Sure, walking has its benefits, but research shows that running kicks its butt when it comes to shedding pounds. One recent study of 47,000 runners and walkers, from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., found that the runners burned more calories and had a far greater decrease in BMI over a six-year period. The joggers who started out heaviest (those with a BMI over 28) lost up to 90 percent more weight than the walkers did.
Dropping pounds and toning up are hardly the only benefits of this killer cardio workout: You'll also reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes, boost your mood, temper stress and build muscle, especially in the lower body and core. You don't even need to dedicate a lot of time to reap these rewards; do 20 to 30 minutes, three to four days a week, and you'll see significant improvement.
Ready to hit the road? Here's a plan for beginning joggers. And it's smart to add in one day of cross-training (think cycling or swimming) to rev up calorie burn and help prevent injury. Soon enough, you'll feel as if you were born to run.
Your stats: You're new to running and generally don't work out consistently.
The goal: By the end of 10 weeks, be able to run for 30 minutes straightand build up to a 5K challenge.
Your coach: Susan Paul is an exercise physiologist and training program director at Orlando Track Shack Fitness Club in Orlando, Florida.
The plan: Very flexible, it involves a combination of run/walk intervals three days a week. Start with three minutes of running and one minute of walking for a total workout of 12 minutes. As you get fitter, increase the running by one or two minutes, and decrease the walking. By Week 8, you should be running without any walking. Your ideal pace? One where you can carry on a conversation, but still feel like you're doing a brisk walk.
HERE'S YOUR GUIDE: Beginner 5K Training Plan
1. Start off on the right foot
Making a small investment in gear now will save you loads of aggravation lateryou'll feel more comfortable and avoid aches. "A good pair of running shoes can help ward off injuries like knee pain," says Paul. Get a gait analysis at your local running store (it's usually free) to help determine your ideal shoe type.
2. Stop side stitches
Beginners are often plagued by this cramp, which strikes like a boxer's body blow and happens when an overworked diaphragm begins to spasm. To ease the pain, slow down and forcefully exhale each time your opposite foot strikes (so if the stitch is on your right side, breathe out when your left foot comes down). It also helps to massage the area with two fingers. And don't eat too much before you head out; a full stomach can be a culprit.
3. Think tortoise, not hare
"The biggest mistake most new runners make is they start out way too fast," says Paul. "It takes time for your body to get used to the demands of running. You have to condition your muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones, not just your heart and lungs." No matter how tempted you are to push yourself, don't. Slow and steady wins the calorie-burn race!
MORE: 7 Tips for Running Your First Race