Running for weight loss can help you achieve your health goals, here's why

An expert explains why running for weight loss can help you lose weight and change your lifestyle

Woman running for weight loss up iron steps
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Running for weight loss is one of the most common ways people try and lose weight. It's almost completely free to do, doesn't require much equipment, and it's suitable for everyone at every level of fitness. Plus, there's a whole host of benefits available aside from losing weight, like a boost to your cardiovascular and bone health.

It's hardly an easy activity though, with some novice runners taking to the pavement and losing pounds quickly while others don't see changes until they establish a regular routine, and some people don't see the benefits ever. It all depends on how you're running for weight loss and whether you're maintaining a calorie deficit. 

So before you learn how to start running, lace up your pick of the best running shoes or go looking for running gear, this is what you need to know about running for weight loss from the experts - including personal trainers, nutrition coaches, and movement experts. 

Is running good for weight loss?

Yes, running is a great exercise option to support a calorie deficit to lose weight, says David Wiener (opens in new tab), a personal trainer and specialist health coach. This is the essential pillar of weight loss, where you burn more calories than you eat every day, and most people find they achieve it through a combination of exercise and changes in nutrition. 

Running may be more beneficial than other activities as it tends to burn more calories in less time, helping you to enter and maintain the deficit more easily. "Running at a decent pace burns more calories than most other types of exercise because it requires many different muscles to work together," Wiener, who works with workout and wellbeing platform Freeletics (opens in new tab), says. "In addition, you may continue to burn calories long after the workout thanks to afterburn, or excess oxygen consumption [EPOC] which is caused by an elevated metabolism post-exercise." 

Research by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (opens in new tab) supports this idea, as their study of almost 15,000 participants found that women with a higher BMI lost three times more weight with running compared to walking and saw double the loss in waist circumference. 

However, the University of Aarhus (opens in new tab) found the combined effort of running with a diet change was the most effective way to incorporate running into a weight loss regime. They looked at a selection of novice runners and found that those who combined healthy eating with exercise lost 3.8kg more on average than those who just ran 3.11 miles (5km) every week. 

Woman running along trail in green hills with pink coat on

(Image credit: Getty Images)

What are the health benefits of running?

1. Multiple muscles working together at once

Wondering 'is running good for you'? If you're looking for a complete full-body workout, it doesn't get much better than running for weight loss. ""When you run, you propel yourself forwards and up through your legs. The quads, hamstrings, glutes, hips, calves and foot muscles work hard to help you to put one foot in front of the other," says Anaya Grover (opens in new tab), a functional training and movement specialist. "This also acts as a pump, aiding circulation and blood flow to boost cardiovascular health."

While your core works to keep you balanced on the move. "Your core is also working to help give you stability, with your torso rotating and flexing, and your arms are pumping in opposition to the legs," she says, pointing out that those who run longer distances often feel their effort in their shoulders and arms second to the legs. 

2. Increase bone density

Exercise that forces the body to make repetitive contact with the ground has been found to reduce the risk of conditions like osteoporosis by improving bone density. While multiple studies confirm this, one by the University of Deakin reveals that hopping, running, fast walking, and other types of LISS cardio all produce enough strain to produce a specific osteogenic response, which is the process that stimulates bone-building cells. When comparing cycling vs running for your exercise, this is something to consider.

"From the moment your foot hits the ground, you generate force through the body which builds your bone density," says Grover, who is also a founder of Men Do Pilates (opens in new tab)

3. Runner's 'high'

Runner's high is the famous feeling that keeps people out pounding the pavements, says Winer. "Once you discover a love of running and find yourself running long distances, it can be a fantastic form of exercise and extremely helpful in both losing weight and keeping it off," he says.

It's created by endorphins, otherwise known as 'happy hormones', which are naturally secreted during any form of intense exercise. They're known to decrease stress, and according to a study by Harvard Medical School (opens in new tab), they can help us learn how to deal with stress better in the future thanks to their effect on the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis, which is the part of the brain that controls our stress response. 

