Can Walking Reduce Belly Fat?

Ask a Doctor

I’m 45 and overweight, and I’ve never exercised much. This didn’t bother me too much because I’m happily married and have a great life – my weight doesn’t prevent me from fishing or playing with my kids. But recently I had a mild heart attack that was a wakeup call for me. I’ve started walking at least a mile every day to get into good cardiovascular condition. I’ve also noticed my pants are looser and I’ve dropped a few pounds. I thought you had to run, lift weights and generally work out a lot harder than I have been, but I seem to be getting slimmer in addition to gaining endurance. Can walking reduce belly fat?

Doctor’s Response

Walking is a type of aerobic exercise and any aerobic exercise can help reduce overall body fat. Combining walking with high intensity exercises such as running or fast-paced walking or can actually help target belly fat better than walking alone.

A 2008 University of Virginia study showed that women who performed 30 minutes of intense exercises such as fast-paced walks or runs three times per week, plus slower walks two times per week, lost four times more body fat and six times more belly fat than women who walked more slowly five days per week.

Higher intensity exercise can boost fat-burning hormones including growth hormone and epinephrine, and it also causes an increase in calories burned after exercising (the “after-burn” effect).

  • When walking for weight loss, distance is important, not speed. Wear a pedometer to measure your steps and then find ways to add steps during your daily activity.
  • To exercise, walk at a pace and distance that puts no strain on the body. Set reasonable goals. If you walk until you become tired, you will be exhausted when you stop.
  • Walk with smooth, rhythmic motions at an easy pace.
  • Each time you walk, walk slowly for the first five minutes to warm up. After five minutes, walk for 10 minutes at a faster rate if you can. Do not overdo it. You may stop to rest at any time.
  • When you have walked for 10 minutes without stopping, your first goal has been reached. The new goal should be to walk for a little longer time (say, 12 minutes). Continue to set new goals without overdoing it. It is important not to walk too fast or too long.
  • Chart your progress.

There is no one exercise that targets belly fat. A combination of aerobic and strength exercises together can help burn overall body fat better than these exercises performed alone. Further, long-term exercise programs can cause a larger reduction in belly fat and help maintain it. If you want to lose belly fat, eating less is as important, or even more important, than regular exercise.

Drastic changes in eating habits, such as not eating at all (fasting), are usually unsuccessful. Eating too few calories causes your metabolism to slow down, meaning the body burns fewer calories.

Don't believe claims about losing weight while you sleep or watch TV, or plans that claim to cause weight loss without dieting or exercise. Such gimmicks just don't work. They may even be unsafe or unhealthy.

By decreasing calorie intake by 500 per day, you will lose 1 pound a week. One way to eat fewer calories is to limit your fat intake. No more than 30% of your daily calorie intake should be fat calories.

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Gayle M. Galletta, MD coauthored this article


BMC Public Health. The effect of 12 weeks of aerobic, resistance or combination exercise training on cardiovascular risk factors in the overweight and obese in a randomized trial. 28 August 2012. 10 November 2018 . Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The Effect of Abdominal Exercise on Abdominal Fat. September 2011. 10 November 2018 . Leigh Perreault, MD. Obesity in adults: Role of physical activity and exercise. 29 August 2017. 10 November 2018 . Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise . Effect of exercise training intensity on abdominal visceral fat and body composition. November 2008. 10 November 2018 .