How Running to Lose Weight Works

If you combine running with a healthy diet including less saturated fat and fewer calories, you'll notice results even faster.
If you combine running with a healthy diet including less saturated fat and fewer calories, you'll notice results even faster.
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So you want to shave a few inches off your waistline and are thinking about taking up running as a way to achieve some weight-loss goals -- great! Running is not only a healthy way to lose weight, it's also one of the most popular. Combined with a healthy diet, it can be really effective at helping you shed pounds, especially if you're not usually one for physical activity.

The great thing about running is that it's easy. You don't need any special equipment, training or gadgets, and you can do it just about anywhere and at any time. If you can put one foot in front of the other, then running is probably an option.

In its most basic form, losing weight is about using up more calories than you consume. Calories are a unit of heat, and they are your body's source of energy. When you eat, in addition to taking in essential vitamins and nutrients, you're also taking in calories and providing your body with energy.

Your body uses most of the calories you take in every day in order to function -- you know, breathing, circulating blood, blinking, walking, talking and so on. Any extra calories get stored in your body as fat (your body's way to save that energy for another day). It takes about 3,500 extra calories to add 1 pound of fat to your body. Likewise, to lose 1 pound (.45 kg) of fat, you'll have to burn 3,500 calories more than you typically use. What this means for you is that the more calories you take in, the more energy you need to expend to get rid of them (to keep them from turning into fat).

So where does running fit into all of this, and can it really help you lose weight? To put it simply, running helps you burn more calories, and burning more calories leads to weight loss. But just how many calories does running burn, and how do you get started running to lose weight?

Burn Calories Running

We know that in order to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you take in. And if your goal is weight loss, then you need to find ways to either reduce your caloric intake or increase your calorie burn. Luckily, running can give you the calorie-burning boost that you need.

The amount of calories you can burn from running depends on several factors, but the biggest is your weight. In general, you can calculate calories burned per mile of running by multiplying your weight (in pounds) by .63. So, if you weigh 150 pounds (68 kg), you'll burn approximately 94.5 calories for each mile you run. If you weigh 200 pounds (91 kg), you'll burn 126 calories [source: Runner's World].

Running a mile isn't easy, and running enough miles to burn the calories to lose 1 pound may seem like a lot. But remember, weight loss takes time and, added up over a few weeks and months, you'll notice some real differences. And if you combine running with a healthy diet with less saturated fat and fewer calories, you'll notice results even faster. As you build muscle from exercise, your body will naturally burn more calories than it did before, because a body with more muscle burns more calories all the time, not just when you're running [source: Mayo Clinic].

The unfortunate thing about running -- and all exercise in general -- is that if you continue to do the same exercise every day, your body adapts and actually becomes more efficient at using calories to do the work. So, for example, if you jog the same distance at the same speed every day, eventually you will burn fewer and fewer calories each time you run than you did in the beginning. To keep your body from adapting to your workout, you can change it up by increasing the intensity, speed and length of your workout. In the next section, we'll look at some specific running tactics for weight loss and some of the ways to make sure you don't fall into the trap of adaptation.

Weight Loss Running Plans

The best weight-loss running plans start gradually and increase in length and intensity over time. Starting slow eases your body into the new routine, keeps you from tiring quickly and helps you stay motivated. Feeling burned out early on can be discouraging -- and giving up because your workout feels too hard certainly doesn't benefit your waistline.

You'll want to run often enough that it becomes part of your routine, but not so much that you get burned out quickly. If you're just starting out, try to get out about three times a week. Even if you only run 10 or 15 minutes at a time in the beginning, the fact that you're getting out and getting active is a step in the right direction. From there, add a few minutes in motion to your regimen each week.

As we mentioned before, changing your routine helps to keep your body from adapting to the workout. One way to do this is with interval training, or alternating periods of intense activity with periods of lighter activity. In the beginning, try alternating between walking and jogging. Later, as your stamina improves, you might alternate jogging with running. The short bursts of intense activity boost your calorie burning, even if it's for just a brief period of time. Plus, it keeps you from tiring as quickly and breaks the workout into manageable chunks, which can help you stay motivated and keep you from getting bored.

Another way to change up the routine is by running on an incline like a hill. The benefits of this are pretty easy to recognize -- if you've ever tried to walk or run up a hill, you know that it's much more difficult than on level ground. And if you have to work harder to do it, then you'll burn more calories.

Lastly, your eating habits need to be on board with your running plan. Just because you've started running doesn't mean you can eat whatever you want -- if you're burning more calories but you're also eating more, you're not going to lose the pounds you're hoping for. Besides, your body is the only machine you need for running, so keep it fueled with the right foods and you'll reap the rewards the next time you step on the scale.

So what equipment will you need to get started running for weight loss? Find out in the next section.

Gear for Running to Lose Weight

As we mentioned earlier, running is a popular exercise option because it's both simple and cost-effective. If you have two working legs and a place to move, then there's a good chance you can run. But like any exercise or sport, there's some optional gear you can use to make the process easier and more enjoyable or even to keep track of your progress.

One of the first pieces of equipment a runner invests in is a good pair of shoes. When you're out pounding the pavement your feet can take a beating, they'll go a long way toward keeping your tootsies comfortable. If you're serious about running, invest in a comfortable pair of quality running shoes -- your body will be grateful for the consideration.

Another wise investment is a heart-rate monitor. Running, like any vigorous activity, causes the heart to work harder and beat faster. Monitoring your heart rate can tell you if you're pushing yourself too hard or even if you're getting the most out of your workout. A heart-rate monitor tells you how fast your heart is beating, and you can use it to make sure your heart rate stays within a healthy range, known as your target heart rate.

Some runners also like to wear a watch to keep track of the time. If you're trying to increase the number of minutes you spend running, then having something to check your time against can be a good idea.

Going for a run can be pretty simple -- you just open your front door, set one foot in front of the other and go. But for some, running outside isn't an option (especially those in very cold climates) and for others it's more convenient to work out in a gym or at home. For these reasons, many people choose to do their running inside on a treadmill. Some treadmills can change the speed and incline for you, and some can even monitor your heart rate and tell you the number of calories you're burning. While they're not required equipment, treadmills offer an alternative to hitting the pavement.

To find out more about what it takes to be a runner and the benefits of getting out and getting active, take a few minutes to run through the links on the next page.

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Sources

  • Burfoot, Amby. "How Many Calories Are You Really Burning?" Runner's World. September 2005.http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-242-304-311-8402-0,00.html
  • Burfoot, Amby. "Runner's World Complete Book of Beginning Running." Rodale, 2005.
  • Diem, Carl-Jürgen. "Tips for Success: Running for Beginners." Meyer & Meyer Verlag, 2002.
  • Kahn, Jeffery. "Government Guidelines Underestimate Benefits of Running for Women, Says National Runners' Health Study." Nov. 13, 1995. (Aug. 31, 2010)http://www.lbl.gov/Science-Articles/Archive/running-women-study.html
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. "Counting calories: Get back to weight-loss basics." Mayoclinic.com. 2010. (Sept. 2, 2010)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/calories/WT00011
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. "Interval training: Can it boost your calorie-burning power?" Mayoclinic.com. 2010. (Sept. 2, 2010).http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/interval-training/SM00110
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. "Metabolism and weight loss: How you burn calories." Mayoclinic.com. 2010. (Aug. 30, 2010)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/metabolism/WT00006
  • Run the Planet. "Start Your Running Program." 2010. (Aug. 31, 2010)http://www.runtheplanet.com/trainingracing/training/beginners/trainingprogram.asp