If you're torn between hopping on the elliptical machine or taking a run, it may be time to flip a coin -- they both have the same weight-loss potential. However, what you eat is actually more important for shedding pounds than exercise. While physical activity will burn calories, tone muscles and provide cardio benefits, your hard work does not pluck fat directly from your body. If you're set on losing weight, the Mayo Clinic recommends a daily diet of 1,200 calories for women under 250 pounds.
Weight loss is all about calories, and these two exercises have similar burning power. Running at 5.2 mph and using the elliptical at a moderate level both melt about 670 calories per hour for a 155-pound person. For either activity, you have plenty of control over your burn -- simply raise the resistance level or pedal faster on your elliptical machine, or pick up the pace of your run.
A cross between a stepper and a ski machine, the elliptical provides the cardiovascular and calorie-incinerating benefits of running without the impact. Some models have moveable handles, allowing you to work upper-body muscles. One advantage of the elliptical is the ability to pedal backward to work different leg areas. During your workout, keep your back straight and shoulders back, and look ahead of you instead of down at the floor. If your model has hand rails, avoid leaning on them for support.
Efficient, free and easy to do just about anywhere, running is a natural fit if you love the outdoors and don't want to splurge on a gym membership or home equipment. As a high-impact activity, it also provides bone-building benefits that the elliptical does not. That impact also makes it especially important to invest in a quality pair of running shoes: Look for a flexible sole, arch support and cushioning. Warm up for five to 10 minutes before each run, and cool down afterward.
It takes 3,500 calories to lose a pound of fat -- pretty hard to achieve with cardio alone. Work strength training into your workout schedule three days a week to develop more muscle, which will raise your resting metabolic rate, since muscle uses more calories than fat tissue. Most importantly, weight loss requires changes in diet. Fill up on fewer calories with high-fiber, high-water foods such as spinach, kale, broccoli, strawberries, apples and other fresh fruits and veggies, along with whole-grain foods and lean proteins.
- MayoClinic.com: Fewer Calories, Healthy Food Best Weight-Loss Plan
- Harvard Health Publications: Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights
- American College of Sports Medicine: Selecting and Effectively Using an Elliptical Trainer or Stair Climber
- REI.com: Running Basics
- American College of Sports Medicine: Metabolism is Modifiable with the Right Lifestyle Changes
- George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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