What Really Happens to Your Body When You Run Every Day

Is it running every day OK? While you can do it safely, even experienced runners benefit from days off to recover.
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What Really Happens to Your Body When examines the head-to-toe effects of common behaviors, actions and habits in your everyday life.

There are lots of convincing reasons people turn to running or jogging every day to stay active: You don't need very much equipment, you burn a ton of calories and you reap the positive effects of being in nature (if you run outdoors).

"Running is a full-body metabolic, weight-bearing workout, so the benefits are enormous," Andrew Slane, running coach at Precision Run and Equinox group fitness instructor on Variis, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

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"You will see improved cardiovascular and respiratory function, strengthening of all your leg muscles, as well as your core, back and arms, and greater bone density. It is also one of the best calorie-burning cardio workouts you can do."

But is it OK to run every day? Does too much of this high-impact sport take a toll on your body? Whether you power up the treadmill or hit the ground running, here are the benefits of running every day (and the side effects).

Tip

How much should you run a week? Many running experts recommend running no more than four days per week. Run more often than that, and all the repetitive impact may take a toll on your lower-body muscles and joints.

The Pros

Your Lower-Body Muscles Grow Stronger

Running every day results in strengthened lower-body muscles. That's because running fires up these muscles to produce power mile after mile.

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It takes many muscles to make running possible, says certified strength and conditioning specialist Tony Ambler-Wright, CPT, CSCS. The calves, quads and glutes ensure your hips and legs stay properly aligned while absorbing force and storing elastic energy, which translates to greater kinetic energy and force production, he says.

The muscles that make up the calves (the gastrocnemius and soleus) are responsible for lifting the heel and pushing you forward, adds Rachel Tavel, PT, DPT, CSCS, a physical therapist at Shift Wellness in New York City.

But other muscles you may not have given much thought to before — like the anterior and posterior tibialis in your lower leg, which help to control and decelerate foot strike — are also challenged and strengthened by a regular running routine.

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While running ​does​ train your lower-body muscles, improving their overall strength and power ultimately comes from strength training. Instead of running every day, hit the weight room on alternate days to prevent muscle imbalances and ensure that each stride is smooth and efficient.

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Your Core and Back Become More Stable

The muscles of your core also play an important role in running. They not only "transfer force to and from the lower and upper extremities, but they also contribute to pelvic and trunk rotation," Ambler-Wright says. That rotation are necessary for moving from one place to the next effectively and efficiently, he adds.

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Your back — your lats more specifically — also work to produce power in your strides. These large, fan-shaped muscles are the only upper-body muscles that attach to both the spine and the pelvis.

"The lat works in concert with the opposite glute to absorb and produce force during the gait cycle," she says. "This is evidenced by the arms and legs moving in dynamic opposition of each other during running. The faster one runs, the more important this relationship between arm swing and movement becomes."

To help improve your lat strength, take a break from your daily runs to squeeze in some upper-body workouts. Make sure to also work in some core exercises at the ends of your runs or tack them onto your lower- and upper-body strength training days.

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You Can Improve Bone Density and Joint Health

Running is a weight-bearing activity that helps improve bone density and strength.

And contrary to popular belief, one of the health benefits of jogging is that it can be beneficial for people with rheumatoid arthritis, says the Arthritis Foundation. Jogging may also help prevent or delay osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, as it strengthens your bones and the muscles around your joints.

However, people who currently have arthritis must consult their doctors before taking up any physical activity and avoid exerting joints that are swollen or painful.

Your Breathing Gets More Efficient

Running every day will help you learn how to use your breath more efficiently. It all stems from your diaphragm, the main muscle that controls breathing, which sits between the chest and abs and is a large stabilizer of the core.

"But if diaphragmatic breathing is altered or reduced, the secondary respiratory muscles like the scalenes (breathing muscle in the neck), sternocleidomastoid (neck muscle), pec minor (chest muscle), levator scapulae (upper-back muscle) and upper trapezius (upper-back muscle) may be relied on more heavily, leading to shallower, more chest-oriented breathing," Ambler-Wright says.

"Over time, this may lead to altered rib, shoulder, neck and head alignment, resulting in pain due to overuse of these muscles," he says.

Taking time to do exercises that strengthen the diaphragm and abs can help train these muscles to and in turn increase your oxygen levels while running.

Many running experts recommend running no more than four days a week.

Your Balance May Improve

"Running is a single-leg sport," Tavel says. "You leap and land on one leg at a time." That takes balance. When you're running, you're using your core, back and leg muscles to stay upright. And, as mentioned earlier, your lower-leg muscles control foot strike, essential for maintaining balance.

So it makes sense that unilateral, or one-sided, exercises can help you bolster your balance even further — and make you a more powerful runner. Add unilateral movements such as single-leg deadlifts, split squats and single-leg glute bridges to your routine on your days off from running.

Your Heart Gets Stronger

Running is one of the most popular cardio workouts for a reason: It improves the strength and efficiency of the cardiovascular system. And running high-intensity intervals can improve maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max) as much as functional HIIT exercises, such as burpees, a September 2019 randomized controlled trial in the ​Journal of Sports Science and Medicine.

And while you might think you need to go hard at all times to really reap this reward, it's simply not true. Just 5 to 10 minutes of running per day can improve overall health and longevity.

When you're ready to run longer, experts recommend extending by only 10 percent every week. So, if you normally run for 30 minutes three days a week, you can extend your run to 33 minutes on one of those days.

