Is Running the Best Exercise to Lose Weight?

If you ask one hundred different experts which is the best exercise for losing weight, you might get one hundred different answers. Oregon-based fitness coach Ben Cohn remarks that this is because the "best" exercise will depend on a person's goals, tastes and level of fitness. Running is certainly a popular form of weight loss exercise, but only you can determine whether it's the best for you.

A man running on a road (Image: Maridav/iStock/Getty Images)

Running is Cardiovascular

Running, like swimming and cycling, is a cardiovascular exercise. This means that it pushes up the body's heart rate over time rather than building muscle through resistance training. In comparison to resistance workouts, cardiovascular exercises burn far more calories per hour. For example, reports that an hour of moderate running burns half again as many calories as an hour of vigorous weightlifting. By this metric, running is superior as an exercise for weight loss than most, if not all, resistance workouts.

Caloric Burn

When it comes to the math of weight loss, calories burned is a popular metric for which exercise is king. A 150 pound person running at a moderate pace will burn about 684 calories per hour. The same person cycling for the same time at the same effort would burn just 550 calories. Cross-country skiing, he would burn 774. In terms of calories burned, running is not the best exercise to lose weight, but it does score in the middle of the lead pack. Now if you add in interval training or running on soft or wet sand, then the caloric burn for runners would be much higher. But not everyone has access to a beach, nor are they fit enough to engage in the power needed for interval training.


Dr. Mehmet Oz and Michale Roizen, authors of "You: The Owner's Manual," report that long-distance running can cause lasting damage to the hips and knees. The repeated motion wears down the joints, aging them prematurely. Oz and Roizen do note that this is not much of a concern for casual runners, but is a problem for marathoners and triathletes. Because of this, running is not as good an exercise for weight loss as lower-impact activities such as swimming or indoor cycling. Because of the extra load many overweight people place on their joints, this consideration may be more important than some others.


Cohn advises that running outdoors is more dangerous than many other cardio options. Runners risk getting hit by a car, suffering heat stroke and even being attacked while on the trail. If a runner suffers an injury, he might be some distance from help. Compared with swimming in a supervised pool or a group aerobics class, running is significantly more dangerous. Cohn does note that many of the risks of running can be mitigated by running indoors on a treadmill. However, it is not the best weight loss exercise from a safety standpoint.


Another metric of which exercise is best is to measure how long somebody can continue doing it before age or health make it a hardship. Yoga instructor Kerry Collette makes a specialty of helping her senior students remain active. According to Kerry, few of her seniors are up to a schedule of jogging or running. For losing weight as we move on in years, walking or water aerobics are two examples of better exercises.

Is Running the Best Exercise to Lose Weight?

Although running is a popular and effective weight loss exercise, it is far from the best exercise available for losing weight. The best you can say is that it is markedly superior to many other exercise forms, though still inferior to others.

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