A runner’s commitment is measured in miles – or kilometers – and if you listen to enough people talk about running, you’ll inevitably wonder to yourself, “How much should I run?”
There isn’t one simple answer to that. How much you should run is going to depend on your goals.
So first, think about what you want to get out of running.
Are you running for general fitness, for weight loss, for your mental health, or to get better at running? Once you’ve narrowed it down, you can start thinking about how much you should run.
I’ll walk you through a few rules of thumb below.
How Much Should I Run for General Fitness?
If your main goal is general fitness, you probably don’t need to run all that much – all things considered.
The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publishes a set of Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines summarize the research about exercising for health and general fitness.
The most recent guidelines call for adults to complete between 75 and 150 minutes of vigorous exercise. Moderate exercise, like walking, would require 150 to 300 minutes. But even easy running will elevate your heart rate into the vigorous level of exercise.
How much is 75 to 150 minutes of running?
The average recreational runner is going to run an easy mile in about 10 minutes. If you’re in great shape, that might be slightly less (8 to 9 minutes), and if you’re just starting out it might be more (11 to 12 minutes). But 10 minutes is a good rough estimate.
At 10 minutes per mile, you’d need to run somewhere between 7.5 miles and 15 miles per week to meet the guidelines.
If you assume that a typical daily run is about a half hour – 30 minutes – you could achieve this by running 3 to 5 days per week. Three days at 3 miles per day would put you at the lower end, while five days would put you at the higher end.
Could you run more than that?
Sure, of course you can!
As long as you build up slowly and don’t injure yourself, there’s little downside to running more. But for general health and fitness purposes, you’ll see the most benefit in those first 10 to 15 miles.
The guidelines also call for doing some kind of muscle strengthening exercise, like lifting weights, two times per week. S if you have limited time, you’d be better off investing some of that time in a short weight lifting routine than in additional miles.
How Much Should I Run for Weight Loss?
But what about if your goal is running for weight loss?
Well, in that case you might want to run a little bit more. Losing weight requires you to burn more calories than you consume, and running can help with that by increasing the total amount of calories you burn per day.
A general rule of thumb is that running a mile burns about 150 calories. Losing one pound of body fat requires burning approximately 3,500 calories – or running about 23 miles.
A healthy goal for weight loss is to target one to two pounds of weight loss per week. If you assume an otherwise healthy diet with a slight calorie deficit built in (~250 calories per day), you can achieve this by running 15 to 25 miles per week. This would mean running three to five miles per day, three to five times per week.
If you run less than this, you probably won’t see much impact. And while you could run more than this, you may end up seeing diminishing returns.
High volume running requires good nutrition to recover properly.
If you run too much and put your body under too much stress, you’ll injure yourself. Running 30, 40, or 50 miles per week – while generating a huge calorie deficit – is a recipe for disaster.
So if you do want to run more – perhaps because you want to get better at running – you should increase the amount of food you eat so that you still only have a moderate calorie deficit. Keep within the range of one to two pounds of weight loss per week, and you should be good.
For more on this topic, check out these articles:
- How Many Miles Should I Run to Lose Weight?
- Running for Weight Loss: Everything You Need to Know
- Frequently Asked Questions About Running and Weight Loss
How Much Should I Run for Mental Health?
Or what if your main motivation for running is your mental health – how many miles should you run then?
There’s plenty of research showing that exercise – including running – is good for your mental health. It can improve your mood and self esteem, especially if you exercise in natural settings. It can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well.
The most important thing is that you commit to the exercise program consistently. Although more is probably better, as little as 20 minutes per day, 3 days per week of moderate exercise is enough to have an impact.
In terms of running, that means as little as about 2 miles per day, 3 days per week – a total of six miles. Time is more important than distance, so there’s nothing wrong with doing 20 minutes of run-walk intervals and covering significantly less ground. Committing to more distance may seem daunting at first, and it’s better to do a small amount consistently than to try to do a lot and give up.
