Running for weight loss—here's whether it can help you achieve your health goals

Want to try running for weight loss? Experts share what to know before you lace up...

Woman running
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If you're considering running for weight loss, it's thankfully a path well-trodden. After all, lacing up your trainers and pounding the pavements is one of the most accessible forms of exercise, since it is free and doesn't require any equipment. As you'll find out, it also brings a host of benefits which, as well as sustainable weight loss, includes a boost to cardiovascular and bone health.

We've called on the experts to explain, in addition to the perks to your physical and mental wellbeing, just how good running is at burning calories and helping you slim down if that's your goal. They also explain the other things you need to take into account when it comes to weight loss, including a nutritious diet and plenty of rest. 

What's more, there's also lots of advice about how to get started if you're fresh to this form of exercise. So, if you're weighing up walking versus running—or want to challenge yourself further after mastering walking for weight loss—then we've got everything you need to know to start on the right track. 

Running for weight loss—how can it help?

Woman running

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"Running is a great option to promote healthy, sustainable weight loss," says David Wiener, training specialist at Freeletics. "It burns more calories than most other types of exercise because it requires many different muscles to work hard together. In addition, you may continue to burn calories long after the workout." This is due to the 'afterburn', or Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), caused by an elevated metabolism post-exercise.

How does this help exactly? "Losing weight requires you to burn more calories than you consume," explains Daniel Herman, personal trainer and founder of Bio-Synergy. "One study from Syracuse University found that running one mile on the treadmill burned 33 more calories than the same distance walked, with 35 more burned when on the track." He adds that it's comparable to the calorie burn of vigorous swimming and martial arts.

What's more, if you're after the best exercises to burn belly fat and tone up, then running can be one of the most enjoyable ways to help you achieve this goal. "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," notes Wiener. But check the intensity by using one of the best fitness trackers to ensure that you're not taking it too easy. 

What are the health benefits of running?

"Running is one of the most powerful and purest ways in which we can move our body to its fullest potential," says Anaya Grover, movement specialist at Men Do Pilates. "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. Your core is also working to help give you stability, with your torso rotating and flexing, and your arms pumping in opposition to the legs." 

Then there are the broader health benefits. "From the moment your foot hits the ground, you generate force through the body which builds your bone density," continues Grover. "Additionally, your foot and calf muscles act as a pump aiding circulation and blood flow to boost cardiovascular health."

There are also improvements to your mental health. "To top it all, your happy hormones—known as endorphins—are released, decreasing stress," adds Grover. "Running outside will also help this too." Indeed, it provides the opportunity to boost your vitamin D absorption, which has been found to help regulate mood, making for great workout motivation.

What else is important for weight loss?

Woman running on treadmill

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"As long as you are in a calorie deficit you will lose fat," says Lucy Arnold, personal trainer and founder of Lucy Locket Loves. "However, eating foods dense in nutrients, plenty of protein and fiber, is essential for ensuring this takes place in a healthy, sustainable way. You cannot outrun a poor diet." So, when considering which diet is best, it's better to focus on nourishing meals that will fuel you properly. 

What's more, you won't achieve your goal if you exclusively do running—you need to find a balance between cardio and lifting weights. "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. "You need to be getting a minimum of six hours' sleep each night, but preferably seven to eight," says Farren Morgan, personal trainer at The Tactical Athlete. "This gives your body the time it needs to rest and recover from strenuous exercise." However, physical recuperation doesn't just happen overnight. After periods of intense exercise, try one of the best foam rollers to help you stretch and recover effectively. 

"I would also recommend Pilates," 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."

New to running? 9 tips to get you started

Now you know how running can boost your health—and help you achieve healthy, sustainable weight loss, if that's your goal—we've called on the experts to share their best advice on where to start with pounding the pavements:

  • 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 apps out there that can help aspiring runners," suggests Dr Abby Hyams, GP at Nuva. "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. "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, a sports bra, leggings and a t-shirt and you are good to go," recommends Arnold. "Layer up in the colder months so you don’t freeze." Here are the best running shoes for women.
  • Begin small—"Start with brisk walking," advises Herman. "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," says Wiener. "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 cramp."
  • 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 and you will feel the burn and subsequent muscular ache that comes afterwards," 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 Herman. "Consider other low impact activities, such as swimming, 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 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.