Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Running and Weight Control

There is no better exercise to lose weight than running. It is the king of weight reduction activities. In part I think it’s because carrying excess weight and running are antithetical to each other: every extra pound you carry means four more pounds of impact on your knees and joints each and every stride you take. The runner in the picture is Alan Culpepper, currently the No.1 ranked U.S. marathoner, and he looks that way because he doesn’t carry any surplus fat. If he carried a single kilo extra he’d immediately notice the difference in his running. The good thing is you don’t need to run a marathon to lose weight; in fact, you don’t need to run at all. True! It’s very simple: to burn calories you just need to move your body over a distance using your own efforts. Doing so consumes energy which the body obtains by converting carbohydrates into calories. If not enough carbohydrates are readily available the body will go to its reserves and burn some fat. Yet most people don’t know walking a 10k will burn the same amount of calories as running it. Walking’s problem is the time factor. If you jog 10k in an hour it will probably take close to three hours to do it walking. In today’s world finding the time for an hour of exercise is hard enough, finding three hours is simply impossible. There’s another big advantage to running; running works the body and the body responds by building more muscle, strengthening bones, and improving its aerobic capacity. It makes you better, healthier. If you can’t run quite yet all is not lost – you can get some of the extra benefits of running by walking ‘briskly’ at a pace faster than normal walking pace. Eventually your ‘brisk’ walking pace will morph into fartleks (alternate walking, jogging, and running) until you naturally end up running the entire way (running being the most efficient way of moving quickly your body will want to run).

In a quick perusal of the internet it seems the standard recommendation is to aim for forty to fifty klicks a week. That’s quite a bit of running. If you run an average of 10k every time out it means running four or five times a week and, at least for me, that’s more than just fitness. Besides, running that much means you can’t do valuable cross-training in other areas. I even see articles which point out our bodies will start to burn stored fat after running more than ninety minutes, though it’s hard to see how that particular fact is applicable to people looking to lose weight. Trust me here, if you can schedule a 1½ to 2 hour run you don’t have a weight problem! Every kilometer run means about 60 calories burned (100 calories/mile). With around 3,500 calories in a pound of fat it’ll take sixty klicks running to burn away one of them away. If you ran a more reasonable thirty klicks a week you’d lose about a kilo a month, or over twenty pounds a year. For most people this amount of weight loss would make for a great year. Also don’t forget the other half of the equation is diet, which is another complete topic on its own. But for now consider just excluding soda pop, potato chips/fries, and candy bars from your diet. At roughly 150 calories each serving the average American consumes over 1,000 calories weekly from these three ‘foods’ or another pound of fat a month. That’s well over thirty pounds a year from some running and cutting out junk food. A final note for everyone to remember to walk. Walk instead of drive to the convenience store, take the stairs over the elevator, go for a walk around the block before going to bed; the extra kilometer or two each time will add up over a month to some real calorie consumption. It’ll save some gas too!

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