Running is one of the most ideal forms of exercise. You can get started with very little investment: you don’t need a lot of equipment or an expensive gym, and it’s an easy activity even if you’re new to the sport.
In combination with the fat-burning and endurance-enhancing effects of running, it is no wonder that it is consistently one of the most popular forms of training.
There are many good reasons to run:
Running strengthens your muscles
Running is not only good for the lower body muscles – it activates the glutes and muscles of the thighs, calves, and feet – it also works out the abs and back.
Running improves your cardiorespiratory endurance
Like any challenging cardiovascular activity, running strengthens and improves your heart and lung function, and increases your endurance in whatever you do. But it can also affect your health and add years to your life (1).
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 30 minutes of cardio for healthy adults 5 days a week (2).
As you add more activity to meet your fitness goals, you can refine your endurance and body composition.
Running is a powerful calorie burner
As measured in METS (metabolic equivalents), running is a high-intensity activity, which means it’s a mega-calorie burner (3).
Running at 6 miles per hour is 10 METS, similar to racquetball, lap swimming at an energetic pace, or cycling at a competitive pace. At this level of sustained exertion, carbohydrates are used as the main fuel, which contributes to lean body mass and helps you gain strength and endurance (4).
Running makes bones stronger
Exercising with weights – where you support your weight as opposed to swimming or cycling, where your body is supported by water or a bike – strengthens bones. It ensures a constant load on the bones, which promotes strength.
Compared to walking, running is a high-impact activity that provides a stronger stress response and can be more effective at increasing bone density in healthy adults and children (5).
Calorie expenditure is determined by several factors, including your weight and speed.
As a rule of thumb, you should burn around 100 calories per kilometer. This can vary up or down by 20 calories per mile depending on your weight and body composition, as well as your running speed.
Determining your personal burn rate can be helpful in meeting your metabolic goals.
If you’re interested in losing weight, running 3 miles a day can help with this goal. To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat. It is a good place to start by calculating your burn rate and knowing how many calories you are burning while running.
It is also helpful to know your basal metabolic rate (BMR), or resting metabolic rate, which is how many calories your body burns while resting. This number depends on your gender, height, weight, and level of activity.
While this can be measured directly by measuring your oxygen consumption in a process called indirect calorimetry, it is fairly easy to get an estimate by calculation (6).
Multiple websites can do the math for you.
Once you know your BMR, you can add your calories burned while exercising to see how many calories your body needs per day to maintain your current weight. If you want to lose weight, you should consume less than this number.
For example, if you ran every day, you would base your BMR calculations on the “daily exercise” category. For a 40-year-old, 155-pound person, that would be 2,179 calories a day.
If you calculate that you burn 300 calories a day by running 3 miles on a 10-minute mile, add 300 to your BMR calorie needs and you will see that you need 2,479 calories a day to make up your current weight to keep.
A slight decrease in calories burned – say 250 calories a day – should result in weight loss.
While some people are able to maintain a daily running habit, it is important to listen to your body and be prepared to adjust if necessary.
Running is a repetitive, high impact activity, and you may find that a day of rest – or at least a cross-training day – is necessary.
Rest is advisable if there is pain in the shins, knees or hips. Maybe mix in a little or no effect activity like swimming or Pilates to complement your goals.
You can even stop at a local running store for a gait analysis that can help improve your running form. Many walk-in stores do a free analysis, although it’s nice to buy your next pair of shoes from them in return.
You may find that after a few days you just feel tired or heavy-legged. It’s a natural reaction. Make sure you have a good rest and stretch, especially the hips, thighs, and calves.
There will be days when you feel strong and days when you feel like you are pulling a cart full of bricks.
The mental rigor of finishing a tough slog feels good when the miles are behind you, and the satisfaction of finishing a running distance is worth the discomfort when there is no pain or injury.
If you’re new to running, start small. The idea that you have to run all the time is untrue and impractical. Mixing walking intervals with your running is not only allowed but also wise if you are unable to run 3 miles in good shape.
Plan out your intervals as you build. Start with a 1 minute run, 1 minute walk, or a 1-on-1 interval. Build up to 2-to-1 or 3-to-1 intervals. Then you can start reducing the recovery interval by 30 seconds or even 15 seconds.
Before you know it, you will run 3 miles straight and you will probably have saved yourself some pain in the process.
Provide a good warm up and cool down. So many injuries happen because these processes are neglected. Before you begin, spend 5–7 minutes mobilizing and warming up your body with rhythmic movements and gentle dynamic stretches.
Doing deep stretching before you run can work against you, but exercises that mobilize your hips and activate your glutes, like swinging your legs or side lunges, can prepare your body for success.
The time for deeper, more static stretching is after your run. Release the muscle and relax as you straighten your legs, hips, and calves.
Make it easy for yourself. No run will make or break you, but loving this activity can bring you lasting benefits.
Running is easy to get started with, inexpensive to try, and a worthwhile habit once established. Can you invest 30 days developing a habit your body will love for years to come? There is only one way to find out.