Whether you’ve just taken up running and are absolutely loving it, or you’re working towards a personal fitness goal, training for a race, or simply for fun, running every day comes up in lots of runners’ questions.
The benefits of regular exercise, running being just one type of beneficial physical activity, cannot be underestimated. In fact, it’s now a known fact that most of fall short of recommended guidelines for exercising. Running often, as well as walking, doing some form of group exercise or strength training, are all ways to hit those targets.
But, is running every day a good idea? How often should you run? Is there even a set volume guideline that applies to all runners or should you be setting your individualized targets?
This article will look into what running every day does to your body, how this links in with the benefits of running, and what our advice is on running frequency.
What really happens when you run every day?
Running is a relatively high impact sport. Depending on your running form, your weight and fitness levels, your body will go through a series of shocks when you run. These are clearly exacerbated when you hold up a running streak without a rest day for a long time.
So, what happens to your body when you run, first of all? There are both physical and psychological impacts:
- The simple motion of running involves your body moving up and down, with forces reverberating back through your musculoskeletal system. As a result, the risk of injuries is relatively high when you are not practicing good running form, when there are physical imbalances that you may not yet have discovered, or even if you’re using the wrong running shoes, for example.
- On the plus side, your blood flow and heart rate increase, with blood flowing to the muscles, warming them up and offering them the energy they need to perform. Increased heart rate helps you burn energy, which can lead to weight and fat loss. It will also help your cardiovascular fitness increase in time.
- Your muscles engage to keep you upright and propel you forward. You need to engage your core and glutes to maintain good form and you work all your leg muscles, depending on the type of run you do. This is why it’s important to stretch regularly, too.
- The exercise helps release chemicals that have been shown to control your stress levels, make you feel more positive, and generally give you an all-around feeling of well-being.
If you run outside, you will also get the benefit of fresh air and vitamin D, leading to lower likelihood of depression and loneliness symptoms.
Consequently, you’d be right to think that doing all this every day gives you both a good dose of physical exercise and the mental health benefits. The question is, how do you balance the frequency with the right amount of volume (time you spend running) and intensity (how hard you run) so that you don’t risk getting overuse injuries. For an experienced runner, a non-stop running streak could be more easily achievable than for a beginner, depending on how well they moderate their intensity and pace.
Is running every day good for you?
Research has shown that 5 to 10 minutes spent running at below 6 miles per hour pace, every day, can be a great way to reap all these benefits:
- Reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke;
- Reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases;
- Lower the risk of developing cancer;
- Lower the risk of developing neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The important thing to remember here is that this refers to a very low volume of everyday running. Another study has looked at what would be a typical training load for a casual runner, determining that running five times a week for a total of 2.5 hours would be optimal in order to enjoy a maximum of the benefits. This points to doing five 30-minute sessions, allowing for two recovery days, rather than a continuous running streak.
It’s important to remember that, when focusing on benefits alone, you can get roughly the same from a 30-minute activity that doesn’t include running. For example, you could alternate running days with swimming, cycling, yoga or another group exercise call you like, or simply with walking.
Since there are proven medical benefits that can lead to better and longer living from being active for at least 30 minutes every day, what’s the verdict on choosing that activity to be running? Opinions are definitely mixed, particularly because of the risk of overuse injuries, which occur when you take on too much, too fast, without allowing the body ample time to adjust. While this is something that experienced runners may be able to handle – leading to enviable running streaks -, a beginner runner can easily fall into the trap of overtraining.
The good news is that you can develop a running habit gradually, avoiding injury. Here’s how:
- Start out with good-quality running shoes that fit your frame and running style, as well as the terrain you run on (trail or asphalt);
- Increase the number of miles you run or the duration of your runs gradually. A good rule of thumb is to go up in increments of under 10% at a time;
- Don’t run every single day. Spend your non running days doing cross-training – you’ll stay active, but distribute the pressure on your body differently;
- Always warm up and stretch after you runs;
- Work on your form to ensure good muscle balance, posture etc. This could involve working with a running coach or complementing your training with courses that develop good posture, such as Pilates.
How often should you run to stay healthy?
So, is there a magic answer around how often people should run to stay healthy and enjoy themselves, too? The answer depends on each individual runner, so there is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
However, most training plans leading to classic race distances (from 5k to marathon) have athletes doing 4-5 sessions a week. In general, this includes one or two easy recovery sessions done at a low heart rate, to keep your body moving while recovering from high-intensity exercise. You would add one or two interval or tempo training sessions where you work on your speed and explosive power, developing strength and your cardiovascular capacity. Finally, one session would normally be your “long run” – depending on the race you’re training for, you’ll go up to 20 miles in one run during a standard marathon training plan.
Of course, the number of days per week you can spend running doesn’t just depend on your training plan. You’ll need to fit this in with your daily commitments, work and family life, commute times etc. Add to that the need to look after your body with complementary strength and conditioning work, stretching, foam rolling… the list goes on! It makes logical sense to have at least one day per week off from running.
