Is Running Bad for Weight Loss?

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Many new runners hit the pavement with hopes of losing weight. Then, after a week or two of grueling runs they quit their program out of frustration. They see no results on the scale, their feet hurt and their joints ache. It leaves many dieters wondering if running is bad for weight loss.

Should You Run to Lose Weight?

If you want to lose weight with exercise, there are some things that matter more than the type of exercise you choose to do.

First, consistency matters more than anything. That means that you need to choose a type of exercise that you will participate in on a regular basis.

Next, you need to pay attention to the intensity, frequency and duration of your exercise sessions. You need to exercise hard enough to burn calories but not so hard that you get injured or burned out.  Each exercise session needs to be long enough to burn fat and your sessions need to be frequent enough to create a calorie deficit over the long term. 

For some people running can fit that criteria.  But for many other people, the intensity of running forces them to quit their program before it really has an impact. Running can also be hard on your joints.  An issue of the American Council on Exercise's Fitness Journal reports that the pressure on your feet from running can be as much as four times the runner's body weight.  If you are overweight or obese, that impact may be too high.

Alternatives to Running for Weight Loss

If you've started a running program and you're sticking to it, then don't change a thing.  The best exercise program for anyone is the one that you stick to.  But if you fall into the group of people who find running too hard on their bodies, there are good alternatives.

If you eventually want to become a runner, think about doing walk/run intervals.   These can even be structured as high intensity intervals (HIIT) if you are healthy enough for vigorous exercise.  HIIT workouts have been shown to be extremely effective for weight loss.  You can also try aqua jogging.  This activity mimics the movements of jogging, so it prepares your muscles for the sport without the initial impact of your weight on the pavement.

But if running is not in your future, don't worry.  Try biking to lose weight, or invest in a workout DVD.  I recently reviewed a great full body workout by Bob Harper and a Tabata-style workout DVD by Chris Freytag.  Her American Council on Exercise HIIT Series provides several short intense sessions that can be combined to get an effective full body workout. 

How to Run to Lose Weight

Regardless of which workout you choose, the difference between success and failure will most likely come down to your diet.  If you've chosen to run, that's great.

  But in my experience, many new runners gain weight before they lose.  In fact, I've seen many marathoner runners make common mistakes and pack on the pounds in the process of training for their first marathon. 

If you choose to run to lose weight, remember to balance your activity with your food intake. There is no activity, not even running, that gives you carte blanche in the kitchen.  Before you start any program, keep a food journal to get a sense of how many calories you consume each day. Then measure your caloric needs taking into account your new level of physical activity.  You can also hire a registered dietitian or qualified sports nutritionist to help guide you through the process.

And remember that you are most likely to stick to an exercise that you love.  If you love to run, then start slowly and build a balanced program that will keep your body healthy for a lifelong habit.  But if running is not for you, there are plenty of other ways to slim down and get a better body.

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