Taking up running will change your life. I mean it. Running isn’t just a way of exercising, it’s joining a community (and not in a scary religious cult type of way).
Yet the questions most would-be runners ask are “How running changes your body?” and “What does running do for your body?” Most of it’s good. Really good.
- Running boosts your cardio, helps reduce stress, improves mental health, and lets you sleep well at night.
- Taking up running is good for your fitness and can help reduce body weight.
- Expect to lose body fat, improve your body shape and increase your muscle mass.
Some people even think we evolved to run. If you’re body-obsessed, or just trying to get in shape, I’m sure you’ll want a few more details such as will my butt look good, is running the best way to get fit, and is there a typical runner’s body?
You Will Lose Body Fat
When people want to know what does running do to your body, often what they have in mind is losing weight. It’s simple really, weight change is about the balance between calories in versus calories out, and running is a great way to burn calories.
In my view, it’s the BEST! You burn nearly double the number of calories compared with walking. Each mile you run burns around 100 calories. There’s no expensive gym membership, most people can run right from their door and all you really need is a good pair of running shoes. Develop a regular running habit and you will lose weight.
✅Find out everything you need to know about the best running shoes for overweight runners to avoid running-related injuries such as knee pain.
Running makes you hungry!
There are a few caveats. Running makes you hungry. Did I say hungry? I meant starving! Forget to refuel after a run and the only thing on your mind will be, “I need to eat NOW”. (Beware of HANGRY runners – they need feeding!)
If your aim is weight loss, this can be a bit tricky. You don’t want to replace all the calories you’ve just burnt by reaching for a big sugary donut! It might be tempting but you’re going to regret it!
Fill up on healthy food
Make sure the food you’re eating fits with your weight loss plans. I find filling up on whole-grain carbohydrates, and lean proteins such as beans, and lentils with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables work best. Get a healthy snack lined up and ready to eat just after your run.
If you’re running to lose weight, don’t aim for perfection overnight. Get used to running first. When you’re two to three weeks in and running is becoming a habit, then it’s time to give your diet an overhaul – one small step at a time. Forget seeking a halo – it’s best not to change everything all in one go.
Age, metabolism, and conditions such as hypothyroidism, can all make losing weight difficult. Yet we’re a society that eats too much and moves too little – and for most people, a running lifestyle will help. If you’re struggling to shift the pounds through running, strength-building exercises and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) will boost your metabolism AND do wonders for your speed. Just don’t do too much too soon if you’re a running newbie.
Your Thighs Will Become Toned
Always wanted to get rid of fat at the top of your inner thighs? Running is the answer. It’s hard to think of any regular runners who don’t have toned thighs.
Going for a long run gives your legs a terrific workout. Run on a regular basis and your thigh fat will be history.
Your Boobs Will Shrink
This is a downside. To be fair, it’s a downside to losing weight full stop. Most women, (and men), will lose weight off their chest when they take up running.
You can still have an attractive cleavage. Just make sure you wear a sports bra even if your breasts are small. No one wants saggy boobs!
It’s not a question of looks. Sports bras are essential for female runners to protect the Cooper’s ligaments that support the breasts from stretching. Run without a sports bra and it hurts – big time.
You’ll Develop Envious Calf Muscles
Best chat-up line ever? Walking around a bookstore in Sydney I was asked “How did you get such great calf muscles? You must be a runner!”
Now my calf muscles have been admired by many, but using it as a chat-up line was a first!
Running will build your calf muscles giving you shapely legs.
There is a downside. You will no longer be able to fit into skinny jeans, skinny boots, or anything that requires stick-thin skinny legs. Will it bother you? I doubt it. You’ll be too busy running…
Your Arms Will Shrink
This is another downside of losing weight. If you’re running intensely, the muscles you’re not using will slim down. That means no more arm muscles.
There is a way to prevent weedy arms and improve your upper body. Combine running with yoga, weight training, or any other weight-bearing exercise that gives your arms a good workout.
