Running, is it good or bad for you?

Running has traditionally been the number one exercise that people turn to when they want to lose weight...

School Of Personal Training Posted Jan 11, 2017 Future Fit Training

Or maybe jogging would be a better example, either way long low-intensity cardio that often involves being outside in the rain or long hours on the treadmill in a busy gym. In recent years however there has been a bit of a backlash against running, apparently the guy who brought jogging to the masses suffered a heart attack and that means that running is terrible (?). Other people have gone further and actually claim that running makes you fat!

So which is it?

An excellent way to lose weight? A terrible fat creating exercise? Or something in the middle? This article will hopefully clear this issue up once and for all.

Benefits of Running

There are many benefits to adding running into your life, there are the obvious benefits such as improved cardiovascular fitness, strengthened leg and core muscles and yes... weight loss. But there are also less obvious (though perhaps even more important) benefits.

For example improving your cardiovascular fitness can help strengthen your heart leading to a lower risk of heart attacks or strokes. Obviously they won't make you immune - as in the case of Jim Fixx the author of "The Complete Book of Running" who died from a heart attack. This was actually due to a genetic pre-disposition and stress rather than the fault of running though.

Another huge benefit to running is its contribution to weight loss, no matter what anyone tells you adding any activity that is going to burn 200-500 calories will lead to weight loss. It is for this reason that many bodybuilders, boxers, etc... add steady state cardio to their programme whilst trying to get as lean as possible.

The belief that running will make you fat is a complete fabrication. Are there more efficient ways to burn fat? Absolutely. Does that mean that running will leave you fatter than not running? No. Ninety nine times out of a hundred, the people who tell you that running makes you fat will be the same ones telling you that you should be leading a more active lifestyle.

What they really mean by active (even if they don't know it) is that you should increase your NEAT. This stands for Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis and it's basically all the calories you burn doing non-exercise things. Cleaning the house, washing the car, walking the dog are all activities that burn calories.

Walking in particular is seen as a great way to increase NEAT, so people are encouraged to walk 10,000 steps per day. A study in 2006 found that walking 10k steps per day led to weight loss in previously sedentary people [1].

So if walking is so beneficial, then why can't running also lead to weight loss? The answer is that of course it can. The only reason you would possibly gain weight is if 1) you slowed down your non-exercise activity as you were so tired from running (something that can happen with any exercise). Or 2) you ate more calories than you were previously, so much so that you put on weight (again something that could happen with any exercise).

Downsides of Running

There are two major disadvantages to starting running, the first one is that running has a very high injury rate. This is partly because it is a lot harder to run correctly than people think it is, particularly if you are training for say a marathon. There are an awful lot of people with terrible running technique, which in turn leads to a lot of injuries.

The other reason why more people get injured running, is that running is the traditional exercise taken up by people who haven't exercised before. This means that they are likely to hurt themselves, if more people took up weight lifting then perhaps weight lifting would be a bigger cause of injuries.

Another downside of running is that it can be a huge time commitment, more so than other exercises. If you decide to train for a marathon (as many runners end up doing) then you're looking at a complete overhaul of your lifestyle. With 4-5 hour runs on a Sunday and 3-4 shorter runs during the week.

Another downside of running - and the reason that many trainers erroneously believe that running makes you fat, is that it has been identified as a poor weight management strategy. A 2012 study by Rosenkilde et al compared 30 minutes of endurance exercise with 60 minutes of endurance exercise. What they found was that both amounts of exercise led to almost identical fat loss results [2].

This means that increasing the amount of running doesn't improve the amount of fat lost (which was not a lot). The reason for this could be that lots of running can lead to someone eating more food to compensate, or to lowering their NEAT levels.


If you enjoy running and want to improve your fitness levels and lose a bit of weight then please run! There are some downsides - as with any sport - but there are many more benefits. If you don't enjoy running but feel that you have to do it, then remember that there are many more options out there. Weight training, HIIT cardio, sports, even walking are all excellent alternatives and may suit you better than running.

There is too much fixation on running as a fat-loss measure by the general public, whilst there has been an overreaction in the fitness community. This has led to so-called experts vilifying a perfectly acceptable form of exercise.

If running is the tip of the iceberg and you want to turn your passion for exercise into a career, think about starting a Personal Training qualification



[1] Patrick L. Schneider, David R. Bassett Jr, Dixie L. Thompson, Nicolaas P. Pronk, and Kenneth M. Bielak (2006) Effects of a 10,000 Steps per Day Goal in Overweight Adults. American Journal of Health Promotion: November/December 2006, Vol. 21, No. 2, pp. 85-89

[2] Rosenkilde, M., Auerbach, P., Reichkendler, M., Ploug, T., Stallknecht, B., Sjӧdin, A. 2012. Body fat loss and compensatory mechanisms in response to different doses of aerobic exercise - a randomized controlled trial in overweight sedentary males. American Journal of Physiology 303(6): R571-9