Have you asked yourself the question, “How many calories burned walking through the mean streets of Thame? (It’s a small market town in the Oxfordshire countryside).
Yes? Cool. No? That’s fine, the calorie calculation later in this post gives a good indication of calories burnt for walking, hiking and hillwalking.
Before we delve into the article, let’s consider a few other related questions:
- Can I get fit walking?
- Is walking hard?
- Teach me the right way to walk! And not like an Egyptian.
- Is there a future to walking, or is it just a fad?
Let’s look at each of these, one by one:
Can I Get Fit Walking?
Simple answer: yes (I’ve written hillwalking fitness guide for beginners you might find useful). Human beings have a pretty good history of walking places: from the days when man walked out of Africa to a daily stroll to the newsagent – walking is part of our DNA. Let’s put aside modern hobbies such as hiking and hillwalking and consider our near and distant ancestors’ general fitness.
If we could take a snapshot in time, a photograph from several hundred years ago and further back, we’d find that obesity was near non-existent. Well, unless you were lord of the manor, or a monarch, in which case you were pretty much carried everywhere and waited on hand and foot. Who could blame you for carrying a few extra pounds?
We also need to discard any notion of malnutrition – which was rife – and focus on the facts: physical activity, particularly walking was, and still is, a great way to burn calories and keep fit.
Here’s a more extreme example (another little story from my past): ‘hillwalking’ in the Army.
The British Army is brilliant. Joining up is like being given a near-lifetime of gym membership. Okay, you need to learn about guns and stuff, but the pros outweigh the cons.
Some of the Army’s toughest and most effective fitness regimes are built around walking. But with a slight difference: you carry heavy weights in your backpack and your walking pace is, well, a touch faster than average.
Some Examples of ‘Walking’ Training in the Army
REWORD: You’d also be surprised at how little emphasis is placed on running, at least in training.
- Paras 10. A ten mile speed march to be completed in 1 hour 40 mins… whilst carrying full battle order (about 55lbs). Did I mention the Army PTIs like finding big hills to march soldiers over?
- Annual Fitness Test. Similar to the Para 10, but two miles shorter and you carry only 44lb. And for some bizarre reason you have to climb into the back of a truck when you’ve completed the march. 1 hour 50 minutes is allowed for completion of the test.
- Tactical Advance to Battle aka TAB (not the thing you smoke), or YOMP. Anything up to 40 km carrying full battle order… this is probably the pinnacle of speed walking.
Can you get fit by only walking? Oh yeah. Back in the days of my Army service I had abs, not an ab. I now use fast paced hiking sessions to build up my endurance. Typical sessions range from eight miles plus.
The above examples are quite extreme, and most hikers or walkers don’t need to subject themselves to such rigours. In fact, even elevating your heart rate for around 30 – 40 minutes will produce massive improvements in your walking fitness. More on this in my hillwalking fitness guide for beginners post.
Is Walking Hard?
No. Not unless you have a condition that makes walking hard, in which case it is.
Joking aside, some of my family members aka children have this amazing ability to portray hiking as some kind of vile torture. I’ve lost track of how many aches, pains and debilitating conditions they develop at the mention of couple of hours hillwalking or hiking.
Walking isn’t hard. Unless you want it to be. Here’s the catch: to improve our fitness we have to apply a degree of effort and stress our body in order for adaptations to take place. In order to get fit by walking we need to add incremental stresses that build muscle and cardiovascular improvements.
And this training needs to be layered in such a way as not to completely overload your body. For example, don’t fill your backpack with 30kg of weight and head out on a 20-mile speed march straight after a 5 year lay up on the sofa.
Constant, small improvements will produce the benefits you want to draw from hiking and walking.
P.S. calorie calculator is a little further down the post…
Some Other Reasons Why You Should Walk and Hike
Primary reason for being here: to learn if you can get fit by walking. As we’ve already answered that question, let’s look at a few more reasons why you should spend more time outdoors.
Positive Aspects of Hiking for Fitness
Apart from my cat, who is a bit of princess and won’t ever set foot of the house unless circumstances are dire, all animals were created to live outdoors. And that bucket includes us. So, it’s no surprise to learn that being out and about in nature has some superb and very positive benefits for both our bodies and minds.
