How Walking Can Help You Achieve Your Weight-Loss Goals

By Erin Palinski-Wade

Most likely your main motivation for walking is to shed pounds and inches. Just how much weight you want to lose is up to you. However, when setting weight‐loss goals, it’s important to be realistic with yourself. You never want to aim for too low of a body weight, as that can be just as dangerous as being overweight.

You also want to realize that the number on the scale is determined by many factors. Your age, height, bone structure, and even muscle mass all play a role in how much you weigh in addition to your level of body fat. A large‐boned, muscular 5‐foot, 6‐inch person should never set a goal to weigh the same amount as a small‐framed person of the same height. It just isn’t realistic.

So what is a healthy weight range for you? If you focus solely on your weight on the scale, you may be missing the bigger picture. Someone who is of a normal weight can still have a large amount of body fat, in some instances more than another person who is slightly overweight. And vice versa: Someone who is “overweight” on a scale may have a large amount of muscle mass or a heavy bone structure, but a low percentage of body fat.

Although you don’t want to disregard the scale entirely, you do want to be aware that it’s not telling you the whole story. Other numbers are much more important for you to focus on when determining a weight‐loss goal for yourself. One of these numbers is your BMI, or body mass index. It’s a formula that takes into account your height versus your weight to determine whether you are at a healthy weight, underweight, or overweight.

Although BMI can be a fairly reliable indicator of body fat in most people, there are exceptions. People with a very high level of muscle mass (mostly high‐level athletes and bodybuilders) may have an elevated BMI without actually having a high level of body fat.

The easiest way to determine your BMI is to use the chart shown here. The numbers on the left correlate with your height in inches. The numbers within the chart correlate with your body weight in pounds. To determine your BMI, find your height in inches, then scroll over until you reach your weight in pounds. Once you find where these intersect, draw your finger upward to the top of the chart to see what your BMI is. For instance, if you are 67 inches in height and weigh 189 pounds, your BMI is 29.

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Now that you know your BMI, what does this number mean? BMI has five categories. As you can see in the chart, your BMI can fall into one of the following categories: underweight, healthy weight, overweight, obese, or morbidly obese. Your goal is to keep your BMI within the healthy weight range, because weighing too much or too little can increase your risk of many health complications.

BMI Categories and Risk
BMI Weight Status Risk
18.5 or less Underweight Increased risk
18.6–24.9 Healthy weight Low risk
25.0–29.9 Overweight Increased risk
30.0–39.9 Obese High risk
40.0 or more Morbid obesity Very high risk

Although BMI doesn’t measure body fat directly, research has indicated that BMI does correspond with direct measures of body fat. If you have a high BMI but feel it may be elevated due to a high level of muscle mass, you can analyze your waist circumference to determine whether you have excess body fat or are at a healthy weight.

Having a wide waistline indicates that you have excess visceral fat, otherwise known as belly fat. Too much of this fat has been associated with an increased risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even certain cancers. For these reasons, a healthy waist circumference is essential. The goals for waist circumference are as follows:

  • Men: Under 40 inches

  • Women: Under 35 inches

For individuals of Asian descent, the waist circumference goals are a little smaller:

  • Men: Under 35 inches

  • Women: Under 31 inches

To determine your waist circumference and see whether you may be at risk of having too much visceral fat, it’s important to take an accurate measurement. To measure your waist, follow these steps:

  1. Locate your upper hipbone.

  2. Place a tape measure around your bare stomach just above the upper hipbone (as shown).

    Make sure the measuring tape is parallel to the floor (slanting can falsely increase your measurement). Ensure that the tape measure is snug to your body, but not so tight it compresses the skin. Also make sure that you’re exhaling and your abdomen is relaxed — no sucking in!

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Once you determine your current BMI and waist circumference, you can use these numbers to help you create your weight‐loss goals. If your BMI is greater than 30kg/m2 (kilograms divided by meters squared), your first goal may be to reach a BMI of 29kg/m2. If your waist circumference is 43 inches and you are female, you may want to make your first goal to decrease this measurement to 40 inches.

Once you reach that goal, you can set a second goal to bring the measurement down under 35 inches. Setting realistic, attainable goals is much easier when you know what to aim for.