Health & Fitness

Quashing the Myths Around Running and Weight Loss

We run for many reasons. Some of us want to increase or maintain our cardiovascular fitness. Others are competitive runners who regularly partake in marathons. Still others will be training for a one-off marathon. But what if you’re running for weight loss?

Many people turn to running to lose weight. However, while it’s an incredibly beneficial exercise, is it the easiest method for losing weight? Here, we uncover the truth about running and weight loss.

The basics of weight loss

Most often, when people talk about losing weight, they want to lose body fat. General weight loss includes the loss of muscle tissue, which isn’t a goal for many (if any) of us. The primary method of losing fat comes via a calorie deficit, which is consuming fewer calories than you burn.

What a lot of people don’t know is how many calories we burn simply by existing. Our basal metabolic rate (BMR) reflects the amount of energy we expend while not actively exercising – we burn calories slowly when sitting, eating, and even sleeping.

Because of the way our bodies already burn calories when we’re at rest, the most effective method of weight loss – especially in the early stages – is through changing our diet. Studies say that weight loss is 75 per cent diet and 25 per cent exercise. As Shawn M. Talbott PhD, nutritional biochemist, says: “It’s much easier to cut calories than to burn them off.”

Myth one: I can lose weight with cardio only

Running is a form of cardio, or aerobic exercise – exercise that gets your heart rate up and works your respiratory system. Many of us have heard of the fat-burning zone, whereby we supposedly torch fat when we work out at over 60% of our heart rate – a zone many of us naturally reach when running. However, this has been dispelled by many experts.

While cardio burns calories, which can contribute to fat loss, that’s quite often the end of its weight-loss benefits. Experts recommend weight-based exercises as the most effective way to lose fat through exercise. This is because, in addition to burning calories, it increases muscle mass. This, in turn, raises your BMR, meaning you’ll burn more calories at rest.

What cardio can do, however, is improve your cardiovascular fitness. This helps you to nail your fat-burning weight-based exercises, so it still contributes to weight loss.

Myth two: running is the most effective method because it burns so many calories

Running works a lot of the muscles in the lower half of our body, and it’s safe to say that pounding the pavement at full speed leaves us sweaty and out of breath. The fact that running leaves us breathless and sweaty has led to the belief that it burns significantly more calories than any other exercise, but this isn’t necessarily true.

It’s difficult to calculate how many calories you’ll burn when running because it depends on your fitness levels, weight, and speed, but it’s estimated that a 120-pound person will burn 11.7 calories a minute. This goes up to 17 a minute for someone weighing 180 pounds. If your pace is slow or you alternate between fast and moderate paces, this will affect the calories you burn.

Women’s Health ranked running sixth when it comes to the workout with the highest calorie burn per hour. Other cardio exercises including skipping, sprinting, and kickboxing ranked higher than running. So, not only does it not have the longer-lasting effects that weight training does but it also isn’t the most effective cardio exercise for calorie burning. However, running is a great place to start if you haven’t been physically active for a while. A short run is also the perfect warm-up to your weight-lifting exercises because it gets your heart pumping.

Myth three: weight loss should be my only goal with running

We’ve established that running can contribute to weight loss, but it isn’t the most effective exercise for this. Nor is exercise the most effective way to lose fat – as many say, you can’t out-exercise a bad diet.

If you’re incorporating running into your fat loss strategy, you should look beyond the calorie-burning benefits of this exercise. Running not only increases our cardiovascular fitness, but it can also contribute to a healthy heart. While running has a reputation for being hard on the ankles and knees, multiple studies on marathon runners have established that it can lower the risk of arthritis in the knees and ankles. It’s established as contributing to a better night’s sleep, as well as minimising the risk of mental health problems such as depression.

If all of these individual benefits weren’t enough for you, many studies have shown that running can increase our lifespan! This is a result of all the individual health benefits of the practice, which lead to an overall healthier body and lifestyle.

Running is also a great hobby and can even spur you on with personal goals. If you’ve dipped your toes into a few half or full marathons and you enjoyed them, you might want to consider becoming a regular marathon runner. Once you’ve stocked up on your running leggings, you can start to set goals and push yourself to your limit. What better hobby is there than one that improves your health?

While running can definitely contribute to the reduction of body fat, it shouldn’t be used as your primary method of losing weight – instead, you should view it as a method of strengthening your overall health. We recommend incorporating running into your weight-loss plan to benefit in many other ways from this accessible, enjoyable, and health-boosting exercise.