Does running burn belly fat?

And if running does burn belly fat, is it the best way to burn belly fat? We turned to an expert to get the answers

Women running on a coastal path
(Image credit: Getty)

One of the main reasons people exercise is to lose weight and if you’re running to lose weight and burn body fat then you can rest assured that it is an effective way to do that. But before you rush to your local gym to try one of these fat-burning treadmill workouts, it’s worth hearing what personal trainer Kunal Makwana, founder of KMAK Fitness, has to say about how long and often to run for, as well as whether running is the best way to burn fat, or if other workouts are also worth trying.

Does running burn belly fat?

“Like other forms of cardiovascular exercise, running helps you burn calories and, therefore, fat,” says Makwana. “However, it’s worth noting that you can’t spot-reduce fat, meaning that you can’t choose where on your body the fat will come off. When you burn calories through exercise and achieve a calorie deficit — burning more calories than you consume — your body will draw upon stored fat from all over, including your belly.”

How long do you need to run for to burn fat?

“The amount of time you need to run to burn fat varies based on several factors,” says Makwana.

“Intensity: running faster or at a higher intensity will burn more calories in a shorter amount of time.

“Your weight: heavier people will burn more calories per mile than lighter people.

“Your fitness level: as you become fitter, your body becomes more efficient and burns fewer calories for the same distance.

“Dietary habits: for effective fat burning, your calorie intake should be less than your calorie expenditure.

“For context, a person weighing around 155 pounds might burn approximately 100 calories running a mile at a moderate pace. However, this is a rough estimate and can vary as mentioned.

“The key to burning fat is achieving a calorie deficit. If you consume as many calories as you burn, regardless of how much you run, you won't lose weight. It’s often recommended to engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity cardiovascular exercise per week for general health, which can also aid in weight management.”

How often should you run to burn fat?

“The frequency of your runs depends on your goals, fitness level, and other factors like recovery and injury prevention,” says Makwana. “For beginners, starting with three days a week is a good goal. As you build endurance and strength, you can gradually increase to four or five times a week or more.” 

“It's also essential to incorporate rest or low-intensity days to prevent overuse injuries and allow your body to recover.”

Our running plan for beginners combines three runs a week with one day of another type of gentle exercise, and builds up gradually over the course of eight weeks.

Is running as good as other forms of exercise for burning fat?

“Running is an effective way to burn calories and fat, but whether it's the ‘best’ method depends on personal preferences, physical limitations and goals,” says Makwana, who offers some points to consider.

“High-intensity interval training (HIIT), which can be done with running or other exercises, can burn a significant amount of calories in a short time and may also offer a post-exercise calorie burn. This is often referred to as the afterburn or EPOC—excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.

“Running is a high-impact exercise, which might not be suitable for everyone, especially those with certain injuries or joint issues. Low-impact exercises like swimming or cycling can also be effective for burning fat.

“Full-body workouts or strength training can help build muscle, which increases your resting metabolic rate, helping you burn more calories even when you’re not exercising.

“Mixing up your workouts can prevent overuse injuries, reduce the risk of burnout, and target different muscle groups.”

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick is an experienced journalist, beginning his career in 2012. He has been covering health and fitness with Fit&Well's sister site Coach since 2015, writing expert-led features and reviewing all manner of fitness equipment. Nick discovered a passion for running in his first year with Coach and now runs 70-110km a week and races regularly with his club Orion Harriers.