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MSN Health & Fitness

November 2005, "Run Off 5 Pounds"

Three no-diet plans for getting a bit thinner, a lot healthier, and fit enough to run a marathon. by Jane Unger Hahn, Runner's World senior editor

Numbers don't lie. That clock hanging above the finish line tells you exactly how your race went. Just like the numbers on your bathroom scale tell you precisely where you stand in the battle of the bulge.

And no matter what those contrived weight-loss infomercials say, losing weight itself is strictly a numbers game. "It's all about calorie deficits," says Jana Klauer, M.D., a weight-loss expert in private practice and research fellow at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York. That is, burn more calories than you consume, and you will lose weight. More specifically, for every 3,500 calories you burn over and above what you take in, you'll lose 1 pound. All the diet gimmicks in the world won't get you around these hard numerical truths.

This is very good news for runners, because running is one of the most efficient ways to burn calories. For every mile you log, you burn about 100 calories. (If you weigh more than 150 pounds, you'll burn a bit more per mile, and if you weigh less, you'll burn slightly less.) Which means it probably takes you less than 10 minutes to run off 100 calories-a rate that leaves most other forms of exercise in the dust.

So if you've been wanting to lose a pound or 2, or even 5, look no further than your running routine. By making some incremental changes-adjusting the mileage here, boosting the intensity there-you can literally run off those extra pounds without changing anything in your diet.

Repeat: No dieting. You just need to keep your calorie intake the same. Which won't be difficult, because research shows that the fitter you become, the healthier your diet naturally becomes. So, as you hold steady with the calories coming in, the following three plans will increase your calorie-burn, creating the deficit you need to melt off the pounds.

And speaking of getting fitter, that's a done deal. Any one of our three weight-loss plans will automatically boost your fitness level. Plan 3 will get you so fit, you might as well run a marathon.

Remember: The fitter you are, the more calories you burn all day long, which leads to bigger calorie deficits and even more weight loss. Call it compound interest, exercise-style. Without a single day of dieting, you'll be transformed into a lean, mean, calorie-burning machine.

The Science Behind the Numbers

To boost your weekly calorie-burn strictly through running, you need to increase your mileage or in-crease your intensity.

Increase mileage. This one is pretty obvious, but it's also the most effective. The more miles you run, the more calories you burn. Mathematically speaking, the relationship between miles run and calories burned remains the same whether you're adding 1 mile (100 calories) to your running plan or 20 (2,000 calories).

Of course, unless you're now logging 200-mile weeks, we wouldn't advise an immediate 20-mile increase. To stay healthy and injury-free, stick to about a 10-percent-per-week increase. This mileage increase may seem small at first, but the extra calorie-burn will accumulate faster than you think.

Increase intensity. Though we've already said that every mile you run is worth about 100 calories, not all miles are created equal in terms of calorie-burn. That's because the pace you run and the terrain you cover can actually boost the number of calories you burn per mile.

"Running uses more calories than walking, so likewise, if you're running at your maximum speed, you're using more calories than when you're jogging," says Dr. Klauer. "This is because sustained high-aerobic activity creates added effort throughout the body."

Just as a faster pace increases your workload, running on an incline boosts the number of calories you burn per mile. This won't come as a surprise to anyone who's rejoiced when finally reaching the top of a hill.

There's actually an equation to compute the exact number of calories burned at varying inclines. But since you need a Ph.D. in mathematics to make sense of it, Dr. Klauer provided an easier method. "Generally, you can count on a 10-percent increase in calories burned for each degree of incline," says Dr. Klauer. "So, running at a 5-percent incline will burn 50 percent more calories than running on a flat surface, and running on a 10-percent incline actually doubles your calorie-burn."

Hills are sounding a little bit better now, aren't they?

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