So, you’ve been running for a while now and have managed to build up to a few times a week. Congratulations! It’s hard to get started, and even harder to build in consistency.
There are so many ways to talk yourself out of running, so if you’ve managed to stay consistent with two to three times a week, you are doing great! That is no small feat.
Consistent runs are very good for your body. It takes forever for your muscles to get used to the impact of running. So, if you go more than a couple of days without running, you have to ‘retrain’ your muscles all over again.
This of course hurts your run.
Running consistently makes you a stronger runner, and when you are a stronger runner, you enjoy running more. And hate it less.
But some runners actually run every single day, or do some form of cardio every day, and feel cooped up and gross if they don’t get out for their daily run. They seriously get crabby.
But is running every day good for you? And is it something you should strive for as well?
Is there a point at which too much cardio can be a bad thing?
I’ll help you sort that out and decide for yourself if you should run – or do some form of cardio – every day.
Pros vs cons of doing cardio every day
There are, of course, benefits and drawbacks to doing cardio every day. So, before you decide if running every day is right for you, you should consider both the pros and cons – and what other options you have, for working out and staying consistent with your running.
Pros of doing cardio every day
Cardio is short for cardiovascular exercise and is any exercise that raises your heart rate and increases your breathing. It improves the functioning of your heart and your lungs.
There are many benefits to cardiovascular exercise. It can help you to lose weight faster, increase your energy, reduce risk of diseases, help you sleep better at night, boost your immune system and improve your mental health.
But studies show that running every day, for just five to ten minutes, can actually give you added benefits, such as:
- Reduced risk of heart attack or stroke
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
- A lower risk of developing cancer
- A lowered risk of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s Disease
- Reduced anxiety and panic attacks
- Lower blood sugar
And it can help you to regulate your blood pressure better.
All good reasons to run every day, right?
A daily run clears your head and helps you fight off stress. It feels great after a long day at work!
But just because there are many reasons why it is good for you to do cardio every day, should you? Can running every day actually hurt you?
Well, yes. The same study showed that while running for five to ten minutes every day gave you a heaping spoonful of additional benefits, once you top 4 ½ hours of running in any given week, you actually lose those same benefits.
So just like everything else, use cardio in moderation.
Cons of doing cardio every day
There are just as many reasons why you should not do cardio every day, the most important being that you actually might find yourself resenting your daily runs. And the goal is to hate running less, not to hate it more!
Here’s how doing cardio every day can actually harm you:
- Running every day can burn you out and make you resent your runs. They can become monotonous and boring.
- It can actually burn your muscle mass if you do it too much. I know, right?!? Totally the opposite of what we are going for.
- Research suggests that doing too much cardio can reduce your immunity levels as well.
- You are more prone to injury, particularly injury from overuse, such as shin splints, stress fractures, and iliotibial band syndrome. These injuries can force you to take anywhere from a week to a month off – or more!
- You also risk injury because rest is actually what builds up your muscles. When you are running, you tear your muscle fibers. Taking a day to rest gives those muscles time to heal. This is what makes them stronger.
Running less and adding a variety of runs into your week is actually better for you and your performance. You can try adding tempo runs, intervals, speeds and long, easy runs to your running routine.
Times when you shouldn’t do cardio every day
People who really get into running every day should be cautious about it. The potential gains of daily cardio are outweighed by the drawbacks.
So, if you insist on running every day, be smart and pay attention to your body.
New runners really should not do cardio every day. Their bodies need time to build up to it.
Novice runners are especially at risk of injury from over-use. If you train too hard, too fast, then your body is not used to the stress on your joints, ligaments and muscles. It sets you up for all kinds of horrible injuries that will sideline you for weeks, if not months.
It is also common for new runners to have bad form when they are first starting out. If this is you, then you should not run every day. Bad form leads to injury, and the more you run, the higher your chances of injury are.
Perfect your form before considering daily runs.
Instead of running every day, you could try running every other day, or just two to three times a week. When you are first starting out, use your rest days to actually rest.
Once you’ve been at it for a while, you can incorporate other activities into your rest days, such as cross training or strength training. But build up slowly, over time.
