When giving running tips to beginners, one of the questions they will ask is how many miles to run. Truth be told, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, all runners, or those considering taking up running, ask themselves, “How many miles a week should I run?” According to new research, this response is surprisingly low, at least if you want to get the most health benefits from running. Weak how? The number even surprised me!
How many kilometers a week should I run to improve my health?
Based on a review of studies, as little as eight to nine miles per week can have remarkable health benefits. You read that right. Running just one mile a day five or six days a week, or even three miles every other day, can improve your health dramatically. That’s less than an hour a week for most people, even beginners, in their cardio training.
Beef important for health
A study published in PubMed included at least 500 runners and a five-year follow-up to analyze the relationship between running and health, focusing on cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. What the researchers found was shocking in a good way. Runners who ran five to ten miles a week weighed less and had a lower risk of obesity than people who ran less than five miles a week or not at all. And that’s not all. Non-runners were more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, diabetes, stroke, arthritis and some types of cancer. This means that this little activity can naturally lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and much more.
Additionally, data suggests there may even be a maximum number of miles, as intense running for more than an hour a day can increase the risk of heart problems, as well as related injuries and disabilities, during running. If you’re an avid runner and now you’re wondering if you’re running too much, don’t change your routine just yet. If you want to be faster and more competitive, you can keep increasing your mileage. The key is to know your body and monitor your health and watch out for common running-related injuries as well as overtraining.
For example, iliotibial band syndrome is a common injury in runners that results from overtraining and poor form. If you reduce your miles and rest more and focus on form over distance, you can heal and prevent knee pain that can really get in the way of your training. If you start to develop heart complications or frequently injure yourself, it’s a sign that you may be running too much, and this new research clearly shows that you can still achieve remarkable health benefits by reducing your mileage.
The second part of the ongoing equation
While this information is good news, there’s no doubt that just running won’t give you optimal health. Why ? Cardio training like running does not allow your body to burn fat as well as build muscle through resistance training.
That’s because while cardio is great for the heart and burns calories during exercise, the fat-burning benefits stop at the end of the run. Conversely, when you build muscle mass, it continues to burn calories and fat throughout the day, even if you don’t exercise. This is called the afterburning effect.
A study published in the Journal of Exercise Science found that the afterburn effect is associated with increased metabolism due to the thermic effect of activity, regardless of your current fitness level. Some experts believe that this can lead to around a 10% increase in daily calorie burn after just 20 minutes of high-intensity exercise. To activate the afterburn effect by increasing your muscle mass, you can incorporate shorter and more intense workouts, such as HIIT sessions and burst training, which is the #1 exercise for burning muscle fast.
Final thoughts on running
When I consider the question “How many miles a week should I run?” it’s really surprising to hear that just eight to nine kilometers of running a week can provide incredible health benefits. But maybe it shouldn’t be such a shock.
With everything we know today about the need for rest between workouts, muscle recovery, and not overdoing it, the “less is more” movement is taking hold. No, this does not necessarily mean that you should train less. It’s about training certain muscle groups for a shorter period of time and doing shorter workouts, rather than changing your routine to incorporate all types of exercise. This means a mix of cardio/aerobic training and resistance training and of course rest.
Add to that a healthy diet and you are well on your way to becoming as fit as possible. So if you’re thinking about running or worried about not racking up the miles, remember this study: Starting with eight or nine miles can make a real difference in your appearance and well-being.