Once you get started running, how much you run to achieve optimal mental health is probably going to vary quite a bit. More exercise is good, to an extent. But too much exercise can have detrimental effects.
Overtraining – running too much, too soon – will have a negative impact on your mood and likely compound any mental health issues you’re experiencing. Likewise, getting injured will probably not do you any good.
Personally, I enjoy longer runs. I typically run 45 to 60 minutes per day. This gives my mind time to “wander,” and it becomes a meditative experience. In the beginning, I often mull over work or personal problems that are occupying my mind. But by the end of the run, my brain has calmed down.
Some people also find it helpful to maintain a running streak. Running every day can help create a routine and add structure to your day. But if you’re streaking, you’ll want to make sure that you don’t run too far. Without rest, the body will break down. Start small – 1 to 2 miles per day – and then increase alternating days.
This way, if you run longer one day, you follow it with a short recovery day. Of course, some people manage to run an hour a day, every day. But that kind of volume takes time to adapt to, and if you try to do that too soon you’ll definitely hurt yourself. Life is a marathon, not a sprint – so build slowly.
How Much Should I Run to Get Better at Running?
All of those other reasons are fine and good, but what if your main goal is to get better at running – then how many miles should you run?
The short answer: More.
Whatever you’re currently running, you will probably improve by adding additional volume.
For someone new to running, 10 to 15 miles per week is a good goal. Aim to run about 3 miles per run. Start with three days a week and build up to 5.
Depending on your starting point, this might take a few weeks – or it might take a few months. Either way, strive to do this for at least a few weeks to help establish a small base of running before advancing beyond this.
This low volume will help produce some early adaptations to your cardiovascular system, and it will help you find your easy running pace. It’ll also start to prepare your body for the wear and tear caused by running. But it’s not enough volume to do any real workouts, and you’ll be limited in terms of how much you can improve.
If you’re ready to step up to the next level, try to increase to 25 or 30 miles per week. At this point, you should be running five days a week. Four of those runs should be 45 minutes to an hour, and one run on the weekend should be longer.
At this volume, you’ll be able to start incorporating some real workouts. A five or six mile run is long enough to incorporate a warm-up, an interval session, and a cool down. With some consistent training, this will be enough mileage to help improve your short distance – 5k or 10k – times. This also is enough mileage to prepare you to finish a half marathon, but it’s probably not enough to train effectively for it.
Beyond that, you can go up another notch to 40 to 50 miles per week. At this point, you’ll probably need to run six or seven days a week – a couple shorter runs (30 to 45 mins), a couple medium runs (60-75 mins), and a long run (90-120 mins). This is a commitment, but it’s the amount of running required to really start seeing your potential.
At this volume, you can incorporate longer and more intense workouts. You’ll also be running enough to effectively train for longer distances, like a half marathon. This mileage could prepare you well to finish a marathon, although it wouldn’t be enough to reach your full potential.
If you have the time, and you’re truly committed to improving your running, you can keep going beyond that. Up to a point, more mileage is better. 70 to 80 miles per week may be a lot for “normal” runners, but competitive runners and elites can easily log over 100 miles per week. Some people adapt to high mileage better than others, so the trick is finding what works for you and your body – and not pushing beyond that.
How Much Do You Run Per Week? And How Much Do You Want To Run?
It might seem crazy to run that much, but if you run consistently for a time you’ll find yourself gradually improving. In the spring, I started at 10 miles per week. Over the summer, I was up to 20. Now I’m at about 30 to 35. Next year, I’m sure I’ll get close to 50 miles while I’m training for a marathon.
That’s probably still only 8 to 10 hours per week – which is not an insane amount of time if it’s spent doing something you enjoy doing. I’d wager many people spend more than that sitting on a couch watching TV. So why not spend that time running, instead.
What about you – how many miles do you put in per week? I’d be interested to hear your experience. Drop a comment below and share.