Runners Are Leaner Than Other Athletes, According to Science

Kevin Gray
by Kevin Gray
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There are many reasons to run, and everyone has their motivation when hitting the treadmill or the jogging path. Some want to strengthen their heart or lose weight. Some want to relieve stress. Others just find running enjoyable. But regardless of why people choose to run, those who do enjoy certain benefits, including stronger bones and leaner bodies.

RUNNERS ARE LEANER

As part of the long-term National Runners’ Health Study, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory looked at the premise that different activities — when performed to the same total energy expenditure — should produce the same weight-control benefits. But it turns out, that is not the case. Across the board, runners tended to be lighter and leaner than people who prefer other exercises, including walking, cycling and swimming.

The study surveyed more than 33,000 runners and calculated how physical activity affected the body mass index (BMI) and body circumference of participants. Runners displayed significantly better marks than non-runners. While the research wasn’t conclusive as to why that was the case, it suggests running’s intensity may be the key.

RUNNING VERSUS WALKING

As part of the same long-term study, researchers also compared running to walking, parsing data from more than 15,000 walkers and 32,000 runners. They found both cohorts improved their BMI through exercise, but runners were thinner and maintained their weight and waistlines over the study’s six-year duration.

This makes sense. After all, running is a vigorous activity, and it burns about 2 1/2 times more calories per minute than walking. But in the Berkeley study, even when energy expenditure was matched by walking for a greater distance and duration, running still came out on top for managing weight.

KEEP RUNNING TO STAY LEAN

People naturally gain weight as they age, to the tune of about 1–2 pounds each year from their 20s through middle age. Those pounds can add up. So if you want to keep the weight at bay, don’t stop running. The national running study also found runners who maintained greater weekly mileage over the years tended to gain less weight as they aged. For instance, over a seven-year period, men who ran more than 30 miles per week gained roughly .6 pounds each year, while those who ran less than 15 miles per week gained 1.4 pounds annually. The figures were similar for women, at .75 pounds and 1.4 pounds.

“As these runners aged, the benefits of exercise were not in the changes they saw in their bodies, but how they didn’t change like the people around them,” said Paul T. Williams, the lead researcher in the National Runners’ Health Study.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Of course, it’s always easier to maintain weight than lose it, so he advises people to start running young.

“The time to think about exercise is before you think you need it,” said Williams. “The medical journals are full of reports on how difficult it is to regain the slenderness of youth. The trick is not to get fat.”

Whether you want to run your first mile or set a PR, having a plan gets you there faster. Go to the MapMyRun app, tap “Training Plans” — you’ll get a schedule and coaching tips to help you crush it.

About the Author

Kevin Gray
Kevin Gray

Kevin is a Dallas-based writer who spends the majority of his weekends on a bike. His less healthy pursuits can be found at Bevvy and Cocktail Enthusiast.

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