Here’s a small selection:
- Getting outside, especially into the wild green places is great for your mind. Here’s a UK government document that details the positive mental health improvements associated with a walk in nature.
- Feeling a little fuzzy after you wake up? Brilliant – go for a brisk walk to shake off the effects of the night before. Getting the heart pumping and lungs warmed up is a guarantee path to a hit of endorphins. I challenge anyone to try and a brisk morning walk and then tell me they don’t feel good…
- Walking is a great way of clearing your head of clutter and letting ideas filter through. I thought of this last week post whilst out on a 0500 hike.
- Lowering of cholesterol levels.
And that’s just a few. For a more detailed and comprehensive list, check out this post I’ve written health benefits of hiking.
How You Can Increase Calories Burned When Walking?
Keeping on top of the latest research is something I like to do and a recent document surprised me. It turns out that there are a number of methods you can employ that help burn more calories and improve your fitness.
Obvious, I know. But here’s a little twist: incorporating interval training into your hikes and walks will force your body to work harder and burn through more calories. If you’re starting out aim to add three ‘sprints’ of one minute into a half hour walk.
As your fitness improves aim to increase walking time to one hour with 33/66 split. What I mean is that the high intensity component of your walking session should be around twenty minutes, with the other 40 minutes used for warm up/cool down, steady state walking and easy walking after your sprint.
Here’s an example:
30 Minute Walk (beginner)
Step 1. 5 minute warm up
7 minute steady state walking
Step 2. 1 minute speed walking
Step 3. 1 minute easy walking (Repeat all three steps for a total of three sets)
7 minutes steady state walking
5 minute cool down.
Get Fitter Faster by Walking on Trails and Hills
Walking on uneven, loose surfaces engage different muscles in your legs. In response your heart rate increases, your body demands more oxygen and your calorie burn increases.
Do you live in a city with little access to the countryside? That’s fine. Most built up areas have public parks and walking on the grass and mud will make your training session harder than simply walking on tarmac paths.
Adding hills into a training session engages your hamstrings and inner thighs. Both of these muscles are important stabilisers that will improve you walking efficiency and speed.
Top tip: walking is a low impact exercise, but it’s still wise to reduce pressure on your knees. For hillwalking in particular, I recommend a good pair of walking poles.
Carry Weight to Make Your Training Session Harder
Don’t rush into this one. It’s very tempting to throw a 20kg barbell plate into your rucksack and hit the trails. And this is a recipe for disaster. If you’re starting out on your fitness journey consider ankle and wrist weights. Yes, these dinosaurs of the 80’s fitness industry…
Don’t diss the Fonda look – it might look dated, but it works. Any additional weight you can add to your training session will increase your calorie consumption. Pumping your arms as you stride out on a walk raises you metabolic rate. Adding weights to your wrists takes it that little bit higher.
I don’t know if this is a real phrase, I’ve searched the web and found many different explanations, none of which fit my thoughts. Let me explain…
Much of the walking we do is passive. What I mean is that we are prone to letting our body dictate the pace, length of stride and effort. And as we know the human body will do all that it can to conserve enery. Which is the opposite of what we’re aiming for on our walks.
Instead of letting your body take charge we need to make a determined effort on our hikes.
Pushing off your leading foot. This example is taken from the world of running (an activity I particularly enjoy, even though my speedy days are well behind me): competitive runners actively push off their leading foot which launches them that little further than if they were passively running.
Confused? Let’s explore this idea through the power of imagery:
Is There a Right Way to Walk?
I was hoping you’d ask that question. Yes, and ‘proper’ walking bears no relation to the shuffling movement we make walking from our desk to the coffee machine. Well, it does but only a little.
As we’ve already explored, evolution did a pretty good job of engineering us to walk – we managed to make it out of Africa, to Bognor Regis and across the Atlantic (with a little help form boats, which we had to build by chopping down forests and dragging the wood to somewhere it could be carved in beautiful vessels).
But here’s where our evolutionary tracks and our path into office life diverge: ancient man was either walking barefoot, or wearing very simple footwear. Most modern shoes are not designed with long distance walking in mind. Instead they are functional. If you ask my kids, they’ll insist that shoes play only one role in life – as fashion accessories.
