scorecardRunning every day may be bad for you — here's how often you should run each week to stay healthy
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Running every day may be bad for you — here's how often you should run each week to stay healthy

Elena Bruess,Audrey Springer   

Running every day may be bad for you — here's how often you should run each week to stay healthy
LifeScience4 min read
Running is a great form of exercise that can help you lose weight and boost your mood.    Oleg Breslavtsev/Getty Images
  • Running every day is bad for your health because it increases your risk of overuse injuries like stress fractures, shin splints, and muscle tears.
  • You should run three to five days a week to make sure you're giving your body adequate time to rest and repair.
  • Alternate running days with other forms of exercise like swimming or cycling to challenge new muscle groups.

While running can be an active and cost-effective exercise routine to improve your overall fitness and boost your mood, there are risks to running every day. Here is everything you need to know about how often you should run and when you should take a break from hitting the pavement.

You shouldn't run every day

Whether you are a novice or more experienced, exerting the same muscles and tissues constantly can overtrain your body.

"Running is great, but it's important also to keep the tissue fresh and not have the same stress [and] the same load applied in a consistent manner all the time," says Edward Laskowski, MD, a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Mayo Clinic.

Running every day can increase your risk of overuse injuries, which are caused by repetitive trauma. Overuse injuries include stress injuries in your muscles, tendons, and ligaments as well as stress fractures, according to Laskowski. You can also get pain and inflammation in the muscles and tendons along the shin, an injury called shin splints.

There are two risk factors for overload and stress injuries, says Laskowski: the greater the number of consecutive days running and the greater the total mileage. "It's like a linear graph, if you run 7 days a week and you run a bunch of miles each of those days, then that's a higher risk category."

How often you should run

While you should not run every day, you should aim to run between three and five days a week. That's because, if done right, there are many benefits to running.

"Running is going to improve your quality of sleep, it's going to decrease your stress levels, and enhance your cognition," says Slater Nelson, MS, the owner and coach of the personal training program EsdotFitness in Chicago.

Running, like other aerobic exercises, can also reduce your health risks in cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and some cancers. It can also increase stamina and decrease fatigue, as well as strengthen your muscles.

According to Nelson, you should run for 30 to 45 minutes, with a warmup and cool down included when you're a beginner. Don't just run as fast as you can right away. Start off with a moderate walk for a few minutes then pick up into a light jog. At your peak, you'll be at a light jog or run before slowing back down to a swift, then moderate walk.

In the usual case of adding distance, it's good practice for a runner to only increase their mileage by 10% every week to reduce overuse injuries.

Signs you should take a rest day

Rest days are important to give your body time to recover. According to Laskowski, signs you need a rest day include:

  • Persistent soreness: There is general muscle soreness that comes from running, especially when you first start out, but if the soreness continues longer than 72 hours, it means your muscles are not recovering and your body needs more time to heal.
  • Swelling: If the soreness worsens along with swelling in a joint or a muscle, your body might be injured.
  • Compensation: If your soreness is causing you to compensate, such as limping or having to move differently because of pain.

How long you rest really depends on what the problem is, according to Laskowski. If you do have a stress fracture, those can take four to six weeks off of running to heal. Otherwise, just a day or two should be adequate to recover from sore muscles.

Why you should cross-train

Cross-training, defined as using several different types of exercise to train, can decrease your risk of overuse injuries due to running frequently. It also conditions and strengthens muscles that support you while running.

"I always say you shouldn't play your sport to be in shape, you should be in shape to play your sport," says Laskowski.

A 2015 study found that women who participated in cross-training had higher muscular and aerobic endurance compared to those who only practiced one form of training. Another small study conducted in 2018 found cross-country runners improved their running performance by adding elliptical biking and outdoor cycling to their schedule twice a week.

According to Laskowski, it's good to alternate running with low-impact activities to keep your muscles receiving different stimuli. He says a good example of this is to run on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Then bike on Tuesday, use the elliptical Thursday, and swim on Saturday. This can keep you fresh for running and lowers your risks of overtraining by utilizing different muscles.

Insider's takeaway

Although running is a beneficial activity to do frequently, running every day can increase your risk of injuries like stress fractures and shin splints. Instead, aim to run three to five days a week and incorporate rest days and cross-training like biking or swimming. This not only reduces your chance of running-related injuries but also increases your overall productivity and fitness.