Running is a high-impact aerobic workout that requires little more than a good pair of supportive shoes and a few miles of flat, even surface to perform. Because it burns substantially more calories than walking or jogging, it’s often cited as one of the best ways to drop excess pounds. You can lose weight, get fit and maintain your new shape by adhering to a running program tailored to suit your needs, but you should consider a few of the exercise’s potential pitfalls before you head out for your first run.
To lose a pound of fat through exercise, you must burn 3,500 more calories than you consume over a specific period of time. For most people, losing 1 to 2 lb. per week, or up to 8 lb. each month, is considered a healthy, sustainable rate of weight loss. This means you’d need to burn between 500 and 1,000 extra calories each day, depending on your goals. The calories you burn in any workout are a function of your weight and the intensity and duration of your session. A heavier person burns more calories than a lighter person running the same distance at the same speed. For example, a 220-lb. exerciser who runs 8 miles in one hour burns almost 1,350 calories, while a 150-lb. exerciser performing the exact same workout burns approximately 920 calories.
Burning a high number of calories in a single session is appealing when weight loss is a primary focus. You need to begin gradually, however, to avoid injury and potential frustration over the initial challenges of running, until you develop your running legs. Because it's a high-impact workout, running can raise your heart rate above your anaerobic threshold if you push yourself beyond the rate at which your body can adapt to the training. So instead of trying to run 5 miles in 30 minutes, just head out for 30 minutes, running at a pace that allows you to carry on a conversation — jogging or walking whenever you need to.
If you’re more than a few pounds overweight and new to exercise, running might not be the ideal workout. Running — especially on concrete sidewalks or banked surfaces, such as the side of a road — can be very strenuous on your knees. For every extra pound of body weight, you put an additional 3 lb. of pressure on your knees while walking, which jumps to 10 lb. of pressure when running. If you’re 50 lb. overweight, running puts an extra 500 lb. of pressure on your knees. Over time, such stress could injure the joint, doubling your chances of developing osteoarthritis, according to the website RealAge.com. Cycling is an alternative low-impact aerobic workout that burns a comparable number of calories, promoting weight loss without joint pressure.
After losing initial pounds through combined running/walking workouts, you’ll need to progress your training to continue losing weight until you hit your goal. You must increase the intensity and duration of your training sessions to burn a similar number of calories as you become fitter and lighter. You can do this by gradually eliminating all walking or jogging from your running routine. Once you’re able to comfortably run for your entire workout, add intervals to the mix to boost your calorie-burning power — running at an intense pace for a specific time or distance, and recovering between intervals at your normal pace.