But while it may be gratifying to clock your speed and find that you’re trucking along faster than average, there’s no one-size-fits-all benchmark for walking speed. “It’s very much dependent on age, heart rate, and level of fitness,” explains Dr. Bianca Beldini, DPT and founder of Sundala Wellness in New York City.
“Technically, if one walks to lose fat, they would be in heart rate zones 1 and 2,” she says, which is 50 to 70 percent of max heart rate. “The Karvonen formula (220 – age = max heart rate) is a common, easy way to determine heart rate zones, and the fat-burning zone is considered 60 to 70 percent of max heart rate.”
(It’s important to note that, while it’s called the “fat-burning zone,” it’s not actually the ideal zone for losing fat; rather it’s the zone in which fat is most used as an energy source during exercise. So while you might see results from walking initially, you’ll need to quickly increase the intensity of your workouts to continue losing fat and improving your fitness.)
Using the Karvonen formula, says Beldini, a 30-year-old’s max heart rate is 190 beats per minute (bpm). So he or she would want to stay between 114 and 133 bpm (60 to 70 percent) in order to build an aerobic base, improve cardiovascular function, and burn fat. A 55-year-old’s ideal zone, on the other hand, would fall somewhere between 99 and 116 bpm.
That’s not to say that slightly slower speeds are a waste of your time. Aerobic conditioning is important for cardiac function, circulation, and lymphatic movement. And you can still build an aerobic base between zone 1 and low zone 3, which is a bit slower than your “optimal” walking speed for weight loss and fat burning.
For a more accurate measurement of your ideal zone, Beldini suggests wearing a heart rate monitor or a watch-based heart rate tracker to chart bpm, rather than relying on your treadmill’s readout.
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