Running. The age-old workout. Some use it for weight maintenance. Some find running a great way to clear the mind. Others, use running as a form of exercise for weight loss, but does running work to shed those fats?
Weight loss can be tricky, especially when everyone has a different way to go about it. With the plethora of articles, blog posts, and workout videos available on the internet, every single one promises that their method is the best of all.
Running or jogging is one of the most popular or more ‘fool-proof’ workouts for weight loss amongst all age groups due to the ease and practically no-cost nature of the exercise. Moreover, running has also gained overt popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic after gyms were closed.
While running has different effects on human health, can running help you lose weight?
If Not Weight Loss, What Are the Other Benefits of Running?
A healthy heart
Running can improve cardiac health significantly, with research showing that even running for as little as 15 minutes daily can result in a reduced risk of heart diseases1. These benefits can also be seen with a brisk walk if it is done regularly.
Manage blood sugar levels
Prediabetics and those with a high risk of developing diabetes are often asked to make lifestyle changes, one of which includes living a more active lifestyle. This active lifestyle includes running and jogging. This improves the body’s response to insulin, making cells sensitive to the hormone. Insulin resistance, which is a lack of response by the muscle cells to insulin in the body, is one of the main causes of diabetes mellitus type 22.
Exercise has been known to reduce the risk of developing cataracts, but recent studies have shown that running and jogging can also reduce the risk of cataracts3. Though the mechanism is not clear, it is yet another benefit of running that contributes to the list of health benefits that come with running.
Although it may come off as a surprise, running is actually recommended for the elderly and those with arthritis. Knee pain is a common issue amongst these populations, and it has been proven, after several studies, that running does help to reduce knee pain and improves gait stability5.
Research performed on busting the myth that running injures and weakens the knee joint showed that it strengthens the knee instead6. This strengthening is the result of stronger bones, increased stability of knee joints, and improved muscular strength.
Another research performed on the elderly who are at high fall risk concluded that running does significantly reduce the risk of falls by strengthening the calf muscles and providing gait stability7.
All of these benefits of running explain why it is a recommended exercise. However, weight loss is not a guaranteed benefit of the regimen. In fact, running can result in weight loss, weight gain, or even maintenance of current weight, depending on what else is being done along with running.
How Running Causes weight loss
Running is a great aerobic exercise for all the benefits mentioned above, and in some cases, it may result in weight loss. However, running to lose weight doesn’t simply happen overnight and is highly dependent on several factors.
Based on a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, there has to be a balance between ‘reducing energy intake’ and ‘exercise-induced energy expenditure’ as far as weight loss is concerned8. The said balance, as defined by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, refers to the balance of calories burned and calories consumed9.
The equation is pretty simple. If you are maintaining your weight, you are in caloric balance. This means to say that the calories that you are consuming are the same amount of calories you are burning. If you are in caloric excess, which means to say that you are consuming more calories than you are burning, you will gain weight. In order for weight loss to take place, you have to be in a calorie deficit state, which means that you are burning more calories than you are eating.
So As Long as I’m Eating Less, I’m Losing Weight?
In this context, when there is an overall caloric deficit, more calories than consumed are being burnt off by running. This could result in net weight loss10. However, the results of weight loss could also mean that the overall fat content, water content, as well as muscle mass, could have been reduced.
The number of calories you burn off while running does help to lose weight however it will vary based on your body size, pace as well as the duration and length of your run. Based on statistics from the National Weight Control Registry, individuals who have successfully lost weight burned off about 2,800 calories a week11.
Carb-Burning Runs vs Fat-Burning Runs for Weight Loss
During exercise, the ratio of carbs and fat your body uses for fuel can vary depending on the speed, duration and intensity of the workout.
The main concern is that when weight loss occurs too fast, most of the lost weight is actually water and muscle, not actually fat tissue. Rapid weight loss can further lead to various health complications such as constipation, low nutrients as well as fatigue12.
- High-Intensity Runs: In high-intensity runs, the body requires bursts of energy that it needs when launching a sprint. In this case, the body then relies more on carbs simply due to the fact that they’re a quicker source of energy.
- Lower-Intensity Runs: With lower-intensity but significantly longer runs, the body gradually shifts from carbs to fat. While fats may not be an immediate source of fuel, it is more sustainable than carbs.
In this instance, it would make more sense to work out at a slower but steadier pace, is it not? While exercising at a lower intensity will allow you to burn more calories from fat, working out at higher intensities does mean that you are burning more calories overall.
However, the results aren’t produced in an instant, which can be quite concerning for many people. This is especially worrisome to some as there is going to be weight loss, in the beginning, then hit a plateau before further weight loss is observed.
How Running Causes Weight Gain
Running could make you gain weight? It doesn’t necessarily make you gain weight per se, but the key factor that probably trips up more runners is calorie intake. As seen in running for weight loss, caloric management has to be done in accordance with the exercise.
When people start getting physically more active, they tend to also feel hungrier as they are burning more calories than they are consuming. This net increase in appetite results in increased food intake, which in some cases may not be the healthiest meal choice either.
Runners generally get enough exercise for cardiovascular fitness, whereas ‘every-other-day’ runners’ may not burn enough calories to lose weight. This is the simplest of the reasons why people may experience weight gain with running11.
While running can be a great way to scorch calories, there is more to it if you’re looking for significant weight loss. It has to be supplemented with a healthy diet that ensures that more calories are being burned than there are consumed, as well as other forms of exercise for there to be any beneficial results.
Are there alternatives to exercise for a shapely figure?
CoolSculpting, a non-invasive fat removal treatment, uses cryolipolysis as a method of fat loss where fat tissues in the body are exposed to subzero temperatures. This fat reduction method can result in up to 27%* fat loss in the target region of the body.
Approved by the US FDA to conduct fat reduction on different parts of the body, CoolSculpting can help with spot reduction of fat – especially areas that are hard to target with exercise alone.
SculpSure, another method of non-invasive fat reduction treatment, targets the problem areas with lasers which help generate heat in the region to melt away the fat. This method also can result in spot reduction of fat, without any effect on the lean muscle mass of the body.
Weight loss is a complex problem and the puzzle has varying solutions for each individual. When selecting the right treatments, it is important to have to go through a body assessment to determine which options are the most appropriate for you.
1. 1. Lee, D. C., Pate, R. R., Lavie, C. J., Sui, X., Church, T. S., & Blair, S. N. (2014). Leisure-time running reduces all-cause and cardiovascular mortality risk. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 64(5), 472–481. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2014.04.058
2. Cartee, G. D., Young, D. A., Sleeper, M. D., Zierath, J., Wallberg-Henriksson, H., & Holloszy, J. O. (1989). Prolonged increase in insulin-stimulated glucose transport in muscle after exercise. The American journal of physiology, 256(4 Pt 1), E494–E499. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.1989.256.4.E494
3. Williams P. T. (2013). Walking and running are associated with similar reductions in cataract risk. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 45(6), 1089–1096. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0b013e31828121d0
4. Lo, G. H., Driban, J. B., Kriska, A. M., McAlindon, T. E., Souza, R. B., Petersen, N. J., Storti, K. L., Eaton, C. B., Hochberg, M. C., Jackson, R. D., Kent Kwoh, C., Nevitt, M. C., & Suarez-Almazor, M. E. (2017). Is There an Association Between a History of Running and Symptomatic Knee Osteoarthritis? A Cross-Sectional Study From the Osteoarthritis Initiative. Arthritis care & research, 69(2), 183–191. https://doi.org/10.1002/acr.22939