You Will Have The Best Butt Ever
Running doesn’t just tone your legs, it tones everything below the waist. Think stomach muscles of steel and a butt to die for.
When you run you’re really working your gluteal muscles. That means an envious butt without having to hit the gym.
You’ll Sleep Better
One of the mental health benefits of running is improved sleep. Physical exercise increases the amount of time in deep sleep and can help with insomnia. The only proviso is to avoid intense activity in the hours before bedtime.
(No cramming in a run late at night because you forgot to go earlier – set your alarm for an early morning run instead).
Run earlier in the day and feel the benefits when it’s time to get some shut-eye. Sleep soundly and awaken refreshed.
You’ll Feel Terrific
Running just makes you feel great. It boosts your energy levels and builds confidence making you more outgoing. However, when it comes to changes to your body from running it’s about more than just the physical side.
It’s good for your mental health and a wonderful way of making friends. You’ll find yourself enjoying your journey towards becoming a fitter, healthier person.
Being able to move better, run to catch a bus, and get the maximum use out of your body, just makes you feel terrific.
You’ll Stop Overthinking Everything
The runner’s high isn’t a myth. Running releases endorphins creating a natural high. This way you get to feel good without any side effects.
It could be the endorphins or just the benefits of exercise, but running creates positive outlooks – helps you stop overthinking and sweating the small stuff. The improvements in mental health are backed up by research. Life’s just better when you’re running regularly.
You’ll Have Better Cardio And Live Longer
This is the big one and one of the best reasons to start a running program. According to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, running regularly has a positive impact on your cardiovascular health. Being a runner significantly reduces your risk of cardiovascular diseases and adds three extra years to your life. That’s less risk of heart attacks or stroke.
If you want to see significant improvements to your overall health such as lower blood pressure and healthy blood vessels, and a lower resting heart rate – start running!
Your Runners Body
There’s no such thing as “a typical runner’s body“. Ignore any comments from gym fans that running will make you look weedy.
Or get the idea that you can’t reduce your body weight by running just because the guys at the back of your local race are carrying some extra pounds.
Runners can have completely different bodies
Two of the most famous runners in the world are Usain Bolt and Mo Farah. Completely different bodies. The former is all muscle to run fast and the latter has his body dialed for maximum efficiency to run longer distances.
For female equivalents compare the Olympic sprinter Tori Bowie and former World Record marathon runner Paula Radcliffe.
It depends on your diet and how you train
Your runner’s body and body composition will be dictated by your build, what you eat, and how you train. However, if you want to build leg muscles, such as a curvaceous butt, work on your hill reps and speed intervals.
If you want to get in shape, balance running with a healthy diet, and avoid eating excess calories.
Hopefully, you’ll learn to love running for more reasons than how you look. Take it from me, the health and social benefits are immense.
I hope this insight into a runner’s body will convert you to take up running. Follow a Couch to 5K plan or even my Couch to Half Marathon plan if you love a big challenge!
The positive effects and physical benefits are immense from reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, lower cholesterol levels, and reduced high blood pressure to mental health benefits and better sleep.
It’s been a big part of my life for years and has taken me on all sorts of adventures. I’d love to hear about yours…
Related post: How To Get A Runner’s Body: Physique + 7 Training Tips
Frequently Asked Questions
Running changes your body by burning fat and building muscles. Expect to lose fat at the top of your thighs, build stomach muscles of steel, and a butt to die for the weight. When you run you’re really working your gluteal muscles. That means an envious butt without having to hit the gym. Running increases your strength and endurance plus interval training can boost your metabolism. You’ll lose pounds if you combine running with a calorie-controlled diet.
Running is a great way to burn calories and can help with losing body fat. However, if you’re trying to lose pounds, you need to combine running with a healthy eating plan. Running will tone your legs and give you a perfect butt. There’s a good chance your boobs will shrink. Running makes you feel terrific. It’s not just a runner’s high, you feel more energetic, it builds confidence, and makes you more outgoing.
