How Many Miles Should I Run to Lose Weight?

What are the variables to achieving weight loss?

Friends running trails together on winter morning
Thomas Barwick/DigitalVision/Getty

Running is a great way to lose weight, but it is often difficult to know how far or fast you need to run to reach your weight loss goal. Moreover, your ability to shed pounds depends as much on the number of calories you eat as the number of miles you clock. 

While there is no fixed formula by which to calculate pounds loss by the distance ran, there are some insights and statistics that may help.

Running and Weight Loss

Ultimately, the amount of weight you can lose from any exercise depends as much on the intensity of the workout as it does the duration. Simply put, the greater the effort, the greater the result.

Running is an excellent way to lose weight as it involves moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity. A moderate-intensity activity is one in which you breathe quickly (but never run out of breath) and sweat lightly after 10 minutes. A vigorous-intensity activity is one in which your breathing is deep and fast, and you develop a sweat after a few minutes.

Clearly, the intensity of your run can make a big difference in how many calories you burn. To illustrate this, consider the differences in calories expended per minute for jogging, running, and sitting, according to a report from the American Council on Exercise: 

Activity calories per minute120 lbs140 lbs160 lbs180 lbs
Jogging9.310.812.413
Running11.413.215.117
Sitting1.21.31.51.7

To estimate the distance you need to run to lose weight, you would need to:

  • Categorize the intensity of your running
  • Estimate the number of calories you'd burn per minute at that intensity
  • Multiply that number by the time you intend to run in minutes
  • Multiply that figure by the number of times you plan to run each week

    This is the total number of calories you can expect to burn per week. For example, if you weigh 180 pounds and run at a relatively brisk pace for 45 minutes five days a week, you'd burn around 3,825 calories (17 calories/minutes x 45 minutes x five days = 3,285 calories).

    To put this in perspective, one pound equals 3,500 calories. If you are 180 pounds and intend to lose a pound a week, you would need to run around 37 miles per week at a rate of six minutes per mile.

    What this doesn't take into consideration, of course, is the role that diet can play and how trimming calories can entirely transform the conversation.

    Role of Diet

    In the United States, 66.3 percent of adults are either overweight or obese, which represents a major public health concern. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, people wanting to achieve significant weight loss need to engage in exercise training and/or recreational physical activity for no less than 225 to 420 minutes per week. 

    With that being said, research published in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Disease concluded that exercise alone rarely achieves significant weight loss unless performed with a low-calorie diet.

    In fact, your likelihood of losing weight after 16 weeks varies dramatically by the approach you take, as illustrated by the following findings:

    Weight loss planAverage weight loss Likelihood of weight loss
    Walking0-1 kgUnlikely
    Resistance training onlyNoneUnlikely
    Aerobic activity only0-2 kgPossible but requires high exercise volumes
    Aerobic and resistance training0-2 kgPossible but requires a high volume of aerobic activity
    Aerobic and resistance training with a low-calorie diet9-13 kgPossible

    While this highlights the role that that running can play in weight loss, it also demonstrates how much faster you can meet your goals by cutting back calories.

    You can calculate your recommended daily intake by using a simple online calculator which adjusts your intake based on age, sex, height, weight, activity level, and target weight loss date.

    By meeting these goals (and never consuming less than 1,200 calories per day for women or 1,500 calories per day for men), you'll be more likely to reach your target and still ensure a healthy, well-balanced diet.

    Making Running a Habit

    The key to losing weight with running is to create an exercise habit. Some runners stay on track by following a training schedule so they know exactly what they need to do each day (including rest days).

    Keeping a training log or a running blog is an excellent way to track your progress and stay motivated. Similarly, running with a group or partner can provide extra motivation and prevent you from skipping out on days when you feel less than energized. 

    If you meet your monthly targets, reward yourself with a massage, pedicure, or a new piece of clothing for your trimmed-down physique. By providing yourself regular incentives, you can focus on the benefits of running as they apply to your life and long-term well-being.  

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