Fitness + Well-being

Does Running That Extra Mile Really Make a Difference?


Whether you’re an endurance junkie or you despise the thought of slaving away on the treadmill, you’ve probably had a time in your life when you’ve wondered whether you could get away with running less. In other words, if you choose to run 20 minutes rather than 60 minutes, or run two miles rather than six miles, are you sacrificing results when it comes to weight loss or performance?

Running For Weight Loss

Let’s look at weight loss first. As you probably know, walking burns calories, jogging burns more calories, and running burns even more calories. But here’s something important to realize: when you run and you get to the point where you’re really  huffing and puffing, you continue to burn calories long after your running workout is finished.

So if you can run fast for 20 minutes or jog slow for 60 minutes, you may be able to get just as much bang for your calorie-burning buck by running fast for a shorter period of time, especially when you consider that running fast or running uphill may also help you to build more metabolism-boosting muscle.

The other advantage to running fast and short (or even doing high intensity interval training) rather than jogging long and slow is this: long and slow running, especially for women, has been shown to decrease the metabolism by affecting the thyroid. Recent research has also suggested that large bouts of slow “steady-state” endurance exercise may also damage the heart, and you can read more about the potential danger of long running bouts and over exercising both here and here. Finally, repetitive stress to the bones (again, especially in women), combined with mineral loss from sweating, can increase risk of stress fractures and premature bone density loss.

Running For Performance

What about if you’re training for a 10K, half-marathon, marathon or triathlon? Wouldn’t you want to include longer running bouts to ensure that you’ll be ready to race? While it's certainly true that you should expose your body to the type of stress that it will be experiencing on the day of your event, there’s no need to “overdo” extra miles.

In most cases, unless you’re gunning to be a professional marathoner, you can get away with just one “long” run every one to two weeks. That long run doesn’t need to be the full distance that you plan on completing in your event, but rather just about 70 to 80 percent of your total race distance.

For example, if you’re training for a marathon, you don’t need to run 26.2 miles in your training. Instead you can just include one to two long runs leading up to your race that are 18-20 miles in duration. The rest of your runs can be short and intense, and you can check out this complete guide to interval training to learn more about how to do this kind of training.

Ultimately, you can get better calorie burning and metabolism boosting results, lower risk of injury and illness, and a better body by running short and fast rather than running long and slow. So when it comes to running, more is not necessarily better.