Running — not optimal for fat loss but is it worth doing?

Running — not optimal for fat loss but is it worth doing?

There is a pervasive myth out there that says that what is good for your health and fitness is naturally good for weight loss. Often this can be the case, but the two things aren’t always mutually exclusive — most people recognise that things that can make us lose weight aren’t always good for us, but conversely, what is good for our health and fitness is not necessarily the best things for weight loss.

The details of this are still up for great debate and also some great research, but one myth in particular about weight loss and fitness is that running, although great for cardiovascular fitness is also an optimal strategy for weight loss. Experts concede that running is actually quite inefficient and less effective than other approaches to weight loss, when considering results versus time invested.

“Relying on running alone isn’t the best way to lose weight because it burns relatively few calories for the time invested,” said exercise physiology and nutrition expert Rachele Poiednic, Ph.D.

One reason people think that running is great for weight loss is that in the short term, it is. The problem is that as you lose weight and increase your fitness level, the body’s ability to run more efficiently increases quickly, which means that the exercise becomes easier to do, and the weight-loss potential harder to achieve. Therefore, your time jogging must increase, or your work rate within each jog must increase, to maintain the fat-burning potential of the exercise. Quite simply, running as an exercise approach offers fewer strategies for progressive overload, if time is a limiting factor in your workout regime.

This is usually the moment where we sprout the alternative training methods for fat loss — not this time. The problem with this thinking is that not all of the goodness of running — or any exercise for that matter — is wrapped up in fat loss. Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, one study which tracked 55,137 people over a long period of time found that people who run regularly just for leisure have a 45 per cent lower risk of death from heart disease than non-runners. They also have a 30 per cent lower risk of death from any cause, as well as boosting mood, sleep quality and many other benefits.

What this means is that if you’re embarking on a cardio-based weight loss plan only, and your weight loss results are tapering off, if this deters you from continuing on this journey, it will also rob you of some pretty amazing long-term health benefits. Another interesting point in this is, if all you want to do is run for 30 minutes at a given pace and you don’t ever want to improve on that, then, although it may not give you the long-term weight loss goals you might want, just maintaining that level long term, will give you all of these other amazing health benefits.

Weight loss as a goal is fine, but perhaps our focus needs to shift towards long-term behavioural change, and focus less on the abs. Because ultimately, doing what we enjoy is what will give us the best chance of long-term adherence. For some people that might mean that, despite the amazing, state of the art gym equipment, fun and exciting classes and training areas available to you at Hammers Gym, if all you like doing is getting yourself onto a treadmill, plugging in the headphones and running, then all that matters is that you don’t stop doing it.

Lee., et. al.. (2014) Leisure-Time Running Reduces All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality Risk, Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Vol. 64, Issue 5.