How Running Helps You Lose Weight


Running is an incredibly popular way to exercise.

In fact, it’s estimated that in the US alone, over 64 million people have run at least once in the past year (1).

Running is also linked to many health benefits, and is one of the best types of exercise to help you lose weight.

This article explains how running can help you shed unwanted pounds.

There Are Many Types of Running

Young Person Running By Seaside

There are many different styles of running, each with their own unique purpose and benefits.

These are the most popular types:

  • Base runs: What most people would call a normal run. They are short-to-moderate length runs around 6 miles (10 km) and done at your natural pace.
  • Long runs: Longer versions of base runs done at the same pace but over a greater distance of around 10–12 miles (15–20 km). They help improve your overall fitness and endurance.
  • Interval runs: Short, intense runs repeated several times with short breaks in between. For example, 5 x 0.5 mile runs with 1/4 mile (400 meters) light jogging between each interval. These runs train your running power and speed.
  • Hill repeats: Similar to interval runs but done uphill. For example, 10 x 1-minute hill repeats. They train your running power and speed while improving stamina.
  • Recovery runs: Slow runs done after harder runs like hill repeats to add extra distance to your overall run. For example, a 4-minute run at a comfortable pace after a harder run.
  • Progression runs: These mimic competition-style runs by starting slow and finishing at a faster pace. They build endurance, speed and reduce fatigue. For example, 5 miles (8 km) at a natural pace, then 1 mile (1.5 km) at a fast pace.

Summary: There are many types of runs, each with their own purpose and benefits. Normal runs are considered base runs.

It Burns More Calories Than Most Exercises

Black Set of Scales and a Measuring Tape

Losing weight requires you to burn more calories than you consume, and exercise can help you do so.

Running is a great option, as it burns more calories than most other types of exercise because it requires many different muscles to work hard together (2).

In particular, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) involving running burns the most calories per minute by using various muscles at their maximum power.

The difference in calories burned by running versus by other exercises is supported by research.

For example, a study with 12 male and 12 female participants compared how many more calories running 1 mile (1,600 meters) burned than walking the same distance on both a treadmill and track.

Results showed that, on average, running 1 mile on the treadmill burned 33 more calories than walking, and running 1 mile on the track burned 35 more calories than walking (3).

33–35 calories may not seem like a huge difference at first, but over a 10-mile run, this may equal burning 330–350 more calories than walking the same distance.

A report by Harvard University compared the calories burned over 30 minutes by people at three different weights and found similar results.

Specifically, they discovered that a 155-pound (70-kg) person could burn 372 calories in 30 minutes running at a moderate pace of 6 miles per hour (10 km per hour).

This is as many calories as are burned during vigorous swimming and martial arts, and even more than those burned during a 30-minute game of basketball (4).

Summary: Running is an excellent choice of exercise for weight loss because it burns more calories than many alternatives.

High-Intensity Running Continues to Burn Calories After Exercise

Female Runner Weighing Herself After a Run

Doing any exercise regularly will help you lose weight, but only a few types of exercise will continue to burn calories even after you finish working out.

High-intensity types of running like hill repeats and interval runs can continue to burn calories up to 48 hours after you work out (5).

These exercises use many muscles and need more energy afterward to cool down, recover and fix any hormone changes from exercise.

This is often labeled the “afterburn effect” among the fitness community.

Several studies have found that the “afterburn effect” could help you burn significantly more calories over time (6, 7).

In one study, 10 men cycled for 45 minutes at an intense pace to calculate how many calories they burned after the workout and for how long.

The average participant burned 519 calories during their workout and an extra 190 calories over the 14 hours following the workout (7).

Although the above example uses cycling as an example, the “afterburn effect” applies to high-intensity running, too. Cycling is simply a convenient way to measure calories burned in a controlled laboratory study.

Summary: High-intensity running like sprints, intervals and hill runs can continue to burn calories long after a workout due to the “afterburn effect.”

High-Intensity Running Suppresses Appetite and Helps You Eat Less

Fork and Spoon Tied With a Measuring Tape

Many people try reducing their calorie intake by eating less food or changing the food they eat.

Unfortunately, these strategies may sometimes only increase hunger and make losing weight a challenge.

Several studies have found that high-intensity running may combat this struggle by reducing your appetite after a workout (8, 9).

The exact processes surrounding this response are unclear, but one way high-intensity running may suppress appetite is by producing less hunger hormones like ghrelin and producing more satiety hormones like peptide YY (PYY).

A study with 11 male participants compared the effects of a 60-minute run, 90 minutes of resistance training and of no exercise on ghrelin and PYY production both during and after a workout.

It became evident that running and resistance training reduced ghrelin production, but only running increased PYY production (8).

Another study with nine male participants compared the effect of 60 minutes of running and no exercise on ghrelin production. They found that running lowered ghrelin levels for three to nine hours in comparison to no exercise (9).

Summary: Running may help you lose weight by lowering the production of hunger hormones and increasing the production of satiety hormones.

Moderate-to-High Intensity Running Targets Harmful Belly Fat

Carrying excess belly fat is extremely bad for your health.

Many studies show a connection between belly fat and an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and many other diseases (10, 11).

Studies have found that moderate-to-high aerobic exercise like running can reduce belly fat, even without changing your diet (12, 13, 14).

An analysis of 15 studies and 852 participants found that aerobic exercise reduced belly fat without any change in diet. However, training at moderate-to-high intensity was most effective at reducing belly fat (14).

