If it’s been a while since you laced up your running shoes -- or any workout shoes at all -- you're not alone. Only two in 10 Americans say they exercise regularly, which is one reason the U.S. has so many weight-related health problems. By taking up running, though, you can fight back against the obesity epidemic by burning calories and shedding pounds. When combined with a reduced-calorie diet, running can help you lose weight, strengthen your body, reduce your risk of disease and allow for a more energetic and full life.
Determine the number of calories you need to burn per day through diet and running by using the Harris Benedict BMR formula: 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years). Multiply that number by 1.2 or 1.3 if you are sedentary or lightly active during the day -- 1.3 or 1.4 if you are moderately or highly active. Once you have that total, you will know the number of calories you need to maintain your current weight. To lose one pound per week, you will need to create a 500-calorie deficit per day through diet and exercise.
Establish your running schedule. If it’s been more than six months since you’ve worked out regularly, ease into a routine by running four days per week and resting three. Use your first week to evaluate your fitness level and learn how much running you can handle. Plan to exercise for 30 minutes during each session doing a combination of running and walking.
Determine your nutrition plan. Considering your calorie total with the daily 500 deficit, determine how many calories you can eat per day based on how much you work out. For example, a 155-pound person burns 298 calories in 30 minutes of running at a 12-minute-per-mile pace. If you complete four of those workouts per week, you will burn slightly less than 1,200 calories through exercise, leaving you with only 2,300 to cut per week through diet, or approximately 330 per day. Factor in your weight and running pace to determine your own total and then create a meal plan that divides your calories into three meals and one or two snacks per day.
Run your first mile. In your first week, set a goal to run one mile without walking during your 30-minute session. Once you can run your first mile, focus on completing two and increase the mileage as you get stronger. Build your endurance each workout by increasing the length of time you run and decreasing the time you walk.
Run without stopping. Once you can complete one or more miles without stopping, focus on eliminating any remaining walk breaks from your 30-minute sessions. Outside of warming up and cooling down, run the entire duration of your workout, instead of walking, simply reduce your speed if you get tired. Do this for a week or 10 days to allow your body to adjust to the workout before moving on to the next step.
Start increasing your pace and distance. At this point, you can either start running longer, more often or faster -- or doing a combination of all three. As you get stronger, push yourself to run faster for minutes or miles at a time until your natural pace lowers, or add extra time to your workouts that allow you to go farther. If your schedule allows, start running five days per week instead of four. Set new goals for mileage and pace and continue pushing yourself with at least one new challenge each week.
- To help prevent scheduling conflicts -- and excuses -- plan your workouts at the beginning of each week, listing the time and days you will run. Treat them like appointments and mark yourself as busy during that time.
- Doing too much too soon can lead to both physical and psychological problems. If you overwork your body before it has time to adjust, you run a higher risk of getting injured and setting yourself back in your goals. Trying to do more than you can handle and setting unreasonable goals can also lead to discouragement and the temptation to give up altogether. To avoid physical or mental setbacks, listen to your body and give it time to work up to the challenge. Also, consult with your physician before starting any workout or diet program to better ensure your health and safety.
After graduating from the University of Kansas with a bachelor's degree in sports information, Jill Lee served for 10 years as a magazine editor for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Also a published author, Lee now works as a professional writer and editor focusing on fitness, sports and careers.