Running is excellent cardio and if you combine running with healthy eating you can achieve a high standard of fitness. But running does neglect some muscle groups, especially your arms, so it’s good to add one or two weekly gym workouts, yoga, or HIIT to your training schedule.
It’s best for most runners to take at least one rest day a week. Beginner runners should run no more than alternate days. Running every day won’t give your body a chance to recover and could lead to injury. Building up to a routine of running just 1 to 2 miles a day is achievable and will have terrific cardio benefits such as a reduced risk of heart disease. Running is a terrific way to get in shape.
Running 2 miles a day will definitely tone your body. For best results combine running with healthy eating. If you’re a beginner runner don’t jump right into running every day. You need rest days for your body to recover and to reduce the risk of injury. Rest days are important if you want to run longer without getting tired.
Running is an excellent cardio exercise. The intensity of the exercise can mean you burn more calories per minute compared with walking, cycling on the flat, or swimming. Losing weight happens when you use up more calories than you consume. Running can help you lose fat provided you don’t over-eat after your run. You need a calorie deficit to shift the pounds and running can be a terrific aid to achieve this.
For real change your running needs to be regular – at least 30 minutes 3 times a week. Suggest also walking/cycling for an extra 2 days a week. With this level of commitment, you will start to notice small changes in 3 to 4 weeks and major changes in 2 to 3 months.
Yes! Running is one of the best ways of burning calories but unless you’re going to run a very high mileage every week, you also need to watch your diet. (Please don’t start running a high mileage overnight, it’s a good way to get injured. Always build up your weekly mileage slowly – no more than 10% increase per week). Running one mile burns around 100 calories so it’s easy to replace those calories with an after-run treat. Find out more in my post Running For Weight Loss Plan.
Monday 24th of January 2022
Does running make you shorter over time?
Friday 25th of November 2022
Hi Alison, I just thought I would catch up with you after my last message on October 17th. I start my last week of couch to 5k on Monday! Sometimes it has been hard going, especially in the last couple of weeks when the runs are longer, but hey I have worked through them with the help, support and encouragement from my running buddy (hubby). Together, we have got this!!!!!
Monday 17th of October 2022
I am a 70 yr old woman, and am now on week 4 of C25K I have quite a lot of weight to lose, but am managing the routine well. I feel exhilerated at the end of a run and full of energy. I'm so glad I started this and now I intend to add weight resistance for my upper body. Is there a minimum number of days I should do the weights?
Wednesday 26th of January 2022
I've no idea! I haven't noticed myself or my friends getting any shorter. At least no more than you'd expect as people age. People shrink about an inch because the cartilage between the joints wears out. It doesn't have anything to do with running.
Friday 29th of October 2021
I have been running exactly 1 year, started out 256lbs, currently 197lbs. I started out on a track, just getting over plantar faciatis, barely able to run 1 lap. Recently ran my first 10k and got lost as it was in the mountains, I ran an extra mile 7.41 miles to be exact, I couldn't believe it, muscles were depleting but I finished strong, breathing was great, wasn't tired. I am hoping to drop 20 more pounds and goal is to run 30 mile race Called the Elkhorn Crest Trail Run. I am 45 years old, never in my life thought I can do this.
Saturday 30th of October 2021
Hi Clifford. Thank you for such an inspiring post. That's an amazing journey you've been through in a year! You must be so proud of yourself. Losing so much weight in a year and becoming a runner is really something. I've had a look at the website for the Elkhorn Crest Trail Run. Wow - it looks like a great race! I'm tempted to enter myself! It's going to be a very rough trail for a newbie runner so it will be important to build up your leg strength and ankle strength. This book Run Less Run Faster has some really good advice for building leg strength although I'd go easy on the interval training suggested until you've built up more running strength. I also suggest getting a wobble cushion. Stand on it one leg at a time to build your ankle strength. This is the one I use. I'm rehabbing one of my ankles at the moment and it's really helping. I find a wobble board is too aggressive. Just make sure you build up your mileage slowly and that way you'll avoid injury. You can always hike on some days to build your leg strength with less risk of overtraining. I'd love to hear how you get on!