Another study of 27 middle-aged women found that high-intensity running considerably reduced belly fat, compared to low-intensity walking/running or no exercise (15).

Lastly, a study of 45 healthy but inactive women found that high-intensity interval exercise three times per week significantly reduced body fat and belly fat, compared to steady pace exercise or no exercise (16).

Summary: Many studies have found that moderate-to-high intensity aerobic exercise like running targets harmful belly fat, even without dietary changes.

Running Has Many Other Benefits for Health

Middle Aged Woman Exercising

Aside from weight loss, running has been linked to many other health benefits.

A few specific health problems that running may help prevent or alleviate include:

  • Heart disease: A 15-year study with over 50,000 participants found that running at least five to ten minutes a day, even at low speeds, reduced heart disease risk up to 45% (17).
  • Blood sugar: Running can lower blood sugar by making muscle cells more sensitive to insulin. This helps sugar move into muscle cells for storage (18, 19).
  • Cataracts: One study found that moderate-pace walking and vigorous running both reduced the risk of cataracts, with more exercise directly resulting in a lower risk (20).
  • Falls: Running may reduce the risk of falling among the elderly. Research shows that elderly participants who run are less likely to fall because their leg muscles are more responsive (21).
  • Knee damage: A common myth is that running is bad for your knees. An analysis of 28 studies refuted this misconception, finding strong evidence that links physical activity with stronger knee tissue and healthier knees (22).
  • Knee pain: Running may also help reduce knee pain. A study of participants with an average age of 64 years found that running was not linked with knee pain or arthritis. Instead, participants who ran more actually had less knee pain (23).

Summary: Along with weight loss, running can provide various health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease, reduced blood sugar, lower cataracts risk, lower falls risk, stronger knees and less knee pain.

How to Get Started

Aqua Blue Running Shoes

There are many items available for running, but most beginners can get by on the bare minimum.

This includes good running shoes, a comfortable top, a water bottle and running shorts, tights or comfortable pants.

It is highly recommended for women to wear a sports bra while running to reduce pain. Reflective gear is highly recommended as well if you plan on taking your run during early hours or late at night. This will help to prevent any accidents.

Here are a few basics you should know before beginning a running workout:

  • Frequency: To get started, aim for 3 to 4 days of running per week. This allows for enough recovery time between workouts.
  • Warm up: Before every running workout, it is important to warm up and stretch in order to prepare your body for the run. Start by stretching, followed by 5 minutes of walking at an easy pace. Then, slowly progress to a power walk.
  • Cool down: At the end of your run, make sure to cool down with 5 minutes of walking, gradually decreasing the speed as you go.
  • Total time: Aim for around 30 minutes total. This includes 5 minutes for a warm up, 5 minutes for a cool down and 20 minutes of running/walking in between.

Summary: Running is easy to begin and requires minimal equipment. A beginner should aim for 3 to 4 days a week of running for 30 minutes, including 5 minutes of warming up and cooling down.

Sample Running Plan

Weekly Planner and Pencil

If you would like to enjoy the benefits of running, here is a sample month-long plan to get you started.

A beginner’s plan will start with alternating between running and walking, increasing the minutes spent running every week.

Do each set of activities 3 to 4 days per week.

Week One

  • 5 minutes warming up
  • 1 minute running at your natural pace, and then 2 minutes moderate-pace walking — repeat 7 times
  • 5 minutes cooling down

Week Two

  • 5 minutes warming up
  • 2 minutes running at your natural pace, and then 2 minutes moderate-pace walking — repeat 5 times
  • 5 minutes cooling down

Week Three

  • 5 minutes warming up
  • 3 minutes running at your natural pace, and then 2 minutes moderate-pace walking — repeat 4 times
  • 5 minutes cooling down

Week Four

  • 5 minutes warming up
  • 4 minutes running at your natural pace, and then 2 minutes moderate-pace walking — repeat 3 times
  • 5 minutes cooling down

After the month is over, try to progress by running for longer at your natural pace or walking less between each run. Try adding different styles of running as you feel more comfortable.

If you are not used to regular exercise or have any preexisting medical conditions that can be affected by exercise, consult a health professional before starting any exercise program.

Summary: A beginner’s running plan should alternate between running and walking. As you progress, increase the time spent running weekly or decrease the time spent walking between runs.

How to Stay Motivated

Sticking to a dedicated running plan can help you achieve long-term success with your weight loss goals.

The trick to staying motivated is to keep it fun so you won’t be tempted to make any excuses to avoid your workout.

Keep your workouts interesting by changing your running route every few weeks or adding in different types of runs like intervals or hill repeats.

Running with a friend that challenges you can keep you accountable and provides extra safety if you run during the early or late hours of the day.

If you find it difficult to motivate yourself early in the morning, try laying your running gear out the night before to save the effort in the morning.

Signing up for marathons or other competitions when you are comfortable can also provide you with extra motivation for running and keep you focused.

Summary: Changing your workouts often or running with a friend can make your routine fun and help you to stay motivated long-term.

The Bottom Line

Running is an excellent form of exercise for weight loss.

It burns a lot of calories, may help you continue to burn calories long after a workout, may help suppress appetite and targets harmful belly fat.

What’s more, running has many other benefits for your health and is simple to begin.

Unlike many other types of exercise, running requires little equipment, can be done anywhere and there are many ways to keep things interesting.

If you find it difficult to motivate yourself to run, try finding a running partner or changing routines frequently to add variety to your workout.

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