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Why Running to Lose Weight Isn’t the Greatest Idea

running on the beachWhen most people set out to get in shape, they immediately think about running for exercise. But is running a good way to lose weight?

Why Do People Run?

Humans did not always run for exercise. Sure, we were always sprinters, but long distance running for exercise only starting becoming popular about 50 years ago. Before that time, if someone saw you running, there was usually some kind of emergency, or you were in trouble with the law.

Bodybuilders didn’t run to get lean for their competitions. They hit the gym and lifted weights. When they coupled that with a great diet, the fat came off of them. There was no need for aerobic training. Weight training provided all the cardiovascular exercise they needed. The heart pumped faster and provided the nutrients their muscles needed. It didn’t know the difference between a bench press, a squat, or a sprint. The heart only knew the perceived stress that was placed on it.

So, why do people run to lose weight? Our culture influences our decisions. Running became popular because it was a convenient way to lose weight and get “toned”. There was no gym required, no commute to a gym, and just about anyone could do it. Even better, it kept women from bulking up. After all, no woman wanted to look like a bodybuilder.

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The Negative Effects of Prolonged Aerobic Exercise

Unfortunately, too many people make running the staple of their exercise program. Many even make it the only exercise they do. For people that aspire to be great runners, there is obviously nothing wrong with that. Many people love to run as a hobby or as a sport. However, if you’re using running as a means to lose weight, you might want to reconsider. Prolonged aerobic exercise has the following negative consequences:

  • Raises Cortisol Levels (1) – After prolonged long-distance running, plasma cortisol levels increased by 43%. Cortisol suppresses the immune system, decreases bone formation, and can lead to weight gain.
  • Causes Joint Problems – Running places a lot of stress on the joints of the ankles and knees. Good shoes can help negate these problems, but there is no getting around the fact that you are continually impacting your joints thousands of times in the course of an hour.
  • Creates a Catabolic Environment – When glycogen stores become depleted from long-distance running, your body will start breaking down protein (muscle) for glucose. It is true that your body will prefer fatty acids for fuel, but unless you are moving at a snails pace, glycogen and glucose will still be needed.
  • Reduces Testosterone Levels (2) – Prolonged exercise lowers testosterone and free testosterone, while short bursts of high-intensity exercise will actually boost levels. This more favorable hormonal profile from high-intensity exercise will make it easier for you to lose fat in the long run.
  • Takes Longer to Complete – You can burn the same amount of calories during a 20 minute HIIT session as you can during a 60 minute prolonged run. However, with HIIT training you get the afterburn effect – burning fat for hours or days after your workout.

Is Running a Good Way to Lose Weight?

Anything that creates a calorie deficit and gets you active will help you lose weight. However, running (as in prolonged aerobic exercise), should not be your first choice for exercise. To lose weight, you want provide a stimulus to your biggest fat burner (muscle), while at the same time eat the proper foods to put your body into the right metabolic environment to release fatty acids.

Use anaerobic exercise to build muscle and prime your metabolism, and then use nutrition to feed on your fat stores. Is running a good way to lose weight? Yes. Is it a good way to lose fat? Let’s just say there are much better ways to accomplish that goal.

  • Jamie

    still love running tho haha

  • Annie

    One of the reasons I choose to run (short distances 2-3 miles) is I found that for some reason it suppresses my appetite. I don’t feel hungry and crave snacks like I would with other forms of exercise i.e. biking, tennis or swimming. I don’t know what causes that phenomena, but it works for me. I have added weights and stretching several times a week, but it was the running that caused my initial weight loss. (35#)

  • Tom Parker

    You’re spot on that running isn’t the best fat burning exercise. However, there’s very few other exercises that have the same mental benefits as running. I find it’s the perfect way to de-stress, collect your thoughts and empty your mind. I can’t really do that in a gym because there’s lots of people around, lots of background noise and the nature of the exercise is very stop, start.


    • Natacha

      Yes running is just as much for mental health as physical health – if not more so for some like me! Also understand what coach means about using it as the only exercise and joints – many people don’t build up slowly with running and that is where the injuries mainly come from.

  • Joe

    My goal is to get in shape ,lose weight. I’m 270 LB. My plan is do weight lifting 3 days a week and start a run program 3 days a week. As you say there is better ways to accomplish that goal. What are thay?

    • Coach Calorie

      There is nothing wrong with running. The problem I have with it is when people use it as their sole form of exercise to lose weight. In addition, you might want to try something that will impact your joints less. Have you considered cycling? You can do a HIIT workout on a stationary bike (or real bike) that will give you just as good of a workout (if not better) than a longer steady state cardio workout.

  • mike

    “long distance running for exercise only starting becoming popular about 50 years ago”

    Apparently you never heard of persistence hunting. Granted, that form of hunting — for which humans are uniquely adapted — is different than exercise, long distance running is a perfect recreational event, as in re-creation and training for that activity. So, long distance running has been around a bit longer than 50 years… probably closer to 2,000,000 years.

    Is it a good way to lose weight? Our ancestors would think so, and it’s still true for the real athletes I know, though most people have sabotaged their normal weight management processes by the fact that food is so available, so cheap, and so loaded with fat-promoting junk and empty calories that it supports an unhealthy body, not a healthy one.

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Mike, I don’t really think we are saying anything different. Yes, running has been around for ages, but it wasn’t until the last century that people mindfully did it for their health. I think you would agree that our ancestors probably didn’t care about their weight. They had other things on their mind, and it was unlikely that they were obese. And yes, you absolutely can lose weight long-distance running. I do believe there are better ways though.