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 experienced 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 run three to four times a week for at least five miles nonstop.
The goal: Boost your overall performancespeed, endurance and distanceover the course of 12 weeks, then challenge yourself with a half-marathon.
Your coach: Andrew Kastor is coaching director at Asics L.A. Marathon and head coach at Mammoth Track Club in Mammoth, California.
The plan: In Week 1, run three to four miles at an easy pace (think 5 on a scale of 1 to 10) on your first day; four to five miles on Days 2 and 3; and five to six on Day 4. In subsequent weeks, keep doing one easy-pace day, and vary half-mile-long to mile-long speed intervals. The detailed schedule also tells you how to add in race-pace workouts, so you can hold your speed for longer distances.
HERE'S YOUR GUIDE: Expert Half-Marathon Training Plan
1. Buddy up
Face it, sometimes you just don't feel like going for a run, especially when you've been seriously challenging yourself. Having someone by your side is a great way to make the miles more tolerable and maintain your performance. "When you train with a group or pack, you almost always run a little harder or faster," says Kastor. Grab a friend or find a new jogging pal at buddyup.com or the Road Runners Club of America (rrca.org). Choose partners who are a bit better than you; you want a challenge but don't want to get burned out or injured.
2. Take the plunge
Kastor, who works with many elite runners (including Olympian Deena Kastor, his wife), recommends a cold bath right after a hard workout. "It helps reduce inflammation by constricting the blood vessels, so there's less blood pooling through the muscle tissue, and you're not as sore the next day," he explains. Massage can speed recovery, too: Give yourself a five-minute rubdown using a foam roller; roll slowly up and down your legs, butt, shoulders and back. You can also alleviate soreness by gently pressing into the area with your fingers.
3. Write down your goal
You're amping up your workoutspump up your motivation, too! Jot your goal time for the half-marathon or just 13.1 on a sticky note, and post it onto your mirror. As Kastor puts it: "Seeing that number will remind you to make the best choices for your body."
MORE: 7 Tips for Running Your First Race