If you’re considering running as a way to slim down, you might be wondering – how many miles should I run to lose weight?
Well, I’ve got a short answer, and I’ve got a long answer.
The short answer is that if you’re looking to effectively lose weight, you should aim to run about 3 to 5 miles per day and a total of 15 to 25 miles per week. You should also be doing something to moderate the amount of food you consume throughout the day.
For a longer answer – and a an explanation of why I would make this recommendation – keep reading.
Weight Management – Balancing Calories In and Calories Out
Before we can answer the main question – how many miles should I run to lose weight – we have to briefly consider how weight gain and weight loss happens in the first place.
Over the long term, your weight is the difference between how much energy you consume (food) and how much energy you expend (exercise). If these amounts are roughly equal, your weight will be stable. If you consume more than you expend, you’ll gain weight. And if you expend more than you consume, you’ll lose weight.
As the saying goes, you can’t out run a bad diet. Running can help you expend energy, but you first have to get your food consumption under control. That’s not the main purpose of this post, but let’s assume that you’re monitoring your food intake and it is equal to or less than your regular daily energy expenditure – without including running.
At that point, every mile that you run will contribute – a little bit – to weight loss. For more on the specifics of how many calories you burn running, check out this article.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume that you’ll burn about 150 calories for every mile that you run and that 3,500 calories is equivalent to one pound of body fat.
What’s a Safe Amount of Weight Loss to Target?
So once we get our energy in balance and we’re running a calorie deficit – taking in less energy than we expend – how much should we be looking to “lose”?
While fasting can be effective and safe in the short term, over the long term you need to eat some amount of food to be healthy. And while it’s possible to run every day, you can’t run too much every day, or you’ll risk hurting yourself.
A good target, then, will allow you to eat enough to stay healthy and keep your running within a safe range.
Generally accepted medical advice is that you should target one or two pounds of weight loss per week. Targeting a greater amount of weight loss will likely force you to either eat too little or exercise too much.
So over the course of a week, you’ll want to burn about 3,500 to 7,000 calories.
So How Many Miles Should I Run to Budge the Scale?
This brings us back to where we started – how much should I run to lose weight?
Let’s start with a conservative estimate. If you have a moderate calorie deficit based on diet alone – 250 calories per day – you’d be burning 1,750 calories per week.
To lose one pound, you’d have to burn another 1,750 calories per week with running – which would be approximately 11 miles. This is close to the minimum amount of running that will be effective in helping you lose or maintain weight.
Now let’s consider a more aggressive example. Let’s assume that you’re still maintaining a moderate calorie deficit – 250 calories per day – through your diet.
To lose two pounds per week, you’d have to run about 35 miles per week. That’s quite a bit, but it’s still reasonable. People run that much, although you definitely have to work your way up to that. But let’s face it, that’s a lot of running – unless your goal is to become a better runner.
Finally, to emphasize the importance of diet, let’s say that you eat too much. You eat about 500 calories more per day than you burn. How many miles would you have to run per week to still be on track to lose one pound of body fat?
About 45 to 50. Trust me, that’s a lot of running. You’d be better off cutting back on some of the food.
So What’s the Final Verdict on Running for Weight Loss?
For most people, I’d suggest you target something in the middle – 15 to 25 miles per week. As long as your diet is under control, that will set you up to lose a moderate amount of weight over a long period of time. And once you lose it, you’ll be able to keep it off.
It’s also a reasonable amount of time. To run 15 to 25 miles per week, you’d only have to commit 30 to 45 minutes per day to running. Yes, it’s a commitment. But it’s not crazy, and I’m sure many people spend way more time in the gym and end up seeing less results.
For more on the topic of running and weight loss, see this article: Running for Weight Loss: Everything You Need to Know.
You may also want to check out this list of frequently asked questions about running and weight loss.
Has running for weight loss worked for you? How did you do it?
I’d love to hear your experience in the comments below.