And this point about fashion leads to an important point: most modern shoes tend to pinch the toes because the toebox is narrow. And the result is a splint effect which prevents the foot from effectively support the body during movement.
What Shoe is Best for Walking?
None! But those trails and hills are littered with pointy stuff that will irritate your soles and cause you to curse. Which is fine if, like my headmaster in primary school, you spent several years in a WWII PoW camp, walking barefoot the whole time and hardening the soles until they had the look and feel of granite.
Fortunately most of us haven’t experienced such a life, so let’s look at the next best option: low profile shoes. What you’re looking for is footwear that has:
- A low drop (heel height to toe height ratio). Higher heels shorten the Achilles tendon and affect ankle mobility.
- A wide toe box which allows your toes to spread and provide effective support for your body.
There are a variety of options available. Personally, I use an old pair of Nike Flyknit trainers that I no run in.
Training with low profile shoes is an experience in itself. For a start, the lack of cushioning will be noticeable. To reduce jarring when you walk, let your heel hit the ground and then quickly roll through onto the ball of your foot and push off.
As mentioned earlier, shortening your stride and upping the pace whilst pumping your arms will up the intensity and calorie burn.
Do I Need a Sports Watch?
Absolutely not. From a purist’s perspective, there’s nothing better than simply immersing yourself in the walk.
That said, sports watches and fitness bands can a useful training aid.
I’ve already written a post that covers my thoughts on the best GPS for hiking in which I look at sports watches. Here’s a recap: I used to use a Microsoft Band 2, a brilliant piece of hardware. Sadly my Band 2 died and Microsoft discontinued the devices so I’ve since moved to the Garmin vivosmart HR+ smart watch
There is a huge debate around the accuracy of fitness wearables, but, to me, that’s less interesting than the other functions a sports watch bring to my training. If I need an ultra accurate GPS reading I’ll use my eTrex 10, or Garmin InReach. Mostly I rely on my map reading skills.
What I value is my Vivosmart+’s ability to track steps. It might not be 100% accurate and that’s no big deal because I also aim to walk a little further than the daily recommended distance.
Likewise, tracking your precise weight/BMI is hit and miss when using a watch. I employ the ‘jeans test’ – if the waistband leaves a mark then I’m too fat!
What a sports watch or fitness is brilliant at doing is tracking trends. The results allows me to tailor my training sessions up or down to accommodate improvements or factor in rest periods and lighter training sessions.
Buying a sports watch doesn’t have to cost you the Earth. Plenty of cheaper options exist and they’re all very capable devices. One of my more recent purchases was the Huawei Band 2, a blatant rip-off of Microsoft’s masterstroke of sports hardware, but it’s pretty good device. I understand there might be a little paranoia around Huawei and accusations of spying, but, to be honest, I’m not really bothered if the Chinese government knows my heart rate gets highly elevated when I’m stuck in a traffic jam.
Finally, the Calorie Calculations
We’ve come to the part you’ve all been waiting for: the actual calorie calculations. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that there’s a formula you can use.
Calories burned per minute walking = (0.035 * body weight in kg) + ((Velocity in m/s ^ 2) / Height in m)) * (0.029) * (body weight in kg)
Let’s break that down with a real work example. I weigh *ahem* about 80kg. Multiply 80 x 0.035 = 2.8
During my training session I’m moving at 1.2 metres per second (about 4.35km per hour). I’m 1.85m tall. Multiply the velocity by itself: 1.2 x1.2 = 1.44. Divide the result by your height: 1.44 / 1.85 = 0.78
Now bring it all together: 2.8 + ((1.44/1.85)) * 0.029 * 80 = 8.3 calories per minute. This means someone of my apparent weight will burn 249 calories on a 30 minute walk.
Adding a relatively small weight of 20lb in you backpack will result in around 100 calories more being burned in the same amount of time. Impressive, or what?
Is Walking a Fad?
Possibly. There’s a chance that by 2100 we could all be born with hover boards grafted to our bodies, in which case my ‘calories burned when walking’ will be obsolete! But for now I’m going to hedge my bets and say that, for the new few years, walking is here to stay.