We've been conditioned to believe that a workout isn't worth it unless you're sweating and totally out of breath. There's certainly nothing wrong with hitting the gym hard and running or cycling until you're out of breath, but you don't necessarily need to do those things if fat loss is your goal. I've been a weight-loss coach and trainer for many years, and I've found that my female clients respond well to walking as their main form of cardio.
This may sound unbelievable at first because we've been programmed to believe otherwise. And it also may sound too good to be true, but I can promise you it's not. I'm going to convince you that walking on a regular basis is a very useful way to shed excess weight, especially if you're a woman who is a beginner to working out in general.
LISS Cardio Is Very Useful for Weight Loss
There are different forms of cardio that have their respective benefits. HIIT (high-intensity interval training) cardio has been wildly popular over the last decade. Workouts like CrossFit and Barry's Bootcamp take you through the type of cardio where you work at nearly your maximum effort for a short amount of time, then rest for a period of time. Rinse and repeat until it's over. Sprinting is another common form of HIIT cardio.
The other side of the coin is LISS (low-intensity steady state) cardio. This is the kind of cardio I recommend to my clients often. HIIT isn't necessarily bad, and it certainly produces results. However, I've learned that everyday women who just want to get healthy and shed excess fat in order to live a happier, healthier life don't necessarily need HIIT cardio to reach their goals. In fact, very high-intensity cardio can backfire on women and produce excess stress hormones (especially cortisol) in the body, which can lead to a lot of other issues that stifle weight loss: your body will hold onto fat rather than burn it, you'll feel extremely hungry after your workout and overeat, you dread your workouts instead of enjoy them, etc.
High-intensity cardio can backfire on women and produce excess stress hormones.
LISS cardio is all about reaching a moderate state of activity and sustaining it for a longer period of time. A great example is swimming at a low to moderate pace for 30-40 minutes. Another example is taking a brisk walk for 45 minutes. The great thing about LISS cardio is that it's accessible to all women regardless of your ability or fitness background. Here's a little known fact about cardio: If you run a mile, you burn the same number of calories as if you walk a mile. The only thing is, running a mile is more time efficient. However, if you're not experienced with running or you simply don't like to do it, you can just take a longer walk instead and reap many of the same benefits. If you treat your walk like a workout and walk at a solid pace—rather than just stare at your phone and dilly dally—you can achieve a whole lot from just walking outside.
Additionally, when you get back from a 40-minute walk, you won't be nearly as ravenous as if you came back from a 20-minute run. And when you feel less ravenous, you're much less likely to overeat. We know that calorie intake is extremely important for weight loss, so anything you can do to avoid consuming excess calories is a huge win.
Nutrition and Strength Training Are Key
It's easy to read this and think, "All I have to do is walk to lose weight! Awesome!" That's not how it works, though. Exercise actually plays a fairly small part in fat loss—the most important thing is your diet. In fact, you could achieve a lofty weight-loss goal by your diet alone and no exercise. Of course, I don't recommend that because there are many other health benefits to exercise, but it just paints the picture of how crucial your diet is.
In order for walking to be a successful form of cardio, you have to make sure you're eating in a calorie deficit and your diet is high in protein and rich in nutrient-dense foods. Get rid of anything processed and packaged, cook at home as much as possible, and prioritize high-quality animal fats, and track your macro intake so you know how many calories you're eating each day.
I recommend at least 10,000 steps a day.
Strength training is another important component that is arguably more important than cardio in terms of fat loss. If you can work in a couple of strength training sessions each week, your cardio will be even more effective. If you're brand new to working out, there are lots of resources online; make sure you arrive to the gym with a program in hand so you know what you're doing.
Walk Every Day!
Even if weight loss isn't your goal, walking every single day is a fantastic health habit to add to your daily life. I recommend at least 10,000 steps a day to all my weight-loss clients. This helps stave off a sedentary lifestyle where you're just sitting around all day, and it presents a great opportunity for routine LISS cardio.
If you're new to working out, start small and set realistic goals. Aim for 10,000 steps a day and a daily walk outside. You'll quickly feel yourself gaining more and more endurance, so you'll be able to take longer walks and eventually pick up the pace.