Woman doing strength training on living room carpet with dumbell

(Image credit: Getty Images )

What else is important for weight loss?

"A mix of HIIT and strength training is a great addition to running," explains Wiener. "The latter will build up your leg muscles which will deliver more power and strengthen connective tissues and can make you less prone to injury. Improving your upper-body strength can also boost your running efficiency. With a stronger core, you'll be able to maintain a stable upper body and minimize side-to-side movement." 

Recovery is also really important, so it's good to learn the best time to sleep and wake up every day for your lifestyle. "You need to be getting a minimum of six hours sleep each night, but preferably seven to eight," says Farren Morgan (opens in new tab), a personal trainer and tactical athlete. "This gives your body the time it needs to rest and recover from strenuous exercise."  

Pilates for beginners can also be a great supplement to your running and recovery routine, adds Grover. "It will help to stretch out all those common post-run aches and pains and repetitive strain to major joints such as knees and hips. It will help with knee tracking, stability, and balance, particularly in single-leg standing. Similarly, it will also look at your alignment and tensional balance in your body, therefore preventing injuries, improving posture, and increasing performance."

How to run for weight loss 

Wondering how to start running for weight loss? Follow these tips from the experts to begin incorporating the exercise into your daily regime: 

  • Warm up: "Always stretch before running or conducting any exercise," insists Morgan. "Static exercises will loosen your muscles and prepare your joints for the workout to come, while dynamic exercises will increase your heart rate and blood circulation so that your body's fully prepared and active to move."
  • Plug in: "There are lots of workout apps out there and the best running apps can help aspiring runners," suggests Dr Abby Hyams (opens in new tab), a GP. "Couch to 5k is one of my favorites, while Strava allows you to track your pace, time and distance, which can be good motivation to beat your own personal records."
  • Have fun: "You need to enjoy running, even if it is just a little bit," says personal trainer Mollie Millington (opens in new tab). "If you hate it or have had negative experiences, you will be reluctant to get out the door. Meet a friend or join a run club, to both schedule the run into your day and hold you accountable."
  • Be equipped: "Make sure you have some decent trainers, one of the best sports bras, leggings, and a t-shirt and you are good to go," recommends Millington. "Layer up in the colder months so you don’t freeze." 
  • Begin small: "Start with brisk walking," advises Weiner. "Aim for 30 minutes per session. Allow a minimum of six weeks to build up to regular running. Alternate between walking and jogging, and aim to increase your jogging time each session."
  • Breathe properly: "It is a vital component of running and incorrect or inconsistent breathing can cause the dreaded stitch," he says. "The diaphragm is responsible for drawing air into the chest cavity, but in order for it to do this properly, you need to be standing up straight. If not, other muscles will pick up the slack and if or when they get overworked, you can experience cramping."
  • Be prepared: "If you have no experience of running or cardio exercise, then you need to accept that you will be out of breath, your heart rate will increase, you will feel the burn, and the subsequent muscular ache that comes afterward," says Grover. "These are normal physiological processes that occur when you exercise."
  • Recover well: "Allow at least two complete rest days per week to avoid overtraining, which may cause injury," says Wiener. "Consider other low impact activities, such as learning how to swim properly, at least once each week."
  • Lift weights: "Incorporating strength training into your running routine is important," adds Wiener. "It makes you a stronger runner and reduces your risk of injury. Running is only hard on your joints if you don’t have the muscle to support them."
Lauren Clark

Lauren is a freelance writer and editor with more than six years of digital and magazine experience. In addition to she has penned news and features for titles including Women's Health, The Telegraph, Stylist, Dazed, Grazia, The Sun's Fabulous, Yahoo Style UK and Get The Gloss. 

While Lauren specializes in covering wellness topics—ranging from nutrition and fitness, to health conditions and mental wellbeing—she has written across a diverse range of lifestyle topics, including beauty and travel. Career highlights so far include: luxury spa-hopping in Spain, interviewing Heidi Klum and joining an £18k-a-year London gym.