Two runners walk onto a track; both start a light jog. One jogs four laps before completing six strides on one of the straightaways then starting an hour-long interval workout, his second workout of the week. The other jogs eight laps—her second and final run of the week—stretches for five minutes and heads back to her car. Which runner do you expect will reap more life-extending benefits?
If you answered neither, current research agrees. A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology discovered that runners who ran less than an hour a week enjoyed similar mortality benefits as those who ran three hours or more. Researchers found that running reduced the risk of death related to cardiovascular disease by a whopping 45 percent.
In agreement with the research, just about every coach and doctor will tell you that any movement is good for you, even if you aren't able to commit to a regular exercise program. "I am a proponent of 'any exercise time is better than no exercise time,'" says Abby Malmstrom, who has her master's in Exercise Science and works with aspiring athletes through her online running clinics and fitness programs.
Mileage Matters When It Comes to Performance
Malmstrom notes that while any running is good, in most circumstances, if you're preparing for an event, the amount of training you do matters.
"If running once per week during marathon training is the scenario, I would be on the lookout for overuse injuries, such as Achilles tendinitis, IT Band Syndrome or patellofemoral pain," she explains. "It's simply not enough time on the legs, performing the running movement only once per week during marathon training."
Even if merely finishing a distance event like the marathon is the goal, 26.2 miles is not for the faint of heart. Proper training prepares your body to handle the stress your legs, heart and lungs will endure, and foregoing that preparation could result in serious issues. What's more, when you put in the necessary mileage, the entire experience is a whole lot more enjoyable.
If you're training for something shorter, however, you can often get away with less running leading up to the race.
"The recreational runner, who occasionally trains for 5Ks and shorter distance races with hopes of finishing versus winning, is at less risk of the overuse injuries than the marathon runners," says Malmstrom.