Does running really work?
- Health & Wellbeing
As a society we have all been brainwashed when it comes to weight loss into believing it’s just a matter of calories in versus calories out - and that cardio (such as running) burns fat. Well, as a personal trainer, I'm sorry to say that it isn't so!
If you’ve been advised lately not to run as you have sore knees, hips or a sore back, don’t despair as this could be one of the best things that’s happened to you as far as building and maintaining a strong and youthful body.
It always amazes me how when most people think about losing weight or getting fit they think about cardio alone - and running seems to be the most popular choice! However, there are a much more effective ways to get your body into great shape.
Long distance running can take a toll on joints
Running (long distances especially) is actually bad for your joints as it puts a lot of extra pressure on your knees, considering the weight translated to your knees during running can actually be three to four times your own body weight!
So if you're overweight this could be a disaster for your joints. When we’re walking, our bodyweight is carried by both legs, but as soon as we start jogging this changes, with all the force being applied to one leg and puts pressure on just one knee at a time.
Have you ever heard of a ‘stride fault’? A stride fault occurs when your knees, ankles and hips could be slightly out of alignment. If your knee or foot turns slightly in (or out) so with every step you're adding more pressure to one side of your ankle or knee - which is transferred to your hips, back and through your kinetic chain.
Do you remember that song ‘Dem Bones’? “Your anklebone is connected to your knee bone, your knee bone is connected to thigh bone, the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone...” etc.
Well this is true and if you're just a tiny bit out of alignment when running (as your foot will hit the ground hundreds of times) you could be causing problems in many areas. It’s almost impossible to notice if your posture is off unless you are running alongside a full-length mirror to check that your ankles, knees, hips are perfectly aligned, thus reducing any long-term injuries.
Of course, I know some people really enjoy running, so I don’t want to be negative about the whole experience.
Interval training might be a better option
Perhaps it’s worth adding a shorter run for a minute or so in the form of interval training, as the best way to go (providing you're injury free of course).
This means walking for two minutes, then a little sprint for a minute, returning to a brisk walk and repeating for about 20 minutes. This is known as ‘interval training’ and is a great way to lose weight as your body can’t adapt as it does with running longer distances.
Interval training also improves your insulin sensitivity as poor insulin sensitivity is associated with premature ageing - and we don’t want that!
I would always suggest a brisk walk for weight loss and fat burning over jogging long distances any day. Jogging long distances also burns muscle, which we need to maintain.
Consider weight training
If you're really serious about losing weight, adding strength and shape to your body plus boosting your metabolism, consider adding weight training to your exercise regime.
Weight training is a great way to boost your metabolism
When you develop muscle (lean body tissue) you’ll expend kilojoules after you’ve finished training because lean body tissue (muscle) is metabolically active and burns kilojoules for many hours after training.
However, if you have a desk job or sit around for most of the day, your metabolic rate will be slow. Weight training will help expand the hours that your body burns calories - and some walking would be great too. Even getting up from your chair and doing some squats while waiting for the kettle to boil could add a few hundred repetitions weekly. Incidental exercise such as taking the stairs where possible should also never be overlooked.
On the other hand, running stops burning kilojoules the moment you finish your run, and too much running will burn precious muscle. Muscle gives us a lovely shape plus supports our frame (including our spine). With weight training you are strengthening every part of your body, from your core, back, chest, legs, shoulders and arms.
I have noticed many runners who pass me while I’m on my walks and their upper body is very soft - often their triceps are wobbling as they’re running. After all how would running alone strengthen your chest, back and arms? It doesn’t!
Ask yourself what you would like to achieve with your exercise. Do you want a lean, strong and balanced body? If you answered yes - then weight training is for you.
If you do want to keep running because it’s familiar and what you are comfortable with, you could consider some form of interval training plus weights as a better balance.
I can’t stress enough how adding muscle will benefit you in turning back the clock with your body. Muscle increases our HGH (human growth hormone), which your body naturally produces in the pituitary gland - it’s responsible for cell growth and regeneration.
By increasing muscle mass you're also increasing your resting metabolic rate, which helps maintain your weight and is a huge factor in slowing down the ageing process. On the ageing side of things, too much cardio can make your body produce free radicals plus increase your cortisol levels, which is ageing too.
So, is weight training boring?
I point out that runners only put one foot in front of the other as their only movement- yet in weight training we have many exercises to choose from strengthening and building our whole body from head to foot! What else do you need to know?
What’s your favourite form of exercise?
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About the expert
Lesley redefines what it means to be fifty and fabulous. A mother of three, Melbourne-based Lesley has more than 20 body sculpting titles to her name and represented Australia in New York where she won the prestigious Miss USA Figure Championship. Author of Get the Body You Want and motivational speaker, Lesley has been featured on A Current Affair, the Today Show, Guide to the Good Lift, the Herald Sun and in ultraFITNESS magazine. She is a regular contributor to Oxygen magazine Australia, an Oxygen Covergirl and Ambassador. Visit Lesley at ouifitness.com.au.