Is running better than walking for weight loss?
If you’re trying to lose weight, then you’re most likely familiar with the eat less and move more concept. That’s just conventional wisdom.
Every knows that if you want to lose weight, you just have to eat less and move more.
It’s also commonly known as the ‘calories in vs calories out’ method of weight loss. Calories in is eat less while calories out is move more.
In this video, I’m going to talk specifically about the ‘move more’ part which is exercise. I’m also going to settle the debate, is running better than walking for weight loss?
Is Running Better Than Walking? (The Theory)
Nowadays, everyone including their dog is wearing a fitness tracker and they’re counting how many calories they’ve burned.
Because it’s all about the calories. And one of the most popular ways of counting calories during your workout is doing cardio.
And by far the most popular way of doing cardio is running. Because all you need is to lace up a pair of runners and you’re good to go.
A lot of well meaning weight loss enthusiasts incorporate running into their daily routine. If you’re really devoted, you’ll do it for long distances and multiple hours during the week.
I don’t really blame a lot of people for doing this. They have the right intention by following conventional wisdom. Because running burns way more calories than walking. Is running better than walking then?
Common sense suggests that when you’re running, it feels good to go at an intensity where you’re breathing hard and you’re sweating.
So you go hard and long during your run. It feels even better to see that you burned ‘X’ amount of calories on your fitness tracker.
Don’t forget the endorphin high that you get after your long and hard cardio session, also called the runners high.
And this all sounds great. So if you burn an extra 1,000 calories every day on your Fitbit.
And then you’re eating less, you only eat like 1200 calories every day. You do a little math and you’re supposed to lose 2 lbs a week in theory. You then extrapolate that data and you’re supposed to lose 8 lbs in a month.
You’re finally going lose all the weight. You’re gonna have your summer body, we’re all waking around with a flat stomach, and we all lived happily ever after.
And this is what a lot of trainers, nutritionist, “influencers”, a lot of so called “experts”, and even your doctor. You know, your kind of overweight doctor? This is what they tell you to do.
So it’s supposed to work, right? The problem is, it hasn’t really worked. It’s more of a pipe dream.
Is Running Better Than Walking? (Reality)
Now, let’s look at reality.
A typical endurance runner who spends 10-20 hours of running still carries an extra 10-20 pounds of body fat. But that’s a high level endurance runner.
What about the average person? One disturbing study revealed that 30% of the participants in the Cape Town South Africa marathon were classified as overweight or obese. That’s about the same obesity percentage of the world’s population in general.
Meaning the physical appearance of the participants in a 42 km marathon is indistinguishable from that of the spectators?
Something’s wrong with that picture. It doesn’t add up.
Calories burned during your 5k run should translate into pounds off the scale. Right? Wrong.
Here’s the ugly truth about running. Falling into chronic cardio patterns where you’re going for your daily 30 minute, 5k or 10k run every day is one of the biggest reasons why you’re not losing weight.
I’ll give you a second to digest that.
Because the truth is, chronic cardio doesn’t help you lose body fat. And if you’ve been struggling to lose weight even though you’ve put in countless hours on the treadmill, you already know that to be true.
For this to make sense, you need to know a little bit about exercise physiology.
Fat, which is what we’re trying to get rid of, burns well in the presence of oxygen. That only happens when you’re in the aerobic zone. Aerobic literally means with oxygen.
But as your exercise intensity increases, when you start running, your body’s preferred fuel choice shifts from burning fat at lower intensity, and I’m going to show you where that threshold is, to an ever increasing percentage of glucose.
Because it’s quicker and easier to burn when oxygen is lacking because of your fast pace. You know, when you’re huffing and puffing when you’re running because you wanna burn all those calories?
And when you burn glucose during your workout, you’re also teaching your body to burn sugar at rest, even after your workout. Your body adapts to whatever fuel source is always available.
And when you go for your daily run, you’re teaching your body to prefer to burn glucose for energy. Not fat.
This is why you’re always craving something starchy and sugary after your long hard run. Are you with me so far?
The other thing that you also have to consider is exercise is a type of stress. And doing chronic cardio means you’re stressing your body every day. I’m getting stressed just thinking about it.
And when we experience a stressful event, whether it’s exercise or you’re about to give an important presentation at work, or you’re stressed because someone just cut you off and you’re road raging, the fight or flight response gets triggered in our body.
Our blood stream gets flooded with hormones and neurotransmitters like cortisol which is your stress hormone, dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine and norepinephrine, and the functioning of all our senses get heightened.
We’ve all experienced this. This is your so called adrenaline rush.
And it’s part of our hardwired evolution when we were faced with flight or flight responses back in the Paleolithic times. Think being chased by a sabre tooth tiger.
Your body gives you the necessary energy from that adrenaline rush to either fight or flight. That’s literally where that term came from.
Short term stress isn’t a bad thing. The problem starts when it becomes chronic.
This is where we circle back to your chronic cardio patterns. You’re doing workouts like running, that are too long, too hard, that’s above your maximum aerobic heart rate, and too frequently, with insufficient rest.
So if you do that every day, 7 days a week, sometimes you go twice a day, the stress from exercise becomes chronic.
Chronic stress levels leads to chronically high cortisol levels. Chronically high cortisol levels leads to chronically high insulin levels.
