How Often Should You Run to Stay Healthy?

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

Not every man likes to run, and if you don’t already have a natural inclination for it, it can be tough to get started. You envy those guys who can just get out there and pound the pavement every day. But just because you aren’t a natural born runner doesn’t mean you can’t reach the same heart healthy goals as fitness fanatics. In fact, you’re in for some good news: You don’t need to run that much to fully reap the same health benefits as runners.

Here’s the good news

When it comes to cardiovascular fitness, in particular running, it turns out that too much running can sometimes be bad for you. The Copenhagen City Heart Study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found that people who jogged at a moderate pace for 1 to 2.4 hours per week had a lower mortality rate than sedentary non-joggers and strenuous joggers (people who train for marathons and long-distance running).

How much cardiovascular exercise do you actually need?

According to the American Heart Association, if you want to improve your overall cardiovascular health, the general range is at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of both). To make it simple, this breaks down to 30 minutes a day, five times a week. The AHA even says that you’ll also experience benefits if you divide your time into a couple 10- to 15-minute segments per day.

If you feel a bit overwhelmed with all this “recommended” exercise, Dr. Matthew Budoff, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at UCLA, clarifies a bit by recommending 20 to 45 minutes of moderate (brisk walking, swimming, etc.) exercise per day. “Remember, the heart is a muscle,” Budoff said to Thrillist, “and we want to strengthen that muscle.” So, that doesn’t mean you have to train for a marathon, or alternatively pound the pavement for several miles a day. Even a brisk walk can help you reap the health benefits.

What’s the least amount of running you can do to reap the benefits?

This all depends upon your exercise goals. Are you looking to lose weight and bulk up for the beach? It’s going to take much more than a brisk 20- to 30-minute walk to do that, but you also don’t need to go out and train for a marathon. In fact, if you overtrain, you put yourself at risk for orthopedic injuries, restless nights, throwing your immune system out of whack, fatigue, and even worse, arrhythmia and coronary artery calcified plaque, a known indicator of coronary artery disease.

For someone of normal weight (for their stature), working out harder, faster, and more frequently does not necessary translate to living longer. Dr. Tanvir Hussain, a general cardiologist, explains to Thrillist, “[The minimum necessary] probably depends on your goals for exercise. The types of activity that make you look better may not be the same ones that help you live longer.” Additionally, Hussain notes: “The take-home message from the study is that there is possibly a sweet spot for frequency and intensity of exercise, as it relates to living longer.”

The answer might be an alternative: high-intensity interval training (HIIT). This involves quick bursts of hard work followed by a rest or recovery period. In fact, it’s a great alternative for those who are not in the least bit enthusiastic about having to go for an hour-long run but still desire similar results.

BodyBuilding.com reported on a study that compared participants who did steady cardio at 30 minute intervals three times a week to those who did 20 minutes of HIIT three times a week. Although both groups showed similar weight loss results, the HIIT group lost 2% body fat, while the other group lost only 0.3%. Additionally, the HIIT group gained almost two pounds of muscle, while the other group lost about a pound.

So what does this all mean when it comes to the least amount of running you need to maintain good health practices? (Drum roll please…) The answer is none! You don’t need to run in order to be healthy. Dr. Hussain further notes a flaw in the Copenhagen study, which only looked at runners specifically. That said, it’s not much of a stretch to say the results could be extrapolated to include other forms of cardiovascular activity, such as biking, swimming, playing tennis, and jumping rope — just as long as you get your heart rate up for at least 20 minutes a day.

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