Varying walking speed burns more calories

New research shows that changing walking speed can make a substantial difference to the number of calories burned.


Two engineering researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus describe how compared with maintaining a steady pace, walking at a varying pace can burn up to 20% more calories.

They believe their study is among the first to measure the effect of changing walking pace on calories burned, or “metabolic cost.” Coauthor Manoj Srinivasan, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, who heads the movement lab at OSU, notes:

“Measuring the metabolic cost of changing speeds is very important because people don’t live their lives on treadmills and do not walk at constant speeds. We found that changing speeds can increase the cost of walking substantially.”

Prof Srinivasan explains that just changing speed burns energy, but that is not usually taken into account in calorie-burning estimates.

He and coauthor Nidhi Seethapathi, a doctoral fellow in mechanical engineering, find that up to 8% of the calories we burn every day are spent just in starting and stopping walking.

“Walking at any speed costs some energy,” says Seethapathi, “but when you’re changing the speed, you’re pressing the gas pedal, so to speak.”

She explains that changing pace, which effects a change in the kinetic energy of a person, requires the legs to work slightly harder, and that requires more energy.