Should I Run Every Day?
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Running streaks are all the rage right now. If you haven’t heard of a running streak, the idea is to run every single day, even if some of those days consist of 1 mile or less. Physical difficulty aside, I applaud those who complete running streaks for being able to figure out the logistics of putting on their running shoes every single day. Even as a dedicated runner myself, there is at least one day a year where I’m stuck at the airport, needing to wear heels, attending an all-day class, or somehow distanced from my running shoes. I’m sure all of you running streak people are more creative than I am and have come up with some clever ways of sneaking running into your schedules (let us know in the comments below!). But, the question still stands: Should I run every day? Is it a good idea for my brain and body? Let’s take a look at the benefits and the consequences.
Your Body: Running Every Day
After a long period of running, you’ll notice your body begin to change. This is why it’s hard for beginners to initiate a running routine, while seasoned runners don’t share the same complaints. Once running becomes second nature, our bodies become more efficient; breathing eases, lung capacity increases, and muscles become accustomed to the work and are less sore the next day. The health benefits of running are great and there’s no doubt you will experience them if you begin to run every day.
Running every single day will teach your body how to deal with fatigue. Even if you’re only running 1 mile, your body will never get a chance to fully recover. While we’ll talk about the downsides of this next, this can be an asset during long, hard runs or races. Being able to push past fatigue and reach the finish line is a great skill for endurance athletes to foster.
On the other hand, keeping your body in a constant state of work and fatigue can lead to injuries. I’ve written extensively about the consequences of overtraining, and not taking rest days is a sure fire way to experience those consequences. When you exercise, you stress your body and initiate changes in your muscles and physiology. It isn’t until you rest that these changes get implemented. For example, if I work my calves while running up a hill, it isn’t until my rest day the next day that my body will repair my calves and make them stronger. If, instead of resting, I go out and run again, my body has little time to recover. This is a recipe for injury.
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Let’s be clear that all of our bodies are different. While I may only need one rest day a week, someone else may need two or three, or none at all. Rest and recovery is a very individualized process and you will only be able to determine what your body needs through experimentation. So, if you’re asking yourself if you should run every day, give it a try and see how you feel. Don’t commit to a running streak without a willingness to be flexible. There’s no point in taking your body past the limit in order to satisfy your streak and then end up with a serious injury that takes you out of the game completely. Listen to your body and rest when needed.
Your Brain: Running Every Day
When you run every day, your brain will start to view it as a habit. No longer will there be great moaning and groaning every time you put on your shoes. Your brain will make running a habit and will eventually surrender to it. There’s nothing more powerful in the area of lifestyle change than the creation of habits. There’s even a great book about it! Before long, running will become as normal as brushing your teeth or putting on your socks. By turning running into a daily habit, it will “seem easier.”
Another upside to running every day is that you may feel better mentally. I know that whenever I run, I’m more alert and energized the rest of the day. In addition to the famously mentioned “runner’s high,” there’s evidence that running may have an impact on depressive symptoms through its influence on serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline. Consistent exercise may also improve your memory and stave off cognitive impairments that come with aging. Basically, when your body is moving, your brain is too. And it likes it. You may find that you begin to crave the mental benefits of running and actually look forward to your daily run as a result.
Of course, there are some downsides as well. Doing something every day can be draining after a sustained period of time. While we can all brush our teeth every day for years on end without problems, this activity is fairly short and painless. Running, on the other hand, requires a great deal of energy. This is not to mention the stress of rearranging your lifestyle to accommodate a time-consuming daily activity. Even when running becomes a habit, there will be days you’ll want to stay in bed and eat pancakes.
The mental fatigue of monotony aside, there are times that running every day gets in the way. The day after your best friend’s birthday? Your own birthday? Do you really feel like lacing up your shoes those days? Committing to a streak is hard when life gets in the way. When road blocks pop up, it’s easy to get frustrated and want to ditch the sport altogether. Before you start a running streak, consider the mental impacts of having the sport play such a big role in your life.
As you can see, there are both upsides and downsides to running every day. No running routine is ever going to be perfect, whether you’re running every day or once a month. Decide what’s right for you and roll with it. The important thing is to be flexible and understand that running routines often need to change. For more tips on setting your own running goals, check out my book, Better Running Goals. Feel free to check out an excerpt about the meaning behind your running goals.