If you’ve been following my YouTube channel you’ll know important insulin is when it comes to controlling your body weight.
Because chronically high insulin levels leads to insulin resistance. Which then leads to systemic inflammation and opens up pandora’s box to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Also known as metabolic syndrome.
The other thing is that cortisol has a really big effect on weight gain specifically around your belly.
So if you’re a runner and you’re not losing weight. Or worse, you find that you’re starting to look like a pear. You’re starting to gain weight specifically around your belly. You now have the infamous spare tire. This is why.
Simply put, calories burned during exercise minimally contributes to your fat loss goals. And there are tons of studies that have now validated this.
Because exercise also stimulates a corresponding increase in your appetite. So you eat more calories when you burn more calories.
Again, this is why you’re always cravings something sugary and starchy after a hard workout.
This is also where a lot of people justify bad eating behaviour because they’ll say that they’ll just burn it off. And again, this creates a vicious cycle where people think that it’s just about the calories. It’s not.
It also promotes general laziness throughout the day because you think that you’ve already fulfilled your physical activity quota during the day.
Over the long run, pun intended, chronic cardio increases systemic inflammation in the body leading to elevated disease risk, increased oxidative damage, and accelerated aging.
All because you’re doing workouts that are a little bit too hard, a little bit too long, and too frequently.
This also applies with group fitness classes like spin or CrossFit where every workout is like a near death experience every day. It locks you in a sugar burning, fat storing metabolic state.
But don’t worry. It’s not all doom and gloom.
You just need to adjust the intensity of your cardio workouts. You need to slow it down. Like, way down.
Is Running Better Than Walking? (The Truth)
Instead of running, you should go for a walk instead.
I’m going to give all the credit to Mark Sisson for this. He’s the author of the Primal Blueprint. It blew my socks off when I first came across this information.
Walking keeps your heart rate below your maximum aerobic heart rate. Why is that important?
Your maximum aerobic heart rate is the point where you reap maximum aerobic benefits, that’s maximum fat burning, with a minimum amount of anaerobic stimulation.
If you’re trying to lose body fat, that’s exactly what you want.
If you go past this threshold, you start burning an increasing amount of glucose instead of fat. And you stimulate more stress hormone production because it’s hard. And I just spent the first half of this blog post explaining why that’s a bad thing.
If you want to know exactly where that threshold is, you can use Dr Phil Maffetone’s formula of 180 minus your age in BPM. You then want to stay below that when you do your cardio workouts
For example, I’m 33 years old. If I take 180 minus 33, I get 147 BPM as my maximum aerobic heart rate.
When you figure out your personal maximum aerobic heart rate, you’re going to see that these workouts, with your maximum aerobic heart rate in mind, are comfortable and energizing.
When you go for a walk, you always feel good, right?
These comfortably paced cardio workouts up regulate your fat burning metabolism. Because again, you’re mostly using fatty acids for fuel. It also improves your ability to burn fat at rest.
Other benefits include improved cardiovascular function, which means your heart can pump more blood.
You also get improved mitochondrial density, it strengthens your bones, joints and connective tissues, it builds a stronger immune system, you get increased energy because you’re actually finishing these workouts feeling good and refreshed, rather than a near death experience every time.
So instead of measuring your calories burned on your fitness tracker, measure your heart rate instead.
The nose breathing test also works here if you don’t have a fitness tracker. Which means you can easily breath through your nose and talk without running out of breath. Again, walking almost guarantees that you’re going to stay below your maximum aerobic heart rate.
Now, I’m not saying you should never run. Once or twice a week? Totally fine.
You have to remember that this is how we evolved as human beings. Our ancestors regularly walked 5 miles every day. They would occasionally sprint, so a short burst of running at maximum effort when they’re hunting, or when they’re being chased by a sabre tooth tiger.
They also climbed trees and built shelters which means moving big pieces of wood and heavy rocks. And they were all naturally lean and strong.
So it’s also good to sprinkle in some resistance training to build lean muscle. They did not do 5k or 10k runs every day. I can almost guarantee you that.
We evolved to move. Otherwise you’d be a tree. We did not evolve to run for hours every day and fall into chronic exercise patterns.
That’s another point that I want to bring up and it’s just as important. Your goal is to avoid prolonged periods where you’re completely sedentary.
So sprinkle multiple walks throughout the day. If you’re new to this, your goal is to just go for a 10 minute walk every day. Then evolve that to twice a day.
Personally, I go for a minimum of three, 20 minute walks every day. I feel like a domesticated dog when I say that.
A good goal to aim for if you have a fitness tracker is to get in 10,000 steps every day.
That’s another thing to keep in mind as well is that for overweight people, they think that it’s hopeless because it’s hard for them to run. When in reality, it’s better for you to walk.
And it’s really hard to overdo it as long as you’re not power walking. Because that might put you past your maximum aerobic heart rate especially if you don’t have a fitness tracker.
Bonus points if you have access to a park, a trail, or a body of water like a river or the ocean. You should do your walks there.
Because time spent in nature is really good for your mental health. It helps with reducing stress, anxiety, and depression.
So lace up your runners and get out there. But instead of running, slow it down, and go for a walk instead. So is running better than walking? Not if you want to be a healthy and happy human being.
As always, if this was helpful, share it with a friend who could benefit from it as well!
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