Wednesday 13th of January 2021
Is a 15:29 5k good? I'm only a freshman in high school and I kind of like running. I need some help finding people o run with can you help me?
Wednesday 13th of January 2021
Hi Jesse, that's an extremely good time for any age group and especially considering how young you are. You would really benefit from having a coach. Speak to your sports staff at school and if they can't help look for a local running club with junior athletics training. You need to find someone who is excited by your potential and can help you improve. It's rare for someone to be running that fast at your age.
Friday 8th of January 2021
I enjoyed reading your article! I always enjoyed jogging when i was younger I just didnt stick with it..having young children at the time, it was difficult to find the time, my knees would hurt after two miles. i know excuses!! anyways, fast forward now, im 55 and was diagnosed with pre diabetes about 5 years ago. i got really serious this past year after a discussion with my doctor when i hit 232 pounds in Sept 2019. He told me its not too late to reverse this diabetes diagnoses. i have always been a yo yo dieter and had a weight issue my entire life. i started walking of course and then i started jogging August 2020. starting with a mile. i remember how excited i was that i could finish a mile. gradually worked my way up to 5 miles a day now. i have lost 60 pounds since Sept 2019 and i have about 6 more pounds to my goal that my doctor and i discussed. I will continue running even after i hit my goal for maintenance. im addicted to jogging now!!! At my doctors appointment in October, my doctor couldnt believe how much weight i had dropped. i am off my diabetic medication and the one thing your article said that sticks to me is...YOU WILL FEEL BETTER. I do! i cannot believe how much better i feel since i started jogging. Thank you!
Monday 11th of January 2021
Hi Mary, I love your post! Thank you so much for adding your story. It's brilliant that you've been able to reverse your pre-diabetes and get off your meds. It sounds like you've had the best approach to starting running again - walk first, then aim for a mile a day and build it up. Love that you're now running 5 miles a day AND enjoying it so much! You're an inspiration!
Saturday 5th of December 2020
When I was furloughed in March from my sales career I was still stressed as if I was still working, eating horribly, and fluctuated between 205-215lbs at 5’6 (large frame) and really didn’t like myself or what I looked like. With work I always used time as an excuse to be active. I decided it was time to change.
I started to go on walks for a few miles and eventually after a few weeks what started as a few miles became 5 and then evolved into 10 miles. I remember being so sore from it and my thighs would always get a rash that I would need to cream up. But as difficult as it was to be patient and fight through the early pains, the “high” from the workout was addictive. All of a sudden my body wasn’t as interested in the crap foods I was accustomed to in the past and I found myself needing to get in the exercise on a daily basis so I could feel good. After 3 or so months my walks evolved into walking/slow jogs and eventually evolved into full-blown jogs. Because I started with walking and had been accustomed to long distances, I basically transformed 10 mile walks into 10-mile jogs and the rest is history. At that point, I got serious about calorie deficit and wanted to get the most bang out of the buck for all my hard work. Once I was able to cut down a significant amount of weight I was happy but not thrilled because I wasn’t firm anywhere. 3 months ago I then added moderate weight training with a trainer and have been doing it once a week and as of December 4th, 2020 I can tell you that now I am solid as a rock and weigh 175lbs which is a 35-40lbs drop and am almost at my goal weight of 165lbs and I feel great every day, am a better person, better single father, and hope that after the pandemic I can find someone special that actually appreciates the “new” me. Running has changed my life. There truly is no better feeling than finding that second gear mid-run and feeling like your legs can go forever.
Tuesday 8th of December 2020
Hi Erlan, your comment made my day. It's everything I want to encourage with this blog. Love the bit where you mention "suddenly my body wasn't interested in the crap foods I was accustomed to in the past". Although diet is the main driver behind weight loss I always believe it's exercise that gives you the incentive to get in shape and keeps you on track. I sure the new confidence you've found will help you find someone special. Thank you for spreading the word about how great it feels to exercise.