Running to Lose Weight

There are various reasons why people take up the sport of running. For some the opportunity to raise money for a nominated charity is a key target, while for other the sport becomes a key personal challenge to achieve a certain time. An alternative approach is to use running as a means of losing weight either by personal choice or under the instructions from a doctor. Do running activities actually help with inducing weight loss?

The idea of trying to lose weight is a common theme throughout the developed world, and there are many theories circulating as to which method is most productive. A simple diet is often sufficient and a strenuous walk can often burn a few calories, but there must be a strong case for running when so many doctors seem to recommend the activity. Naturally, they do not mean going out and becoming an Olympic athlete, but steady running or jogging can help to shed those extra pounds and when performed sensibly it can be more fun than an ordinary diet.

Christine Luff, a health and fitness author, who has written articles for Readers Digest, is a firm believer in running for weight loss. She has estimated that the average person can burn 100 calories per mile in a standard daily run. However, she stresses that running must be combined with other practices to help achieve the necessary weight loss…

  • Healthy Eating – Weight loss is only possible through burning more calories than through eating. More fruit and vegetables and low fat and calorie foods help with this as do less snack time with chocolate bars.
  • Devise a mileage schedule – This will aid planned running times and produce a means of gradually increasing distances.
  • A regular running pattern – While not training for the Olympics, it is necessary to let body become accustomed to running to burn fat on a regular basic, possibly 3-4 times a week.
  • Introduce a few hills – More hills will need greater effort leading to more calories burned. It may even allow for the odd extra chocolate bar as a reward.


Amby Burfoot of Runner’s World magazine agrees with the notion of running being one of the foremost sports for losing weight by stressing that it burns at least 50 per cent more calories per mile than walking the same distance. Another respected writer on health and fitness, Tess Zevenbergen, adds further substance to this. She notes the results of studies concluding that 40 minutes of steady running will ensure calories are still burning at a steady rate up to 20 hours after the run. She is also an advocate of a healthy well-balance diet rich in carbohydrates and lean protein which help to maintain energy levels.

There have been occasions when people using running for weight loss have actually started eating more food as their training schedule increases. They are burning extra calories each week, and with an ensuing growing appetite. Assuming the diet is sensible and well balanced with an appropriate weight loss this can be a positive sign. Running coach and author Joe English has expanded on this point a bit further by suggesting that weight loss might not be achieved in the first couple of weeks of running.

English has even claimed that for the first few training sessions, weight gain might occur which can be very disconcerting for those running to burn fat. This might arise through the growing appetite theory, where the runner is still eating the same foods as before but in larger amounts due to increased physical activity. English also emphasises two further salient points…

  • Muscle gain – New runners often gain extra muscular capacity in their thighs and calves during the first 2-3 weeks of activity. This may lead to a slight weight gain. A few weeks further into the training schedule, the fat starts to disappear from the middle, and it is only then when true weight loss begins.
  • Slow early runs – English claims that during the initial few runs, the pace is often too slow for sufficient calories to burn, while diets have still to be adjusted. When the runner becomes fitter and can train with increasing tempo, the pounds can be shed at a much quicker rate.


There is another school of thought with many supporters which suggests that running by itself will not contribute to any weight loss. They argue that the intensity of the training will be insufficient to cause much calorie burning. It is claimed that running can contribute to a healthier life style when combined with a sensible diet, but weight loss can be minimal if the intensity of the running pace is very steady. More strenuous running or an alternative mixture of steady running with a gym session or a two hour undulating cycle ride will be more productive. Interval training, where the runner runs fast for a certain period and then slows down is identified as the most beneficial part of running to lose weight.

It certainly does appear that there are many conflicting arguments and ideas when discussing running for weight loss. Perhaps it is just a case that each individual should experiment with a few ideas and decide what is best for them. Setting out on a very steady run will definitely not lead to a sudden loss in weight, especially if food levels are still consumed at the same rate.

Running to lose weight is probably correctly summarised as a steady build up in running intensity combined with a healthier diet which can produce an effective means of shedding the pounds in the long term. Anybody who is focussing on running as an immediate method of weight reduction may have to have some patience. Those early few weeks may be a bit discouraging, but it is precisely those weeks which are most important in building up the body to begin the more productive work-outs.

Running combined with a sensible diet will eventually bring its rewards.