Running is one of the best ways to speed up your weight loss efforts.

Running to Lose Weight? What to Do

Running is a wonderful fitness activity in and of itself. But if losing weight is one of your main reasons for taking up running, there are a number of things you need to know — and do — to be successful, says Heather Peluso Pitman, a fitness health coach in the Health Education Department at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco. “Running doesn’t necessarily fix a pre-existing problem, or at least not right away,” says Pitman. “And if that’s your main goal, it’s easy to get discouraged and give up.” Here are Pitman’s top strategies to incorporate running into a successful weight loss program.

Alternate Running and Walking

It takes time to build up endurance and stamina, Pitman says, and people looking to lose weight tend to push themselves too hard. “Suddenly you’re on the injured list and you have to stop, and then your weight loss efforts end.” The solution: Alternate short bouts of running with fast walking, gradually lengthening the runs. “If you’re de-conditioned when you start running, you need to start slowly and knock off before you’ve reached your limit,” Pitman says. “Leave something on the table. Don’t push to the end of your abilities or the next day you won’t be able to keep it up.”

Be Careful Not to Overcompensate with Food

Sorry to say, running doesn’t get you off the hook when it comes to calories, Pitman says. “Often you don’t take into account how much hungrier you are when you’re training,” Pitman says. Give in to your appetite too much, and you undo all your progress. Educating yourself about healthy eating habits (think whole grains, lean protein, and lots of vegetables) is important when you start running, or you may be tempted to give into cravings for simple carbs and fat. “A bad diet doesn’t scale up well, so if you’re eating a bad diet already and running makes you hungrier, that’s not going to work.”

Do Plenty of Strength Training

If weight loss is your ultimate goal, Pitman says, adding strength training to your regimen is key. In fact, strength training should make up half of your exercise per week, she says.  “When you make muscle, it speeds up your metabolism, which is critical to weight loss.” [Link to previous post on strength training exercises]

Run Hard, Not Long

It may sound counterintuitive, but too much long distance running can actually slow your metabolic rate rather than boosting it, Pitman says. “Most people only train for endurance and run and run. Over time, the muscle fibers become more slender, which can actually slow down your metabolic rate.” This is the reason interval training and hill running are just as important as distance running. To prevent this phenomenon, vary your training regimen and focus on building muscle and boosting cardio as well as on increasing distance.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.