How Running Can Help You Shed Unwanted Pounds
By Ryan Raman
Running is an incredibly popular way to exercise.
In fact, it's estimated that in the U.S. alone, more than 64 million people have run at least once in the past year (1).
Running is also linked to many health benefits, and is one of the best types of exercise to help you lose weight.
This article explains how running can help you shed unwanted pounds.
There Are Many Types of Running
There are many different styles of running, each with their own unique purpose and benefits.
These are the most popular types:
- Base runs: What most people would call a normal run. They are short-to-moderate length runs around 6 miles (10 km) and done at your natural pace.
- Long runs: Longer versions of base runs done at the same pace but over a greater distance of around 10–12 miles (15–20 km). They help improve your overall fitness and endurance.
- Interval runs: Short, intense runs repeated several times with short breaks in between. For example, 5 x 0.5 mile runs with 1/4 mile (400 meters) light jogging between each interval. These runs train your running power and speed.
- Hill repeats: Similar to interval runs but done uphill. For example, 10 x 1-minute hill repeats. They train your running power and speed while improving stamina.
- Recovery runs: Slow runs done after harder runs like hill repeats to add extra distance to your overall run. For example, a 4-minute run at a comfortable pace after a harder run.
- Progression runs: These mimic competition-style runs by starting slow and finishing at a faster pace. They build endurance, speed and reduce fatigue. For example, 5 miles (8 km) at a natural pace, then 1 mile (1.5 km) at a fast pace.
Summary: There are many types of runs, each with their own purpose and benefits. Normal runs are considered base runs.
It Burns More Calories Than Most Exercises
Losing weight requires you to burn more calories than you consume, and exercise can help you do so.
Running is a great option, as it burns more calories than most other types of exercise because it requires many different muscles to work hard together (2).
In particular, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) involving running burns the most calories per minute by using various muscles at their maximum power.
The difference in calories burned by running versus by other exercises is supported by research.
For example, a study with 12 men and 12 women compared how many more calories running 1 mile (1,600 meters) burned than walking the same distance on both a treadmill and track.
Results showed that, on average, running 1 mile on the treadmill burned 33 more calories than walking, and running 1 mile on the track burned 35 more calories than walking (3).
33–35 calories may not seem like a huge difference at first, but over a 10-mile run, this may equal burning 330–350 more calories than walking the same distance.
A report by Harvard University compared the calories burned over 30 minutes by people at three different weights and found similar results.
Specifically, they discovered that a 155-pound (70-kg) person could burn 372 calories in 30 minutes running at a moderate pace of 6 miles per hour (10 km per hour).
This is as many calories as are burned during vigorous swimming and martial arts, and even more than those burned during a 30-minute game of basketball (4).
Summary: Running is an excellent choice of exercise for weight loss because it burns more calories than many alternatives.
High-Intensity Running Continues to Burn Calories After Exercise
Doing any exercise regularly will help you lose weight, but only a few types of exercise will continue to burn calories even after you finish working out.
High-intensity types of running like hill repeats and interval runs can continue to burn calories up to 48 hours after you work out (5).
These exercises use many muscles and need more energy afterward to recover. This is often labeled the "afterburn effect" among the fitness community.
In one study, 10 men cycled for 45 minutes at an intense pace to calculate how many calories they burned after the workout and for how long.
The average participant burned 519 calories during their workout and an extra 190 calories over the 14 hours following the workout (7).
Although the above example uses cycling as an example, the "afterburn effect" applies to high-intensity running, too. Cycling is simply a convenient way to measure calories burned in a controlled laboratory study.
Summary: High-intensity running like sprints, intervals and hill runs can continue to burn calories long after a workout due to the "afterburn effect."
High-Intensity Running Suppresses Appetite and Helps You Eat Less
Many people try reducing their calorie intake by eating less food or changing the food they eat.
Unfortunately, these strategies may sometimes only increase hunger and make losing weight a challenge.
The exact processes surrounding this response are unclear, but one way high-intensity running may reduce appetite is by suppressing the levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and producing more satiety hormones like peptide YY (PYY).
A study in 11 men found that running for 60 minutes or strength training for 90 minutes reduced ghrelin levels, compared to no exercise. Only running increased PYY production (8).