5 tips for healthy running frequency
Whether you’re training for a race or looking to run casually, for fitness, fun, or both, here are five easy tips to follow so you can be sure you’re running often enough, but not so much that you might hurt yourself.
Approach running progressively
The safest way to develop a running routine is to ensure you never do too much, too soon. Even if you wanted to run every day, we would not advise starting off with, for example, an hour of hard running daily. Instead, start off with 10-15 minutes every day, mixed in with walking, to round up to 30 minutes (e.g. run 5 minutes, walk 2 minutes, repeat 4 times then cool down for another 2 minutes.
This approach gives your body time to adapt to the movement intensity and frequency. You can then increase the time on your feet a little bit at a time, which will avoid you falling in the trap of overtraining.
A good rule is to look at your weekly hours or mileage and add around 10% more every week, split across the days and types of workouts we’ve mentioned above. Then, after three weeks, have a recovery week where you lower the volume down to maybe 50-60% of what you did during your third “build” week. Continue in these cycles until your race / target event.
Complement your running with cross training
In order to ensure you spend time developing strength and flexibility, recovering from high-intensity sessions and improving overall as an athlete, cross training is extremely beneficial. Not only does a complementary sport like cycling still develop your cardiovascular capacity and your muscle strength while targeting your body differently, it is also a fun way to diversify your activity so you don’t hit a plateau of motivation.
Swimming is a great low-impact aerobic exercise you can practice on an active recovery day, as well. Many outdoor lovers prefer hiking or climbing, which are also different types of movements and will develop your ability to be self-sufficient out in nature. This can be very good for runners training for mountain events or long-distance races.
Finally, strength and conditioning sessions are very important to lower injury risk and develop the strength you need for hill running, longer races, and overall a healthy runner’s body. Doing one or two complementary gym sessions where you focus on all muscle groups and add some stability and balance work will pay dividends come race day.
Don’t shun rest days
Rest days are there for a reason. They let your body recover, regardless of the type of exercise you’ve been doing. From running especially, it’s great to allow your joints and your muscles some time for tissues to repair and become stronger.
Additionally, a rest day can be a great opportunity to work on your mental preparation for running events. You can read about your favorite runners’ top tips, watch videos of the race you’re preparing for, or make a race plan visualizing how everything will go on the day. All this is extremely valuable ahead of big events.
If, however, you’re “just” running for fun, without an event to target, then take advantage of race days to do those things you might have been missing out on because you’ve allocated time to training instead. From lunches out with friends to going to the movies or simply doing some DIY around the house, letting your body relax from running and your mind focus on something else will get you more fired up for the next session.
Mix it up
Many runners complain about plateauing – in other words, reaching a point where they keep training, but don’t notice any improvements in their speed or endurance. This can happen when you’ve been doing the same type of training, without much variation, for a long time.
Mixing it up can help a lot in this case and it’s also a way to avoid injury when you run often. Not only can you mix it up by doing cross training and diversifying your physical activities, you can also vary the types of run training you do. Include fartlek training for a less structured approach to speed work, for example. Change up the days you do certain workouts: for example, if you always do your long run on a Sunday, change it to Saturday and switch around your rest day, freeing yourself up to go cycling on a Sunday instead (back-to-back training like this can also be great for building endurance).
Finally, mix up the terrain you run on. Try going to a local running track for your speed workouts if you normally run in the park. Pick a mountain trail for your next long run if there’s one within easy reach (or low-altitude trails, of course!). If you run on roads a lot, do one of your easy runs off-road, and vice versa. There are lots of options available, allowing you to keep running (almost) every day, but varying other factors so the ultimate impact on your body also varies.
Think time, not distance
Finally, instead of focusing on running a set amount of miles on every run, or having a “perfect” week running a round distance, approach your runs in terms of time. This allows for different fitness levels and can also be a better source of motivation on those days when you don’t quite feel like running – at least go out for the first 10 minutes, and build from that.
If you do attempt to run every day, taking the scientists’ advice of sticking to no more than 30 minutes at a time is a good approach. Then, use those 30 minutes as a benchmark and increase very gradually as you get fitter and your endurance develops. Or, stay within the 30 minutes, but diversify the type of running you do, allowing you to cover a different mileage in the same time period (think sprints vs. easy runs, for example)
Running every day: It’s not for everybody
Everyday running isn’t necessarily bad for you, but it’s important to remember that running too much, too often, can lead to overuse injuries and increases the risk of accidents, too. If you’re a seasoned runner attempting a running streak, be careful with how you fit running in your daily life, progressing your distance slowly and gradually and varying the types of runs and the terrain you run on, to add some lower-impact surfaces in.
Ultimately, you should listen to your body and not simply “jump into” a training trend. Running can bring you great physical and mental benefits, but only when done in the way that best suits you.