Thinking About Running For Weight Loss? Here's What You Need To Know

Many people want to lose weight and become more active, but don’t do so for several reasons, including time restraints, lack of equipment, or the hassle and expense of getting to and from a fitness center. There's good news, however. Running for weight loss has a low threshold for getting started. You can step outside your house at any time, and you won’t need expensive equipment other than a pair of running shoes.

Together with a low-calorie diet and other simple exercises, running is a fantastic way to shed off unwanted fat. It increases your metabolism and forces your body to use its energy reserves. As with other moderate- to high-intensity aerobic activities, it helps burn visceral adipose fat¹—the belly fat that's the primary culprit of many diseases associated with being overweight.

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What do I need to get started?

The great thing about running is that it doesn't require a lot of money—no memberships, minimal (and multipurpose!) equipment, and it's right outside your door. Still, there are a few things you should have before you start running.

1. A green light from your physician

Have you seen your doctor lately? Now's a great time, because they’ll want to make sure you don't have any underlying conditions that running can worsen. They might even have some good pointers to help you get started, including nutritional tips, stretches to prevent injuries, and a plan to create and achieve reasonable and healthy mileposts.

It's a good idea to keep the conversation going, as well. As you "evolve" into a runner, you might experience changes in your body² that could confuse medical professionals if they don't know you participate in endurance-related activities.

2. A quality pair of running shoes

If you're starting out slow—walking, for example—you can get away with your favorite pair of kicks. For optimal comfort and injury protection, however, you should invest in shoes designed for running.

You can find high-quality running shoes for under $100³, and if the price tag makes you wince, consider how you'll feel with blisters, shin splints, sore knees, or even worse injuries. The right shoes will protect you, and if they feel good, you're more likely to stay motivated.

3. Not necessary, but a good investment: A dedicated heart rate monitor

You might already have a fitness-tracking watch or similar technology, and that's fantastic for measuring day-to-day movements and keeping track of your workouts. These use optical technology to detect heart activity, but dedicated heart rate monitors use a more accurate electrical pulse⁴. A good plan is to use both if you have them, but save up and spend about $50 to $100 on a heart rate monitor if you can only get one.

4. Chafe-free, reflective clothing

Your running clothes don't have to be expensive. Find breathable, synthetic material that dries quickly. Opt for bright colors so you're visible to cyclists and drivers, and consider picking up a reflective safety vest or sew-on reflective tape if you plan to run at night.

What are my first steps as a new runner?

Before you can take running seriously, lay down some ground rules to keep you moving forward:

  • Schedule regular running times and treat those "appointments" as you would any other essential calendar item.

  • Talk to the important people in your life and let them know that honoring your running commitment is the best way to support you. 

  • Commit to changing your diet to reduce calories and eliminate saturated fats and overly-processed foods.

Once you've set aside the time for a running routine, you need to set a realistic pace, even if that's just a brisk walk around the block with a few short sprints thrown in. Let your body tell you when it's ready for longer (or faster) stretches. You're better off setting multiple easy-to-reach goals than swearing on your mother's grave that you'll finish next year's Boston Marathon.

How much should I run to lose weight?

That question goes hand-in-hand with "How long should I run to lose weight?", but the answers are often miles apart and vary from person to person. First, here are some quick facts.

  • You'll burn more calories if you run faster, but you can make up the difference by running longer distances. 

  • You can break up long, brisk walks with short, high-intensity sprints according to how you're progressing and how you feel. 

  • You need a deficit of 3,500 calories to shed one pound of fat. Take note that the average 180-pound runner burns 100 calories a mile. 

  • Limit yourself to running three to four days a week, filling in those in-between days with other exercise-focused activities and/or recovery. 

  • The more you weigh, the more calories you'll burn⁵, even at rest. That's a great motivator for those who are just starting out!

If you want to know how much you need to run to shed a set number of calories, the University of Rochester Medical Center has an excellent calorie burn rate calculator⁶. This handy tool, as well as your heart rate monitor and doctor's advice, will help you decide what distances and time goals are best for you as you start out.

Once you hit your stride and become a more experienced runner, you'll be in better tune with your body, and therefore more able to know when to push yourself and when to back off.

How long does it take to lose weight with running?

In the beginning, it's far more important that you set a sustainably-increasing pace than it is to lose the most weight in the shortest amount of time. It won't happen right away, but as long as you're burning more calories than you're consuming, you'll begin to lose weight. You'll start to notice that within a few weeks.

Remember, if you're overweight, you'll burn more calories at the first stages of your new fitness routine as it takes energy to move mass.

That's one of the reasons why the first four to six weeks of a new diet and exercise regimen can be so rewarding; the pounds begin to come off quickly as your body uses up its reserves! Just remember that everyone loses body fat at an individual rate, depending on body shape, overall fitness, dietary habits, and abilities. What might take one person four weeks to lose ten pounds might take another person two months.

How do I take care of myself as a runner?

Beyond having the right running shoes and workout clothing, you can prevent injuries associated with running⁷ and ease your progress by taking a more holistic approach to your fitness regimen.

  • Add strength training, including weight and resistance training, to your routine.

  • Practice limbering activities, from dynamic pre-and post-run stretches⁸ to yoga.

  • Rest in between runs. We recommend running three times a week, on alternate days. You can always fill in with low-impact types of exercise on other days. 

  • Start slow. Let your body tell you when you're ready for longer or faster runs. You need to build up your endurance. It will take a while to build the muscle tone and bone density⁹ you need to protect your body from injuries. 

  • Follow a diet designed to fuel your runs and help you recover¹⁰.

How can I mix up my routine and stay motivated?

Many people love to run because it's meditative and mind-clearing. Others need mental stimulation to stave off boredom, like listening to podcasts or music while running, as long as your earbuds or headphones aren't noise-canceling.

Even if you've become so enamored with running that you count the seconds before your next sprint, you'll want to shake things up a little for optimal physical fitness and keep things interesting.

Here are some activities you can do when you take up running for weight loss.

Trail running

If you happen to have any off-road trails near you, leave the pavement behind. Trail running is fantastic for interval-type running, as you can slow down when you want to enjoy the scenery, or switch gears to tackle hills. Winding trails help you work core muscles as you stay balanced, and navigating uneven terrain helps you improve your coordination.

Just pay attention to any notices at the trailhead, and take all the recommended precautions for your safety. When you run in more remote areas, you don't want to encounter dangerous wildlife like rattlesnakes, cougars, or bears, or injure yourself on trail hazards.

Running as a social activity

If you have a friend or family member with similar weight loss goals as you, buddy up. By encouraging each other and holding one another accountable, you're both more likely to find success.

If you can't convince someone to join you, find a local Road Runner's Club of America chapter near you¹¹. You'll make new friends, access coaching, and get the support you need to reach your fitness goals.

The lowdown on running for weight loss

Running is an aerobic exercise that helps burn calories, reduce belly fat, and preserve lean body mass. It is a relatively inexpensive, do-anywhere way to get in shape.

If you start slow and keep it up, running will become easier as you go, but it's best to combine it with a low-calorie diet and other types of exercise to achieve the best fitness results and avoid injury.

If you find running boring at the start of your weight loss journey, switch up your routes, terrain, and routine. You can also make it a social event by running with others or joining a running club. 

Ready to lace up?

While you're waiting for your shoes, heart-rate monitor, and running clothes to arrive, get out and start walking. Practice those stretches and enjoy your time outside.

Already feeling better? Just wait until the pounds start coming off. If you run as a way to lose weight and get into shape, it is definitely going to happen.

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