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 intermediate runners. 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 a "sometimes" runner who does at least three miles without stopping a couple of days a week, most weeks.
The goal: Increase your endurance, run for an hour straight and tackle a 10K by the end of 10 weeks.
Your coach: Jonathan Cane is an exercise physiologist and co-founder of City Coach Multisport in New York City.
The plan: Do three different running workouts every week, on alternate days. In the first run, build speed through intervals; start with a two-minute speed burst at a challenging but sustainable pace, followed by three minutes of easier recovery jogging. Repeat six times for a total of 30 minutes. As the weeks pass, alternate between building up the speed bursts and balancing out the recovery time. For your second weekly workout, which focuses on mixing speed and endurance, begin with running for a couple of miles and build up to 4 ½ miles over the course of the plan. The third day helps you build endurance. Focus on covering the distance, not your pace. Kick off with a 2 ½-mile run. Over 10 weeks, try to work up to running 5 ½ miles.
HERE'S YOUR GUIDE: Intermediate 10K Training Plan
1. Make three the magic number
If you're used to running twice a week, says Cane, "three times is your sweet spotyou'll get a big bump in both speed and endurance, but it's not so much more that you'll risk getting injured." And if weight loss is a goal, remember that adding just one extra day of running helps you burn an additional 300 to 400 calories, depending on your pace and size.
2. It's OK to hit the treadmill
Some running purists say there's no substitute for the outdoors, but all things being equal, "your heart and lungs don't really know the difference between the road and the treadmill," says Cane. So if it's late in the day, raining or just not a good time to go outside but you really want to keep up your training, feel free to hit the "on" button. To compensate for a lack of wind resistance and natural terrain changes, keep the treadmill deck set at a 1% incline.
3. Turn down the music
Yes, pumping JT through your earbuds can power you up that hill, but don't forget to tune in to how your body feels. "At this stage, you know you can already run for a while," says Cane. "But it's important to be aware of cues: how heavy you are breathing, or if you have a small twinge in your knee and need to slow down. It helps keep you from getting injured and makes you more aware of when you can bump up your pace or give a little more effort."
MORE: 7 Tips for Running Your First Race