Another study with nine men compared the effect of 60 minutes of running and no exercise on ghrelin production. They found that running lowered ghrelin levels for three to nine hours in comparison to no exercise (9).
Summary: Running may help you lose weight by lowering the production of hunger hormones and increasing the production of satiety hormones.
Moderate-to-High Intensity Running Targets Harmful Belly Fat
Carrying excess belly fat is extremely bad for your health.
An analysis of 15 studies and 852 participants found that aerobic exercise reduced belly fat without any change in diet. However, training at moderate-to-high intensity was most effective at reducing belly fat (14).
Another study of 27 middle-aged women found that high-intensity running considerably reduced belly fat, compared to low-intensity walking/running or no exercise (15).
Lastly, a study of 45 healthy but inactive women found that high-intensity interval exercise three times per week significantly reduced body fat and belly fat, compared to steady pace exercise or no exercise (16).
Summary: Many studies have found that moderate-to-high intensity aerobic exercise like running targets harmful belly fat, even without dietary changes.
Running Has Many Other Benefits for Health
Aside from weight loss, running has been linked to many other health benefits.
A few specific health problems that running may help prevent or alleviate include:
- Heart disease: A 15-year study with over 50,000 participants found that running at least five to ten minutes a day, even at low speeds, reduced heart disease risk up to 45 percent (17).
- Blood sugar: Running can lower blood sugar by making muscle cells more sensitive to insulin. This helps sugar move into muscle cells for storage (18, 19).
- Cataracts: One study found that moderate-pace walking and vigorous running both reduced the risk of cataracts, with more exercise directly resulting in a lower risk (20).
- Falls: Running may reduce the risk of falling among the elderly. Research shows that elderly participants who run are less likely to fall because their leg muscles are more responsive (21).
- Knee damage: A common myth is that running is bad for your knees. An analysis of 28 studies refuted this misconception, finding strong evidence that links physical activity with stronger knee tissue and healthier knees (22).
- Knee pain: Running may also help reduce knee pain. A study of participants with an average age of 64 years found that running was not linked with knee pain or arthritis. Instead, participants who ran more actually had less knee pain (23).
Summary: Along with weight loss, running can provide various health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease, reduced blood sugar, lower cataracts risk, lower falls risk, stronger knees and less knee pain.
How to Get Started
There are many items available for running, but most beginners can get by on the bare minimum.
This includes good running shoes, a comfortable top, a water bottle and running shorts, tights or comfortable pants.
It is highly recommended for women to wear a sports bra while running to reduce pain. Reflective gear is highly recommended as well if you plan on taking your run during early hours or late at night. This will help to prevent any accidents.
Here are a few basics you should know before beginning a running workout:
- Frequency: To get started, aim for 3 to 4 days of running per week. This allows for enough recovery time between workouts.
- Warm up: Before every running workout, it is important to warm up and stretch in order to prepare your body for the run. Start by stretching, followed by 5 minutes of walking at an easy pace. Then, slowly progress to a power walk.
- Cool down: At the end of your run, make sure to cool down with 5 minutes of walking, gradually decreasing the speed as you go.
- Total time: Aim for around 30 minutes total. This includes 5 minutes for a warm up, 5 minutes for a cool down and 20 minutes of running/walking in between.
Summary: Running is easy to begin and requires minimal equipment. A beginner should aim to run for 30 minutes 3 or 4 days a week, including 5 minutes of warming up and cooling down.
Sample Running Plan
If you would like to enjoy the benefits of running, here is a month-long plan to get you started.
A beginner's plan will start with alternating between running and walking, increasing the minutes spent running every week.
Do each set of activities 3 to 4 days per week.
- 5 minutes warming up
- 1 minute running at your natural pace, and then 2 minutes moderate-pace walking—repeat 7 times
- 5 minutes cooling down
- 5 minutes warming up
- 2 minutes running at your natural pace, and then 2 minutes moderate-pace walking—repeat 5 times
- 5 minutes cooling down
- 5 minutes warming up
- 3 minutes running at your natural pace, and then 2 minutes moderate-pace walking—repeat 4 times
- 5 minutes cooling down
- 5 minutes warming up
- 4 minutes running at your natural pace, and then 2 minutes moderate-pace walking—repeat 3 times
- 5 minutes cooling down
After the month is over, try to progress by running for longer at your natural pace or walking less between each run. Try adding different styles of running as you feel more comfortable.
