How Much Running Is Too Much Running?

By Alan
Updated

If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, what would happen if you threw a daily run into the mix?

On the whole, you would be better off. Studies show that running just five to ten minutes a day can have an overwhelmingly positive effect on your physical and mental health.

Some truths we have been taught our whole life: clean eating and exercise are the key to a long and healthy life, and running is good for you. These are not wrong, in fact, they are still the cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle, however there are extremes to all good things. In the same way that food restriction and body criticism can become an unhealthy obsession, over-exercising can cause equal harm.

Benefits of Running

Historically, running is a true American pastime, with over 60 million people participating in running, jogging, races and trail runs every year, and close to 18 million doing so competitively, running remains one of the most participated in physical activities.

Running has been proven to reduce your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 1 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, dementia, obesity, and premature aging — in moderation.

With 24% of American’s stating that weight loss was their primary reason to begin running, and running being a relatively cost-free activity, it’s no surprise that so many people partake.

And running is a wonderful sport! Both for your physical health, and mental. According to a study in the American College of Sports Medicine, running for just 30 minutes has been proven to decrease feelings of depression and anxiety. Many long-distance runners claim to experience a “runners high” or a feeling of meditative endorphin induced ease after a certain distance.

But like all things, when overdone, running can have a negative impact on your body.

What’s the Limit?

Researchers at the University of South Carolina and the Ochsner Health System recommend that the average athlete run no more than 20 miles a week, spaced out appropriately with rest days in between, and limit your endurance days to less than an hour for maximum benefits. This magic number has been linked with life expectancy increases, however exceeding 20 miles a week decreases these benefits.

In a series of reports with Heart and European Heart Journal researchers found that runners who exceed 20 miles a week could die sooner than those who run less, as well as found that distance runners experience disabilities at a higher rate than their non-runner counterparts.

According to Cardiologist James O’Keefe, MD, Director of Preventative Cardiology at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, “Prolonged intense exercise causes excessive oxidative stress, which basically burns through the antioxidants in your system and predisposes you to problems.”

Our bodies send out signals when they are being pushed too hard. Some signs you might be running too much.

Feeling Weak

If you find yourself feeling weaker as the days pass by, this might mean you are overtraining and you will be more susceptible to injury.

Slow Recovery

If you find that your body isn’t recovering easily, this is likely a sign that there haven’t been enough rest in-between exercises.

Increases Illness

When you over-exercise your body, your immune system reacts negatively, if you find yourself constantly sick, particularly with the same sickness, this is a sign you need to take a break from your training.

Mood Swings and Constant Fatigue

Over-running can result in a decrease in the hormone catecholamine, which causes irritability and stress.

Danger: Injuries May Incur

One of the biggest concerns with overrunning is the risk of injury. According to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, around 70% of runners will sustain an injury at some point, knee injuries being the most likely as well as Achilles Tendinitis, shin splints, and heel pain.

It’s possible to avoid injury if you take the proper steps with your training, and importantly do not overdo it in any one session.

A major mistake many runners make, particularly young runners, is surpassing their bodies running threshold. Every runner has a physical limit, whether that be 5 miles or 50, and knowing your limit and running within it will help prevent unnecessary injuries. Of course, you can train to reach new goals, but remember to do so slowly, increasing your mileage by a few at a time, per week.

Set a Goal, and Then Train for It

Running comes in many shapes and sizes, or actually, many speeds and distances. When it comes to creating your training plan, it’s important to know what you are training for. A marathon runner is conditioning their body to be able to handle hours of running, at a sustained pace for a long distance, where a general runner might be training to increase their endurance.

Your training plan should reflect your end goal and be something that you can build up. Increasing your weekly runs by 10% is a safe and sustainable plan that will keep you injury-free as you grow your distance.

Mix Up Your Running Routine

Moving your body daily has the power to improve both mental and physical health, and while it’s not recommended to run more than 20 miles a week, there are other activities you can weave into your routine that are equally beneficial to your health and will help you avoid injury or burnout.

Some sample routines to maximize your movement. Adding in high and low-intensity interval training to your longer runs will increase stamina, endurance, and relieve stress on the joints that are often overworked in runner’s bodies.

Low and High-intensity interval training Plan

High-intensity vs Low-intensity Workouts: Everything You Need to Know

LISS

LISS stands for low-intensity steady state training, these are longer form extended periods of low impact working out. Examples of LISS are powerwalking, cycling, swimming laps, a casual game of tennis, a moderate hike. Anything that increases your heart rate, but not to a point of running out of breath or exhaustion, is considered LISS.

LISS is a wonderful exercise method to work into your training schedule. This gives your muscles time to properly recover and allows different parts of your body to work. When you incorporate LISS training into your running schedule, you drastically decrease your chances of injuring yourself on longer, more intense runs.

HIIT

HIIT training, on the other hand, stands for high-intensity interval training. This form of endurance training involves quick bursts of exercise followed by short rests in between. Typically, HIIT exercises are 20-30 seconds of exercise followed by 15-30 seconds of rest. The purpose is to get your heart rate up quickly, and then quickly decrease heart rate between sessions. Examples of HIIT are sprints, burpees, sprint rowing, mountain climbers, etc.

In a survey conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine, HIIT training ranked in the top 10 most popular fitness trends of 2020.

Runners have incorporated HIIT training for many years as a way to increase their endurance, but it can also be a way to avoid injury in your training. Adding a day of HIIT training to your workout plan, and substituting that for a long-distance endurance run, gives your body a chance to use new muscles, and gives your joints a break from the hours of long-distance running.

Are You Over-Exercising? What That Can Mean for Your Physical and Mental Health

As we’ve said before, exercising is a wonderful stress reducing activity with overwhelmingly positive health benefits, but there is a line that too much exercise can cross into.

Over-exercising, sometimes referred to as Anorexia Athletica or Hypergymnasia, is an eating disorder in which a person engages in compulsive exercise, oftentimes stemming from a lack of control in their lives. This is often experienced in athletes who are encouraged to push themselves on a regular basis.

Some symptoms of Anorexia Athletica include guilt over a missed gym session, pushing to work-out through an injury or illness, compulsively exercising to counteract calories consumed throughout the day, no longer enjoying sports for fun, and a loss of self-worth or image.

According to one study, 3% of regular exercisers have an unhealthy relationship with exercise. Those numbers increase drastically when talking about runners, with 1 in 5 amateur runners and 1 in 2 marathon or triathletes categorized as addicted.

If a runner or athlete finds themselves exhibiting any of the above symptoms the main step is to admit that there is a problem, and then seek help from a therapist and dietitian.

So Run, But Don’t Overdo It

All in all, the average amateur runner will have no issues with their running habits. Most will reap the benefits of increases life expectancy, strengthened muscles, weight loss, improved cardiovascular health, reduced risk of heart attack, lowered chance of developing cancer, and more.

If you ever experience pain while exercising, take it easy, relax your muscles, and if the pain persists see a health care professional.

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