Those running for weight loss
Runners who are focused on general fitness or weight loss will do better with a variety of exercise routines, rather than just daily runs.
If you are running for weight loss, you will risk hitting a plateau early on, if you run every day.
Because when you first start running, your body is getting used to the motion. It takes a lot of energy to put one step in front of the other, which means you burn calories.
As you get better at it, your body gets more efficient as well, using less energy – and less calories – to cover the same distance, at the same intensity.
So, if you are running to lose weight, and just head out that door day after day for the same old run, you will plateau.
It is better to vary your exercise routine and add in some cross training or weight training. At the very least, you should periodically run harder, faster, or longer, in order to lose weight.
Runners recovering from an injury
If you are recovering from a recent injury, now is not the time to try running every day.
If you do not give yourself proper time to heal, you will risk re-injury. Instead, back off on the runs while you heal, and use the time to cross train instead. Using an elliptical is a great option for ‘getting your run in’ while injured, because it puts less stress on your body.
When you are ready to hit the road, ease back into it. Give your body time to build up strength and endurance again.
If you are not feeling 100%
It’s okay to work out if you aren’t feeling up to par. You can work out any minor cold or sniffle. But if you are running a fever, or have no desire to get out of bed, then you shouldn’t run.
If you feel like you’ve been ‘fighting something off’, now is not the time to try to hit a daily running streak. Prolonged, vigorous exercise has been shown to reduce your immunity. You can actually hurt your chances of fighting off whatever it is that you are, indeed, fighting off, just by running every day.
Give yourself adequate rest time before hitting that running streak.
If you are two weeks away from race day
The final weeks of training are for tapering. When you taper before race day, you reduce the amount of exercise you do, in order to keep your legs strong and fresh for your race.
It means you will be chomping at the bit, eager to get this run going on race day, because your legs will feel cooped up and ready to let loose!
But, if you run daily before race day, you will have tired, exhausted legs, not at all ready to pound out those miles ahead.
Times when it’s okay to do cardio every day
Generally speaking, you should try to avoid daily cardio, as we have seen. The benefits are greatly outweighed by the risks. However, there are some people who can – and do – run every day.
But these athletes have made a lifestyle out of running. They have spent years building up to a point where they can (somewhat) safely run every day. And during that time, they started off slow and built up to where they are at now, over time.
They are also very aware of the risk involved. These athletes often have a dedicated running team, made up of coaches and medical professionals, to keep them safe and in top form.
- Elite runners
- Collegiate/professional athletes
- Competitive racers
- Seriously avid and/or experienced runners
These runners are aware of the pitfalls and have taken the necessary precautions.
Solutions to the cardio dilemma
I hope I have convinced you that it is okay -and good! – to schedule in rest days. However, if you still want to be active, but without all of the risk, there are other options. You can cross train.
Cross training works out slightly different parts of your body than running does, while still getting in that cardio. For example, bike riding or swimming are both great cardio workouts that will work your muscles in a different way than running does.
Cross training will give your muscles a needed rest, keep you safer from injuries and still keep you in shape and active every day.
Cross training workouts that are good for runners include:
- Elliptical machines
- Cross country skiing
Another great way to stay active (which is my favorite) is to use what I call “active rest”.
Active rest means you are still doing physical activity, but you are not doing strenuous exercise.
Cross training is still an intense workout. If you want to take your rest days seriously, so that your muscles can heal, but you still want to move your butt, then active rest is the way to go.
On your rest days, get out and play! Have fun! Join a team sport, such as basketball, softball or volleyball. Or, if you prefer going it solo, take up a round of golf or hit the slopes (or the waves!). Snowboarding and surfing are great alternatives as well.
As you can see, there are both, pros and cons, to doing cardio exercise every day. Cardio every day can help lift your mood, fight off disease and increase your energy levels. But too much cardio can burn muscle instead of fat, make it harder to lose weight and open you up to all sorts of injuries.
Ultimately, the choice is yours. If you do decide to do cardio every day, know the risks and take precautions. Listen to your body. Don’t run every day if you are a new runner, just getting over an injury or fighting something off.
Give active rest a try instead. Just move your butt and have some fun!