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Running is the most efficient exercise for weight loss. Now, I know some people will argue the point, but let’s remember that at its core weight loss is a math equation:

Calories In – Calories Out = Calories Gained or Lost

It takes roughly 3,500 calories to lose one pound. This is where running becomes so efficient for weight loss. Compared to other forms of exercise, you get a big bang for your buck from running. Don’t believe me? Here are some common forms of exercise and their calorie expenditure for 30 minutes according to a Harvard study1.

Activity 125-pound person 155-pound person
Weight Lifting 90 Calories 112
Yoga 120 149
Stair Stepper 180 223
Cycle 210 260
Rowing 210 260
Aerobics Class 210 260
Elliptical 270 335
Running (9 min mile) 330 409

(Source: Harvard Medical School

You can see that running burns more calories than other activities – and more calories burned per minute means less total minutes needed to get to your weight loss goal!

Some of you may want to get specific, so to save you time on math let’s say you are eating 1,500 calories per day and that you can exercise for 30 minutes four times per week. Your goal is to lose 15 pounds and you currently weight 155 pounds. If you are a female your base metabolism is likely around 1,500 calories based on these measurements.

So during one week you are eating 10,500 calories and burning 10,500 doing your normal daily living.  If you choose to run four days per week you will burn an extra 1,600 calories which would equate to losing a half-pound in the week.

If you wanted to lose closer to 1 – 2 pounds per week, you could add an additional 30 to 60 minutes of running. Now, this may not sound like a fast weight loss plan – but losing a half-pound to two pounds per week is actually an ideal weight loss rate that can not only help you reach your goal weight but keep you there.

So why is running burning more calories you may ask? It is a full-body exercise, increases your heart rate consistently throughout the workout, and doesn’t rely on any mechanical advantages (such as a bike or other machine) so all the work is on you.

Another important note. In the case of the chart from Harvard, they compared treadmill running calorie expenditure. If you are able to get outside to run you will burn even more calories as the treadmill does supply some forward motion for your run (again a mechanical advantage).

So this is my exercise physiology nerd way of saying – if you want to lose weight, get outside for a run today!


1 https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/calories-burned-in-30-minutes-of-leisure-and-routine-activities

Christy Colgan

About Christy Colgan

Christy is the Health & Wellness manager at BCBSNC. She is passionate about health, fitness, and especially running. She has a B.S. in Exercise Physiology and has coached people to run their first 5K to Marathon, completing the Boston Marathon herself in 2013. A Raleigh, NC native, she loves to spend free time exploring her home state with her family.