A complete guide on running for weight loss




a group of people playing football on a field: If you want to lose weight running, it can be motivating to join a running group. kuniharu wakabayashi/Getty Images


© kuniharu wakabayashi/Getty Images
If you want to lose weight running, it can be motivating to join a running group. kuniharu wakabayashi/Getty Images

Running is not only great for your cardiovascular system and mental health, but it can also help you lose weight.

Related Article Module: How to lose weight and keep it off with the right diet and mindset

How much you need to run to see results depends on several factors, including your initial fitness level, current weight, goal weight, and diet.

Here is how to start running and how often you should run to lose weight.

Does running help you lose weight?

To lose weight, you need to be in a caloric deficit, which means you consume fewer calories than you burn. Because running burns substantial calories, it can help you achieve a deficit.

The number of calories you burn while running depends on a few factors like your weight, speed, duration, and age:

What the research says: A large 2013 study compared walking and running and found runners lost significantly more weight. It looked at more than 45,000 walkers’ and runners’ exercise over 6.2 years and found that men and heavier women, in particular, lost more weight running than walking.

Here are some tips on how to start running to lose weight.

1. Start slow

When you first start running, it’s important to ease into it to avoid injury and burnout.

“[Running] is hard on your joints, and it’s really important to give your body time to recover from the stress that you place on it,” says Katherine Beals, RDN, an associate nutrition and physiology professor at the University of Utah and an American College of Sports Medicine fellow.

Starting out too fast can be mentally challenging as well, and then it might not be enjoyable, says Karen Dunn, an RRCA Level II and VDOT Distance running coach, and owner of Strengthen Your Stride.

One way to start slow is the run-walk-run method, which alternates running with walking. For someone who is new to running and trying to lose weight, here’s a sample training plan that Dunn recommends. You should take a rest day in between each workout.

Once you get comfortable running for longer periods, you can step it up gradually. A good rule of thumb is to not increase your pace or mileage by more than 10% a week, Dunn says.

2. Eat a healthy diet

You’re more likely to see results if you pay attention to your diet as well. “If I don’t make any sort of alterations to what I’m consuming, running by itself is not going to promote significant weight loss. You have to do the two in combination,” Beals says.

If you are reducing your calorie intake to lose weight, you still need to eat a well-balanced diet. If you cut calories too severely, you may feel too tired to exercise, Beals says.

Here are some tips for healthy eating:

What the research says: In a small 2009 study, obese men and women exercised five times per week for 12 weeks, and those who also ate a healthy diet lost more weight. Additionally, a 2009 review found overweight or obese adults lost more weight long-term with a combined diet and exercise program versus a diet-only program.

3. Add strength training

Strength training reduces your risk of running-related injuries and boosts your metabolism, so your muscles burn more calories even while at rest.

What the research says: A 2009 review found regular resistance training can increase resting metabolic rate, muscular strength, and total fat-free mass in men and women.

To start strength training, try bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats, Dunn says. Then, once you get comfortable doing squats without weights you could add them gradually.

4. Increase intensity

One way to boost the intensity of your run is to incorporate high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which involves repeated bouts of high-intensity effort, followed by recovery time.

For example, you can sprint for a certain amount of time, then jog at an easy pace, and repeat. HIIT workouts tend to burn more calories than traditional workouts, especially post-exercise.

What the research says: A small study found women who did six weeks of sprint interval training saw on average an 8% loss of body fat and a 3.5% decrease in waist circumference. The training involved 30-second sprints, followed by 4 minutes of rest, three times per week.

How much should you run to lose weight?

Because everyone is different, there’s no prescribed amount of running that will make you lose weight. And the number on the scale shouldn’t be your only focus. Some people who start running find that they lose inches, even if their weight hasn’t changed much, Beals says. “I think that hyper-focusing on the scale is never going to be beneficial,” she says.

Running and eating healthy also offer several benefits beyond weight loss, including improving your mood, your heart health, and your overall health.

Insider’s takeaway

Before beginning any weight loss or exercise program, you should check-in with your doctor. If you are a beginner runner, you should start gradually to avoid injury.

Plus, you will be more likely to enjoy running and to stick to your exercise plan if you start slow. It’s also important to pair running with a healthy diet, which can make you feel better and improve your overall health.

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