I have no doubt that you have heard many times that if you really want to lose weight you need to start running. I have lost count of the number of well intentioned people who have given me exactly that advice. Still, have you ever stopped to find out if that age old advice is even true?
In principle the theory seems too sound to even question. To lose weight you need to cut or burn calories. Running burns around 600 calories per hour. Mystery solved, yes running is good for weight loss. Maybe not so quick though, there is more to evaluating an exercise than calories burned per hour.
Let’s take a quick look at whether or not running is a good exercise choice for someone who is looking to lose weight. For the sake of this article I’m not going to go into the many great benefits of running that don’t apply to weight loss.
The Benefits of Running For Weight Loss
This is perhaps the top benefit running has over many of the other exercise alternatives. Provided you are physically able you can pretty much run anywhere and anytime. The initial investment for equipment can be very affordable and you run every single day of the year. It is very difficult to think of an exercise that as available as running.
Calories Per Hour Vs. Other Exercises
Above I linked to a page from the Mayo Clinic that lists estimates for calories burned per hour doing different exercises. Running at 5mph for an hour burns around 606 while the runner up is swimming at only 423. That’s a really large difference when looking at the result of an hour of exercise.
It goes without saying that those are only estimates and your real results will be different. Still, I think that it’s an effective way to easily compare the effectiveness of different exercises at burning calories.
Community and Support
If you are looking for a sport with a large and very supportive following running is an excellent choice. I have been blown away by how many groups of runners there are and how open and willing to help they all are. If this is important you won’t have any problem finding a group of like minded individuals either in real life or online.
If you are looking for runners on Twitter we have a list of runners that you can check out and follow. We update it all the time so let us know when you’re ready to be added.
The Drawbacks of Running for Weight Loss
All of the benefits of running are great but if you are unable to physically run then it’s a pretty moot point. Whether temporary or otherwise it is important to acknowledge that running is an activity that may not work for everyone for many reasons.
For me personally I have really bad shin splints that basically made it impossible for me to run for years. It wasn’t until I did some research on Running With Shin Splints that I was able to start running again. Now that I know the right stretches and strengthening exercises I hope that problem won’t come back.
All exercise has some injury risk but running seems to be one that gets a lot of beginners. I wouldn’t shy away from running for this reason but it is really important to be safe and aware. If you are just starting out you should take some time to learn how to warm up and how to avoid common injuries.
When running for weight loss you will eventually run into diminishing returns on two fronts. The first one you will see as you lose weight. The number of calories you burn is heavily impacted by how much you weigh. As you lose weight you will burn fewer calories per hour.
The other way you will feel diminishing returns is that your body will adjust to your physical activity level in an attempt to regulate your energy use. This means that eventually your calories burned will plateau regardless of how hard you push yourself.
You wont burn as many calories as you think
I mentioned it briefly above but the 600 calories per hour is just one estimate. There are a lot more but that one seemed as valid as any other. The point is that you surely won’t be burning exactly that many calories when you run. This means you will need to estimate how many calories you are burning and studies have consistently shown that we tend to overestimate calories burned by as much as 300%. This often leads people to overeat, while thinking that they burned more calories than they actually did.
Exercise isn’t very good for weight loss
Remember before when I said that running burns about 600 calories per hour. That’s true but the reality is more complicated and less promising. In real life most people who focus on exercise for weight loss will not lose as much weight as they expect. There are many interesting studies on why this is and there are many different reasons that each factors in. Those include eating more, reducing non-exercise activities, changes in body composition, and more.
The sad reality is that you can do the math and figure out that if you were to run 5mph for 1 hour every day you would lose about a pound a week. If you were to actually do this you are almost guaranteed to be disappointed and exhausted after that week.
So, Is Running Good For Weight Loss?
After reading a bunch of studies I can strongly recommend that you start running right away, just not for weight loss. There are a lot of great health benefits to running but exercise is simply not an efficient way to lose weight.
If your goal is to lose weight the best way is still to cut the number of calories that you eat and drink each day. Exercise is a very important part of being healthy and running is an excellent exercise. I strongly recommend that you do both for best results. Cut the calories you intake to create a calorie deficit and add in running for an extra boost.
If you do this consistently you will start to see the pounds drop off. More importantly, you will start feeling better. If you need any help getting started please let me know or check out our article, How to Start Running. I would love to help.