When providing running tips for beginners, one of the questions they’ll ask is how much to run. Truthfully, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced pro, all runners — or those thinking about taking up running — wonder, “How many miles a week should I run?”
According to new research, that answer is surprisingly low, at least in terms of getting the maximum health benefits of running. How low? The number surprised even me!
How Many Miles a Week Should I Run to Improve My Health?
According to a review of studies, as little as five to six miles per week can have remarkable health benefits. You read that right. Running just a mile a day five or six days a week — or even two miles every other day — can vastly improve your health. That’s less than an hour a week for most people, even beginners, in their cardio workouts. (1)
The Mayo Clinic reviewed studies published in PubMed since 2000 that included at least 500 runners and five-year follow-up to analyze the relationship between running and health, focusing on cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. What researchers found was shocking in a good way. Runners who ran five to six miles a week weighed less and had a lower risk of obesity than people who ran fewer than five miles a week or not at all. (2)
That’s not all. Non-runners were more likely to have high blood pressure, cholesterol issues, diabetes, stroke, arthritis and certain forms of cancer. That means this little bit can lower blood pressure naturally, lower cholesterol and more.
In addition, evidence suggests there may even be a maximum number of miles, because “running strenuously for more than about an hour every day could slightly increase someone’s risks for heart problems, as well as for running-related injuries and disabilities,” Dr. Carl J. Lavie, medical director of cardiac rehabilitation and prevention at the Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans and lead author of the review, told the New York Times.
Now, if you’re an avid runner and are now concerned you’re running too much, don’t change up your whole routine just yet. If you want to be faster and competitive, you can still keep up your mileage. The key is to know your body and monitor your health — and watch out for common running injuries as well as overtraining.
For instance, iliotibial band syndrome is an injury common among runners that results from overtraining and improper form. If you reduce your miles and rest more, and instead focus on form as opposed to distance, you can heal and prevent this knee pain — which can really hinder your workouts.
If you begin to develop heart complications or frequently injure yourself, that’s a sign you may be running too much — and with this new research, it’s clear you can still get remarkable health benefits at decreased mileage.
The Other Part of the Running Equation
While this information from the Mayo Clinic is good news, no doubt, simply running won’t provide you optimal health. Why? Cardio workouts like running alone don’t allow your body to burn fat as well as building muscle through resistance training.
That’s because while cardio is tremendous for your heart and good at burning calories during the exercise, the fat-burning benefits end when your run does. Conversely, when you build lean muscle, that muscle continues to burn calories and fat throughout the day, even when you aren’t exercising. This is known as the afterburn effect.
A study published in the Journal of Exercise Science showed that the afterburn effect is associated with an elevation in metabolism due to the thermic effect of activity regardless of your current fitness level — and some experts believe that this can cause around a 10 percent increase in calorie expenditure for the day following just 20 minutes of high-intensity exercise. (3)
To turn on the afterburn effect by increasing your muscle mass, you can incorporate shorter, more intense workouts like HIIT workouts and burst training, which is the No. 1 exercise to burn belly fat fast.
Final Thoughts on Running
When looking at this question — “How many miles a week should I run?” — it really is surprising to hear that as little as five to six miles of running per week can provide an insane amount of health benefits. But perhaps this shouldn’t be such a shock.
With all we know today about the necessity of rest between workouts, muscle recovery and simply not overdoing it, the less is more movement is taking hold. No, that doesn’t mean necessarily working out less. It means working certain muscle groups for less time and doing shorter workouts, instead switching up your routine to incorporate all types of exercise. That means a mix between cardio/aerobic exercise with resistance training and, of course, rest.
Throw in a healthy diet, and you’re one your way to the healthiest you can be. So if you’re thinking about running or worried about getting those miles in, remember this study — as little as five to six miles can make a real difference in how you look and feel.