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Why short runs count

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Are you quick to dismiss the benefits of shorter runs? Don’t be – short runs can get you fit and help you live longer. Here’s why they are more effective than you think

If you’re in the habit of doing longer runs lasting for 40 minutes or more, you may doubt the benefits of shorter sessions. But if you are going to run every day, shorter runs make sense, as you’ll be less likely to get injured than if you do daily long runs.

Shorter runs are not only easier to fit into a busy schedule, but are often underestimated for their effectiveness in burning calories and improving your health and fitness.
When you break it down, short runs meet the recommended exercise guidelines. The American College of Sports Medicine’s 2010 guidelines for improving cardiovascular fitness recommend exercising for three to five times per week at various intensities (57-94 per cent of maximum heart rate) for 20 to 90 minutes each day. These are the guidelines for getting fitter.

If improving health is your main motivation, the NHS recommends 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week, which equates to almost 11 minutes per day if you’re doing a run streak.

So whether your aim is to improve your health or fitness (or both), you can meet these guidelines easily by short daily runs.


#RunEveryDay Challenge 2015 - @kythespy, Twitter
#RunEveryDay Challenge 2015 – @kythespy, Twitter


Live longer

Short, regular runs can also reduce your risk of developing heart disease and increase your chances of living longer. A study published in the Journal of The American College of Cardiology that looked at cardiovascular risk in over 55,000 adults revealed that shorter runs (even for five to ten minutes per day at around 6 miles per hour), can markedly reduce the risk of death and add three years to your life.

Overall, the research showed that runners have a 45 per cent lower risk of dying from heart disease than non-runners.

#RunEveryDay Challenge 2015 - @zedster_13_1, Twitter
#RunEveryDay Challenge 2015 – @zedster_13_1, Twitter

Here are some other reasons why short runs can be effective…

1. Greater motivation – If you know you’ve only got to run for 15-20 minutes, you’ll be less tempted to skip a run. This means you’re more likely to stick to a running schedule in the long-term, therefore reaping the health and fitness benefits.

2. Weight-loss benefits – Think short runs won’t boost weight loss? Think again. If you run for 20 minutes each day, you’ll burn approximately 200 calories. To lose 1lb of body fat per week, you’d need to reduce your total calorie intake in one week by 3500 calories. This means creating a daily calorie deficit of 500 calories. If you reduce food intake by 300 calories and burn 200 calories per day from running, you’ll still create an adequate deficit to achieve your weight loss goal without spending vast amounts of time exercising.

3. Better quality running sessions – During shorter runs, it’s easier to motivate yourself to work harder, as you know you’ll only be running for a shorter time-frame.

4. More efficient metabolic rate – Shorter runs can often be more intense than longer ones. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that those who did high intensity exercise, like running intervals, burned more calories at rest than those training at a lower intensity.

5. Stronger immune system compared to longer runs – Longer runs are more likely to lower your immune system. Research shows that long runs can reduce the body’s ability to fight infections such as colds and flu. However, short bouts of running can improve immune function.

6. Reduced risk of ‘Runners Trots’ – Diarrhoea is more common during longer running sessions. Although the exact cause of ‘Runner’s Trots’ isn’t clear, experts think it may be due to the jostling of the organs and decreased blood flow to the intestines. Up to 71 per cent of distance runners are reported to have tummy troubles.

7. Clear your head – A short run before work will set you up for the day, giving you the chance to prepare yourself mentally. If you run at the end of the day it’s a chance to solve any issues that arose during the day and let off some steam.

8. Be a stronger runner – As runners, we know our injury risk will increase if we don’t stretch and do our strength exercises, but fitting all the elements of a training plan into a busy week can be a challenge. If you’re doing shorter runs and spending less time running, this will give you more time to have a really good stretch at the end of your run and free you up to go to the gym and do some strength work, both of which will benefit your running.

#RunEveryDay Challenge 2015 - @miccmicc_3, Twitter
#RunEveryDay Challenge 2015 – @miccmicc_3, Twitter


Examples of effective shorter sessions

20-minute interval run

Warm up – 5 minutes at a gentle intensity

Run at a challenging pace for 2 minutes

Run at a comfortable pace for 2 minutes

Do this 3 times in total

Run at a gentle pace for 3 minutes to cool down

25-minute threshold run

Threshold runs will improve your fitness as you’re working on the edge of your comfort zone and will also make your normal running pace feel much easier.

Warm up – 5 minutes at a gentle intensity

Run on the edge of discomfort for 4 minutes (hard, but not a sprint)

Run at a gentle pace for 1 minute

Do this 3 times in total

Run at a gentle pace for 5 minutes to cool down

Exercise intensity guide:

Use the Rate of Perceived Exertion, which rates how hard you are working on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being extremely light, 3 out of 10 being moderate and 10 out of 10 like sprinting for a bus.

Don’t do interval or threshold sessions more than once a week and certainly not on consecutive days, as they are challenging. Follow an interval or threshold session with a gentle recovery run the next day.

About the author

Ronhill is delighted to work with Christina Macdonald a highly experienced fitness writer and editor with more than 20 years’ of experience in media. A keen runner herself, she has completed numerous 5K and 10K events, ten half marathons and two marathons. She is also a qualified Level 3 Personal Trainer and running group leader. Christina is on the board as Contributing Editor for Women’s Running in addition to owning her own content company, Healthy Content. Follow her @writefitchris




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