A Complete Guide To Running For Weight Loss

Running is an extremely popular form of exercise, and for good reason. Not only is it an effective way to keep fit and healthy, but it’s easily accessible, doesn’t require a whole lot of expensive equipment, and can be adjusted to suit your needs and lifestyle.

If you are thinking about taking up running to lose weight, but don’t know how or where to start (or even if it’s actually worth starting), read on to find out all you need to know about running and weight loss. 

Does running help you lose weight?

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends moderate to vigorous activity for 225-420 minutes per week to achieve clinically significant weight loss¹. Running or jogging fits these criteria. Running is very efficient in burning calories compared to many other forms of exercise.

The following table compares how many calories are burnt per hour doing different sports.

Even if you walk the same distance as you run, although you may take twice as long to walk the distance than to run it, you will still burn more calories running².

Running between half an hour and an hour daily would meet the criteria needed to lose weight, provided you don’t increase your calorie intake.

Running seems to have another mechanism for causing weight loss. Some studies have shown that vigorous running produces hormones that can suppress appetite and decrease hunger³ ⁴.

Different types of runs

Not all runs are equal when it comes to weight loss.

LSD run

The long slow distance (LSD) run is usually run at a comfortable pace that allows conversation while running. This is typically the pace for longer—anything over an hour—base training runs.

Interval runs

These can be speed intervals (sprints) or hill intervals, usually lasting between 30 and 45 minutes in total, including a warm-up and cool-down. Intervals are alternated with rest or recovery periods. An example of an interval run would be 10 x 1-minute hill repeats, with 1-2 minutes of recovery between each hill repeat. 

Recovery run

A recovery run is a shorter run done at a very easy pace, usually the day after a hard run.

When it comes to losing weight, it may benefit you to do one or two running interval sessions a week (don’t be tempted to do more as that can lead to injury). High-intensity interval exercise has been shown to lead to greater reductions in belly fat and subcutaneous fat than regular exercise⁵.

High-intensity interval training can also contribute to weight loss through its effect on resting metabolism. It has been shown to increase resting metabolic rate (the number of calories that your body burns at baseline) for up to 14 hours after exercise⁶.

If you do an interval session in the morning, you will still be reaping the weight-loss benefits that evening. 

What you need to start running

Although you can buy lots of expensive running gear, you really only need the bare essentials to start.

  • Running shoes – it’s worth spending a bit of money buying good running shoes as incorrect shoes can lead to injury, especially as you start running longer distances.

  • A water bottle – it’s important to keep well hydrated while you are running, especially if you are running during summer.

  • Watch – you may want to run with a watch to keep a record of how long you run for. If you start running consistently, it would be a good idea to invest in a running watch to measure distance and pace.

  • Reflective gear and a headlamp – if you are running early in the morning or later at night when it’s darker.

  • Sports bra – women will find it worth investing in a decent sports bra to make running more comfortable. An incorrect sports bra can cause chafe and discomfort. 

How to start running

Starting your running journey can be daunting, especially if the last time you ran was at high school. The key to beginning a running program is to start slowly and build up over time.

You can use the following general guidelines to get an idea of how to kickstart your running program, but ideally, you should look for a coach or a training program (there are loads of free beginner training programs online) to suit your level of ability. 

Run-walk-run

Running is far more doable if you combine it with walking, especially when you first start out. Try running for one minute, then walking for two minutes, and repeat that for twenty minutes to half an hour. As you get fitter, you can change to one minute of walking, alternating with two minutes of running. Some people prefer not to use time, but rather physical landmarks such as lamp posts. Run one lamp post, walk one lamp post, until you start getting fitter, at which time you can start running two lamp posts, walking one. You can slowly build up like this until you can run consistently for half an hour. 

Start running only three or four times a week

Do some strength training and flexibility training on the other days. You may be tempted to jump right in and run every day, but that will lead to injury. It’s better to build up slowly. Cross-training combined with running is a great way to prevent injuries and boredom. 

Use the 10% rule

When you start building up your running base, never increase your mileage by more than 10% per week. If you run 10 miles in week one, run 11 miles in week two. Building your base following this rule will help to prevent injury. 

Find a running buddy

Staying motivated on your running journey is much easier when you have a friend to share your journey with. Knowing that you are meeting a friend gives you that little extra oomph to get going when you’re feeling lazy. 

Sign up for a race

Entering a race provides you with a goal to train towards and can help motivate you to stick with your plan. 

The lowdown

If you want to lose weight, running is an excellent form of exercise. Running is easily accessible, doesn’t require expensive equipment, and can be done anywhere.⁷

If you want to boost the weight loss benefits of running, add some interval runs into your program.

Remember that the key to successful running is to build up your base slowly and consistently. Finding a running friend or entering a race can help keep you motivated.

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