How can I adjust my walking routine to start losing weight again?

DEAR DOCTOR K:

When I first started walking for exercise, I lost some weight. Since then, my weight has plateaued. How can I adjust my walking routine to start losing weight again?

DEAR READER:

To reignite your weight loss, you need to keep challenging your body. That means walking farther, faster and more often. The more vigorous your workout, the longer you’ll continue to burn calories after you stop exercising.

The number of calories you burn increases as you go faster. But despite what you might think, taking longer strides is not the best way to speed up. Rather, taking quicker steps with good posture (keeping your head up and not bending over) and proper technique (bending your arms and rolling your feet from heel to toe) are the foundation for improving your pace. Once you’ve mastered these basics, the following tips will help you turn up your speed even more:

  • Power your arm swing. Many people punch their arms forward when they walk. But you’ll get more speed and power if you focus on your back muscles. Squeeze your shoulder blades and drive your elbows behind you, keeping them close to your body. Pull your arm back far enough so that your hand just passes your hip. Then let your arm swing naturally forward to chest height as you pull the other one back.
  • Squeeze your glutes. Each time your heel strikes the ground, squeeze your buttock muscles. This technique naturally shortens your stride.
  • Loosen up your hips. When you feel like you’re walking so fast that you want to run, it’s time to get your hips in on the action. You want your hips moving forward and backward — not side to side. As your right leg steps forward, your right hip should sway forward, and then back as your right leg extends behind you. It’s not a big movement.
  • Count your steps for one minute at any point during your walk. Then speed up to see if you can take more steps during the next minute. The more steps you take, the faster you are going.
  • Train for strength. Strong leg and buttock muscles power your stride, helping you to achieve higher speeds.

If you’re not up for going fast your entire walk, intervals are a good option. Alternate fast walking for short periods of time with equal or longer intervals of slower or moderate-paced walking.

The basic idea is pretty obvious: More vigorous exercise leads to more weight loss. What’s less obvious is that there are groups of muscles that many people don’t use during brisk walking. If you recruit them into your pattern of walking, you’ll use them more and thereby work harder.

Every time I talk about regular exercise, I emphasize that the goal is not just achieving a healthy weight. I do think you’ll achieve your weight-loss goals by altering your walking routine the way I describe above. But if you don’t, you still will be greatly reducing your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and several kinds of cancer.