We have a running bet—no pun intended—within my running circle. We guess how much weight we’ll gain by the time a big race rolls around. Despite always declaring we’re each going to lose 10 pounds, and this time keep it off, we never do. After reading last week’s Personal Health column by Jane Brody of The New York Times, I have a better understanding of why that is.
Quoting a recent Duke University study published in an exercise journal, Brody notes that while running burns twice as many calories as walking, not all running is equal. Heavier runners burn more calories proportionately than lighter ones. Similarly, runners with poor running form tend to kill off more calories than those far more efficient. However, the unskilled can’t last as long, mile for mile.
“Furthermore, if you walk or run on a treadmill, the aid of the machine diminishes the number of calories your body uses by about 10 to 15 percent of what the machine says you are burning,” Brody writes. On the upside, it’s easier on your body because the machine’s more forgiving than hard surfaces like concrete and asphalt.
How much you eat also is an obvious factor, and this is where some runners run into trouble. We tend to richly reward our hunger after a hard workout, even after taking calorie-dense energy gels and drinks during that run. We also love our carbs, taking in more than we may need for fuel.
If you were to diet without exercise, you’d still lose weight, but you’d also lower your basic metabolic rate—which is determined largely by genetics. That makes it easier to put pounds back on. By contrast, adding running and other weight-bearing exercises to your daily regime boosts that rate.
Cross-training with conditioning activities such as cycling or swimming is needed to tone and strengthen the body, not necessarily add a lot to your overall caloric loss. These types of exercise help avoid injury from overuse and break the monotony if you’re in a rut.
Sure, you might not burn 100 calories in 10 minutes doing all those laps in the pool or gym, but you’ll look better in your clothes—both the ones you wear to work and the ones you wear to work out.