-75% of total daily calorie expenditure. Research shows that regular moderate-intensity walking does not significantly increase BMR.

One study compared the BMR of sedentary adults and adults who walked 12 miles per week at a moderate pace. They found no significant difference in BMR between the groups.

However, walking does burn calories and contributes to your total daily energy expenditure. The exact amount depends on your weight and walking pace. Here’s how many calories a 155 lb (70 kg) person can expect to burn per mile of walking:

Pace Calories burned per mile
Casual strolling (2 mph) 63
Average (3 mph) 91
Brisk (4 mph) 118
Very brisk (5 mph) 146

So while a casual 1-mile walk burns around 63 calories, a brisk 3-mile walk can burn over 350 calories. Over time, this extra calorie expenditure can really add up and may help walkers maintain a calorie deficit for weight loss.

How does walking impact the thermic effect of food?

The thermic effect of food (TEF) refers to the calories burned digesting, absorbing and metabolizing food nutrients. This accounts for about 10% of your total daily calorie expenditure.

Some research indicates that regular walking may slightly boost TEF. One study found that 30 minutes of brisk walking increased the thermic effect of a meal by 25%. The effect lasted for several hours after exercise.

While promising, more research is still needed to understand how walking may influence TEF over the long term. Any boost to TEF is likely to be relatively small. But over time, a slightly elevated TEF from regular walking could increase total daily calorie burn.

Walking helps build and maintain muscle mass

Skeletal muscle is metabolically active tissue. Having more muscle raises your BMR because muscle burns calories around the clock. Losing muscle mass is one reason BMR declines with age.

While walking doesn’t build large amounts of muscle like strength training, it can help maintain muscle. Studies show brisk walking helps prevent age-related muscle loss. This may help counteract the drop in BMR that usually occurs as we get older.

One year-long study had women aged 50-75 years do 3 hours of uphill walking per week. Women in the walking group maintained their leg muscle mass, while the control group lost 3-5% of leg muscle mass over the year. The walkers also experienced a 1% increase in resting metabolic rate compared to controls.

How walking may support fat burning

Walking relies mainly on fat as an energy source once you’re moving steadily. Especially when done at a brisk pace, walking helps burn calories from fat stores.

Over time, this contributes to a calorie deficit which can lead to fat loss and weight management. Several studies show people who walk regularly have less body fat compared to sedentary people.

One review concluded people who walked at least 4 hours per week for over 15 years had significantly lower body weights and fat mass compared to non-walkers.

Why walking burns fat

There are a few reasons why walking is effective for tapping into fat reserves:

  • It recruits a large amount of muscle groups in the legs, hips and lower body.
  • Once you’ve warmed up, the intensity is low enough to utilize fat as fuel.
  • Can be done for long durations to maximize fat burning.

This differs from higher intensity exercises like sprinting, where the body relies more on carbohydrates for quick energy.

Tips to maximize fat burning from walking

Here are some tips to optimize your walks if fat loss is your goal:

  • Walk at a brisk pace – Aim for 3 to 4 miles per hour to keep your heart rate in the fat burning zone.
  • Walk for at least 30 minutes to give your body time to tap into fat stores.
  • Walk before meals – Exercising while fasted forces your body to burn more fat.
  • Walk on an incline or hills to recruit more muscle fibers.
  • Lengthen your strides to engage your glutes and hamstrings.

How walking helps weight loss

Losing weight essentially requires burning more calories than you consume. Walking supports weight loss in a few key ways:

  • Burns calories – Steady walking for 30-60 minutes can burn 200-300 calories.
  • Increases total daily energy expenditure – The extra calories burned during walks adds to your total calorie expenditure for the day.
  • Suppresses appetite – Walking helps control appetite hormones like ghrelin, especially when done before meals.
  • Reduces body fat – The calorie burn and fat burning effects of walking help reduce body fat stores.

For weight loss, aim for 150-300 minutes of moderate brisk walking per week. This equates to roughly 30-60 minutes 5 days per week. Studies show this amount of walking can help people lose significant weight over periods of 6-15 months.

One study had overweight/obese women walk for 50-70 minutes 5 days per week for 12 weeks. Women in the walking group lost an average of 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg) over the 3 months, with greater fat loss in the abdomen.

Tips for maximizing weight loss from walking

Here are some strategies to boost the calorie-burning, fat-burning and appetite-suppressing effects of walking to enhance weight loss:

  • Walk on an incline or up hills
  • Walk at a brisk pace consistently for at least 30-60 minutes
  • Try intervals – mix 3 minutes of fast walking with 3 minutes of moderate pace
  • Walk before 1 or 2 meals per day
  • Aim for 10,000 steps per day

Other benefits of walking

Aside from the potential to increase metabolism and support fat loss, regular walking provides numerous additional health benefits. These include:

  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Reducing risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Improving heart health
  • Increasing longevity
  • Boosting mood
  • Building stronger bones
  • Improving mobility and balance

Some research shows walking may also help improve memory, cognitive function and reduce dementia risk in older adults.

Overall, walking is an excellent form of moderate exercise that almost anyone can incorporate to improve health and fitness.


Regular walking at a brisk pace provides many benefits related to metabolism and weight control. While it likely does not significantly boost resting metabolic rate, walking more helps expend extra calories to create an energy deficit. This supports fat burning and weight loss over time.

Other metabolic benefits of walking include:

  • Helps maintain muscle mass to prevent age-related drop in BMR
  • Some potential to increase thermic effect of food
  • Burns high proportion of calories from fat during walks

Aim for 30-60 minutes of brisk walking 5 days per week. Choose hills or intervals to maximize calorie and fat burn. Pair walking with a calorie-controlled diet for best weight loss results.

Beyond metabolism and weight, walking has numerous benefits for overall health. It’s one of the simplest forms of exercise you can do almost anywhere to improve health and longevity.