If you are not used to regular exercise or have any preexisting medical conditions that can be affected by exercise, consult a health professional before starting any exercise program.
Summary: A beginner's running plan should alternate between running and walking. As you progress, increase the time spent running weekly or decrease the time spent walking between runs.
How to Stay Motivated
Sticking to a dedicated running plan can help you achieve long-term success with your weight loss goals.
The trick to staying motivated is to keep it fun so you won't be tempted to make any excuses to avoid your workout.
Keep your workouts interesting by changing your running route every few weeks or adding in different types of runs like intervals or hill repeats.
Running with a friend that challenges you can keep you accountable and provides extra safety if you run during the early or late hours of the day.
If you find it difficult to motivate yourself early in the morning, try laying your running gear out the night before to save the effort in the morning.
Signing up for marathons or other competitions when you are comfortable can also provide you with extra motivation for running and keep you focused.
Summary: Changing your workouts often or running with a friend can make your routine fun and help you to stay motivated long-term.
The Bottom Line
Running is an excellent form of exercise for weight loss.
It burns a lot of calories, may help you continue to burn calories long after a workout, may help suppress appetite and targets harmful belly fat.
What's more, running has many other benefits for your health and is simple to begin.
Unlike many other types of exercise, running requires little equipment, can be done anywhere and there are many ways to keep things interesting.
If you find it difficult to motivate yourself to run, try finding a running partner or changing routines frequently to add variety to your workout.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.
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By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior<p>It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both <a href="https://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2620.1826-36" target="_blank">elephants</a> and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank">pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections</a>.</p><p>Many animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.010" target="_blank">try to cope</a> with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stereotypies</a>," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.</p>
Changing Brain Structure<p>Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically damages the brain</a>. These changes have been documented in many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.903270108" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">species</a>, including rodents, rabbits, cats and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">humans</a>.</p><p>Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.</p>
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND<p>Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1590/S0001-37652001000200006" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thin the cerebral cortex</a> – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.</p><p>There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.901230110" target="_blank">process information less efficiently</a> than those living in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.420020208" target="_blank">enriched, more natural environments</a>.</p>
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040" target="_blank">don't allow for needed exercise</a>. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw2622" target="_blank">enhances cognitive abilities</a>.</p><p>In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from <a href="https://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/#:%7E:text=How%20far%20do%20elephants%20walk,km%20on%20a%20daily%20basis." target="_blank">15 to 120 miles per day</a>. In a zoo, they average <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150331" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">three miles daily</a>, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-010-0958-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 156 miles a day</a>; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its <a href="https://www.cascadiaresearch.org/projects/killer-whales/using-dtags-study-acoustics-and-behavior-southern" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">natural home range</a>.</p>
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells<p>Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1215502109" target="_blank">almost no control</a> over their environment.</p><p>These situations foster <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000033" target="_blank">learned helplessness</a>, negatively impacting the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6391686" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hippocampus</a>, which handles memory functions, and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.02.024" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amygdala</a>, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress <a href="https://doi.org/10.3109/10253899609001092" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevates stress hormones</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-09-02897.1990" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">damages or even kills neurons</a> in both brain regions. It also disrupts the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.03.021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">delicate balance of serotonin</a>, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.</p><p>In humans, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deprivation</a> can trigger <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychiatric issues</a>, including depression, anxiety, <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mood disorders</a> or <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858409333072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">post-traumatic stress disorder</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-010-0288-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephants</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">orcas</a> and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.</p>
Damaged Wiring<p>Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.</p><p>The repetitive, <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.057" target="_blank">stereotypic behaviors</a> that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">serotonin</a>. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.</p>
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311787/behave-by-robert-m-sapolsky/" target="_blank">turning different genes on or off</a>. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.</p><p>There is strong evidence that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011" target="_blank">enrichment</a>, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2003.tb02071.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">necessary</a> for long-lived animals with large brains such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152490" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elephants</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13880292.2017.1309858" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cetaceans</a>. Better conditions <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543669/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors</a>, improve connections in the brain, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trigger neurochemical changes</a> that enhance learning and memory.</p>