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 a simple enough activity, even when you’re new to exercise.
Combined with the fat-burning, endurance-boosting effects of running, it’s no wonder that it’s consistently one of the most popular forms of exercise.
There are a lot of great reasons to run:
Running strengthens your muscles
Running is not only good for your lower body muscles — it activates the glutes and the muscles of the thighs, calves, and feet — but it also gives your abs and back a great workout.
Running improves your cardiorespiratory endurance
Like any challenging cardiovascular activity, running will strengthen and improve your heart and lung function and increase your stamina for everything you do. But it can also affect your greater health and add years to your life (
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends, at a minimum, 30 minutes of cardio, 5 days a week for healthy adults (2).
Adding more activity to meet your fitness goals can help you fine-tune your endurance and body composition.
Running is a mighty calorie burner
Running at 6 miles per hour is 10 METS, comparable to competitive racquetball, lap swimming at a vigorous pace, or cycling at a competitive pace. This level of sustained effort uses carbohydrates as a primary fuel, contributing to a lean body mass and helping you gain strength and endurance (4).
Running makes stronger bones
Weight bearing exercise — in which you’re supporting your weight, as opposed to swimming or cycling, in which your body is supported by water or a bike — strengthens the bones. It provides consistent stress on the bones in a way that promotes strength.
Calorie expenditure is determined by several factors, including your weight and speed.
A general rule of thumb is that you burn about 100 calories per mile. This may vary 20 calories per mile up or down from that, depending on your weight and body composition, as well as how fast you’re running.
Finding out your personal burn rate can be helpful in achieving your metabolic goals.
If you’re interested in losing weight, running 3 miles a day could help with this goal. In order to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. Calculating your burn rate and knowing how many calories you’re burning from running is a good start.
It’s also helpful to know your basal metabolic rate (BMR), or resting metabolic rate, which is how many calories your body burns at rest. This number varies based on your sex, height, weight, and activity level.
While this can be measured directly by measuring your oxygen use in a process called indirect calorimetry, it’s fairly easy to get an estimate by calculation (
Several websites can do the math for you.
Once you know your BMR, you can add your exercise calorie expenditure to see how many calories your body needs per day to maintain your current weight. If you want to lose weight, aim to consume less than this number.
For example, if you’re running 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 required per day.
If you calculate that you’re burning 300 calories a day by running 3 miles at a 10-minute mile, add 300 to your BMR calorie needs, and you’ll see you need 2,479 calories per day to maintain your current weight.
A slight decrease in calories consumed — say, 250 calories per day — should result in weight loss.
While some people are able to maintain a daily running habit, it’s important to listen to your body and be prepared to adjust as needed.
Running is a high impact, repetitive activity, and you may find that a rest day — or at the very least, a cross-training day — is necessary.
If you’re experiencing pain in the shins, knees, or hips, rest is warranted. Perhaps mix in a low or no impact activity such as swimming or Pilates to supplement your goals.
You might even stop in a local running store for a gait analysis, which can help improve your running form. Many running stores will do an analysis for free, although it’s nice to buy your next pair of shoes from them in exchange.
You may find that you just feel tired or heavy-legged after a few days. That’s a natural response. Do make sure you’re recovering well and stretching, especially the hips, thighs, and calves.
There will be days that you feel strong, and days that you feel like you’re pulling a cart full of bricks.
The mental toughness of finishing a hard slog feels good when the miles are behind you, and the satisfaction of completing a running streak is worth discomfort in the absence of pain or injury.
If you’re new to running, start small. The idea that you need to run the whole time is untrue and impractical. Mixing in walking intervals with your running is not only allowable, but smart if you’re not able to run 3 miles with good form.
Time your intervals as you build up. Start with 1 minute running, 1 minute walking, or a 1-to-1 interval. Build up to 2-to-1 or 3-to-1 intervals. Then, you can start whittling down the recovery interval by 30 seconds or even 15 seconds.
Before you know it, you will be running 3 miles straight, and you will likely have saved yourself some pain in the process.
Make sure you have a good warmup and cooldown. So many injuries happen because of neglecting these processes. Before you start, spend 5–7 minutes mobilizing and warming up your body with rhythmic movement and gentle dynamic stretching.
Deep stretching before a run can work against you, but exercises that mobilize the hips and activate the glutes, such as leg swings or side lunges, can prep your body for success.
The time for deeper, more static stretching is after the run. Ease into the muscle and allow the muscle to relax while you stretch your legs, hips, and calves.
Take it easy on yourself. No one run will make or break you, but developing a love for the activity can give you lasting benefits.
Running is easy to start, inexpensive to try, and a rewarding habit once established. Can you commit 30 days to develop a habit that your body may love for years to come? There’s only one way to find out.