I was never a sports-minded person and lived a sedentary lifestyle until I woke up one day twenty pounds overweight and pre-diabetic. I realized I would have to start exercising if I wanted to become healthy again and lose the extra weight. Like so many others, I took to running for weight loss and managed to achieve this goal.
Whether you start running for weight loss, for health reasons, or just want to improve how well you fit in your clothes, exercise helps. According to statistics from the Weight Loss Control Registry, one needs to burn about 2,800 calories a week through exercise to be successful at losing weight. Those who exercised regularly were most successful at keeping the weight off for at least a year.
Running is one of the top calorie burning exercises; the Mayo Clinic estimates a person weighing 73 kilograms can burn upwards from 606 calories per hour depending on run speed. Given the ease at which you can just go out and run, the way most people end up loving the feeling of running, and the many other health benefits you can derive from it, running is a great way to trim down and shape up.
(Related: 10 Reasons to Start Running Now.)
Here’s what you need to know if you’re running for weight loss.
You should be in it for the long haul.
Anyone on a crash diet and exercise regimen will experience rapid weight loss, but regain all of it when they go back to their former habits. Research indicates about 50 percent of people who start a new workout regimen quit within six months. Running for weight loss can be maintained, however.
According to the Center for Disease Control, those who lose weight gradually at one to two pounds per week are more successful at keeping that weight off because it’s about making long-term changes to your lifestyle that are sustainable.
Focus on consistency when running for weight loss.
Speaking of long-term changes, running for weight loss needs to be a regular part of your life if you want it to chip away at your fat stores. It’s much easier to burn a few more calories every day with an hour of exercise, rather than do massive sessions on the weekends and risk injury or chronic fatigue.
Any increase in the amount of physical activity from your previous level is a good thing, so count it as a win when you show up to run regardless of how long you do end up going. You’re building a habit, and once you’ve got the momentum up, keep it going!
(Related: How to Train for Your First 5-km Run.)
You still need to watch how and what you eat.
Over time, your appetite increases to compensate for the increased amount of calories you’re burning due to running. Some people also use food as a reward for exercising.
There’s a saying: “You can’t outrun a bad diet.” It’s very easy to over-eat — you can polish off a slice of chocolate cake in five minutes, but you’ll need to run for 30 minutes to burn off the 235 calories it contains.
You can satisfy your appetite while keeping calorie intake low by eating better foods that fill you up but have fewer “empty” calories and more essential vitamins and minerals. For instance, instead of indulging in a candy bar you can make a big leafy salad with fruit bits and vinaigrette dressing.
As you make wiser food choices, your tastes will also change. Some avid runners report they have cravings for healthy fare!
The scale won’t tell you the whole story.
While you can lose weight just dieting, you may not be losing just the fat — you will also lose muscle. Because muscle burns calories even when you’re not exercising, having greater muscle mass gives you a higher resting metabolism. When you lose weight through a combination of diet and exercise, you build and retain muscle.
However, the rates at which you build muscle and lose fat may differ, which is why the scale can say you’ve gained weight even though you’ve stepped up the running and are eating right! Also, muscle is more dense than fat, so even if your clothes are looser the scale may say you haven’t dropped any pounds at all.
You need to challenge yourself.
The human body is remarkably resilient, capable of adapting according to how we use it. That’s why we have a phenomenon called the fitness plateau: your body has become more efficient at the exercise and thus burns less calories while doing it. This is when the rate of weight loss slows down, and it’s when you need to change things up to get your metabolism firing again.
You can burn more calories while running for weight loss by increasing the distance and the amount of time you spend running. You can also increase the intensity with hill running and interval training.
When you run up hills, you’re up against increased resistance because you’re running against gravity, needing you to activate 20 percent more muscle fibers. This requires more energy and thus burns more calories and can transform your running for weight loss efforts.
Intervals are periods of fast-paced running interspersed with periods of slow running or walking for recovery. They improve your aerobic fitness level and make you fitter so that you can work out harder and longer. Additionally, your metabolic rate remains elevated even after the workout, so you continue to burn calories.
Running for weight loss isn’t simply a matter of running more to burn more calories and just waiting for the pounds to fall off. Instead, think of running for weight loss as part of the entire weight-loss puzzle you must solve for yourself.