Running to Lose Weight: It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

by Dr. Ankit B. Shah, MD, MPH, FACC, director, MedStar Sports & Performance Cardiology Program, MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute
February 16, 2018

So you want to lose weight. But what if your method for shedding the pounds could also lower your risk for certain diseases, help you sleep, and improve your overall heart health? While there are plenty of weight loss programs and options, running is one that can also help improve your fitness and overall health.

The idea of becoming a runner can be a little daunting, but there are a lot of advantages to taking up this healthy pastime just by running 75 to150 minutes per week.

Why Should I Run?

With running comes increased fitness. From a cardiovascular standpoint, the more fit you are, the longer you tend to live.

In addition to overall increased fitness, though, comes a long list of other cardiovascular health benefits, like lower blood pressure and cholesterol, decreased risk of diabetes, and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes, to name a few.

Running can also change the physical shape of your heart. Exercise-induced cardiac remodeling, also known as “athlete’s heart,” is a healthy adaptation to a lot of endurance exercise. This adaptation can be seen in athletes who are running more than 5 hours a week.

People who commit to a running regimen may also experience other health benefits that include improved sleep, decreased rates of depression, healthier bones and muscles, and decreased risk of colon and breast cancer.

While running can benefit your overall health in a number of ways, it’s important to keep in mind that other factors also affect your health, like lifestyle habits and family history.

Running doesn’t make you immune to coronary heart disease. Despite your new running routine, you can’t outrun genetics, high blood pressure, and the effects of unhealthy habits, like smoking, poor diet, or alcohol use. If any of these factors play a role, you’ll likely need to make some other life changes in order to see overall improvement.

In terms of weight loss, running has a proven success rate. Why? In comparison to other forms of more low-intensity exercise, running burns more calories in a given amount of time.

It’s all about net energy balance; what you expend minus what you put in. So, to lose weight, you need to expend more than you take in.

To #loseweight, you need to expend more than you take in. via @MedStarHealth

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Getting Started

So what kind of a running routine should you stick to? Well, it depends on your goals, but in general, the keys are exercise duration, frequency, and intensity.

The current recommendation for overall heart health is 150 minutes of low-intensity exercise a week, or 75 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week. But, most research shows that double that amount of exercise is necessary for effective weight loss. On top of that, 1 to 2 days of weight training and stretching are also recommended for improved bone health and muscle mass.

I Started Running. Why Am I Not Losing Weight?

There could be a couple of reasons that running hasn’t proven to be as effective as you thought. The first may be that you simply have not given it enough time. You should expect to achieve significant weight loss over months and not over days or weeks.

The second reason may be that you are not running as much as you need to. The more you run, the more weight you will lose.

The third reason requires taking a close look at your caloric intake. A common mistake many people make once they start exercising regularly is overestimating how much food and calories they really need. Remember, weight loss requires a net negative energy balance.

You may be expending more energy by running but, if your food intake also increases, you won’t see the results you’re looking for.

In simpler terms, you just might not be doing enough running or you may be eating too much.

Be mindful of the food you’re eating, portion sizes, and calorie consumption. Focus on including fruits, vegetables, and lean meats in your diet. Avoid processed carbohydrates or sugars and red meat as much as possible.

Don’t discount lifestyle variations, either.

If you’re sitting at a desk job for eight hours a day, and start doing 300 minutes of low-intensity exercise a week, you will likely start to lose weight. But, if your daily routine already consists of more movement or physical work, your results may not be as noticeable, or as immediate.

While running can bring a number of benefits to someone who is looking to lose weight and improve overall health, it’s important to remember that no exercise or weight loss regimen comes with one-size-fits-all results.

Don’t be afraid to change up your routine, and make tweaks as you go. Another benefit to running is that it can be a social activity. Finding a running buddy or joining a running club in your area can actually help you develop and improve your routine. Check out these local running clubs:

So, lace up your shoes, hit the pavement, and get started on the path to better health.

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Category: Staying Active     Tags: CardioExerciseWeight Loss