You Might Lose Weight

Olson doesn't recommend people who have overweight (a BMI of 25 to 30) or obesity (BMI of 30 or higher) to start running for weight loss, because the impact is more pronounced and can increase the risk of injuries to the joints.

But if you've gotten the all-clear from a health care professional, the number of calories you burn will vary depending on factors like the intensity of your workout and your age and size. For example, according to Harvard Health Publishing, a 155-pound person running 12 minutes per mile burns 298 calories in 30 minutes.

While you'll need to make adjustments to your diet as well, burning calories with exercise like running — which works multiple muscle groups at once, resulting in that high calorie burn — can certainly help you along a weight-loss journey.

On the other hand, over time, some beginners notice they gain weight from starting a new running routine. This may be due to muscle growth that offsets lost body fat. Still, because running is so taxing on the muscles and joints, it's best to avoid doing it every day.

How to Run With Good Form

  • Run tall. Think of having a string at the top of your head gently pulling you up.
  • Relax your shoulders, hands and jaw. Keep your core engaged and firm — not overly tense, but enough to keep you from flailing around.
  • Don't let your hands cross your midline. Too much twisting of your upper body can cause your feet to cross your midline, which wastes energy and can cause pain or injury.
  • Aim to land your foot gently beneath your center of gravity. Landing too far in front can lead to both increased risk of injury and decreased speed.

The Cons

Your Performance Might Plateau

Running does get a little easier the more often you do it, but just like any type of workout, running the same distance and speed every day can lead to a plateau where you're unable to improve your pace or increase your mileage.

If you're running every day, you're most likely using your slow-twitch muscle fibers and aren't training your fast-twitch muscle fibers enough, which is where power and speed are going to come from.

What's ultimately going to make you a better runner is adding strength training to your routine (sensing a theme yet?). Focus on your quads, hamstrings, glutes, inner- and outer-thigh muscles and core, says Jonathan Cane, an exercise physiologist, running coach and co-author of Triathlon Anatomy.

You Could Get Injured

While your muscles and cardiorespiratory system can adapt relatively quickly to a new running routine, it takes much longer for the tendons, ligaments and joint connective tissues to adapt to that stress, Ambler-Wright says. And that means if you increase your mileage every day or don't do a proper warm-up before you run, you could risk injury.

Your warm-up is key in helping prevent injuries. You can walk briskly for the first few minutes to loosen your muscles and get the blood flowing. Another option is to warm up at home before you head up with jumping jacks or similar body-weight cardio moves.

Account for the warm-up period when planning your jog to allow yourself enough time for the entire workout. And don't forget to fuel up beforehand and hydrate before, during and after your run.

Additionally, "if a joint has been previously injured and some degeneration has occurred, running daily could potentially accelerate or exacerbate the condition," he says.

If you run with poor mechanics and/or altered alignment, it may place added stress on the soft tissues and joints in your lower back, pelvis and legs. This can lead to increased wear and tear and possible injury, especially if you run every day.

"By only running, the tissues of the body are stressed in the same way through the same ranges of motion over and over and over," Ambler-Wright says.

This is especially true if you're living with obesity, as the extra body weight means more stress on your joints. Running or jogging compounds this stress, so it's important to get medical clearance before starting any strenuous exercise programs, including running.

Your doctor may give you instructions about how to jog safely and suggest a training plan, such as a run/walk or jog/walk regimen. You'll also want to mix in some lower-impact cardio like swimming and full-body strength training sessions to help you build muscle and stamina for your runs.

Common Injuries From Running Too Often

Some of the most common overuse injuries associated with running, according to the Cleveland Clinic, include:

  • Achilles tendonitis:​ inflammation of the tendon that connects your calf to your heel
  • Plantar fasciitis: ​irritation of the band of connective tissue between the heel and forefoot
  • Shin splints:​ pain or inflammation of the muscles or tendons along the shin
  • Iliotibial band syndrome:​ tightness and swelling of the iliotibial band, the thick band of tissues that runs on the outside of your thigh, from the hip to the knee
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome:​ irritation of cartilage under the kneecap or strain of underlying tendons, also known as runner’s knee

That's why it's important to take days off from running. Focus on stability and mobility training, as well as recovery strategies, like foam rolling, sleep and nutrition, to help prevent injury, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

Your recovery routine should also include cooling down with stretches after a run, as well as proper refueling. Aim to have a snack with a 3:1 to 4:1 carb-to-protein ratio within 20 minutes of finishing a run to help speed recovery. The faster and more thoroughly you recover, the sooner you can get back to effective running, he says.

Cross training — or incorporating different types of workouts other than running into your routine — can also help prevent injury. Activities such as cycling and swimming work well because they "keep the cardio systems in top shape while doing non-weight bearing aerobic exercise," says Michele Olson, CSCS, a senior clinical professor of sports science at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama.

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You Risk Overtraining and Burnout

Just as with any other workout you do day after day with no variation or break, running ever day can lead to overtraining and/or burnout.

Signs of overtraining include exhaustion, lack of appetite, decreased athletic performance, frequent illness and insomnia, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). If you think you may be jogging too much, chances are you would benefit from cutting back. If you've been overtraining for months, you may need to stop jogging and focus on rest and recovery until your body returns to normal.

However, if you recognize the signs of overtraining early, you can regain your jogging mojo by taking one to two extra rest days per week and shortening your other jogs. When you start to feel stronger, increase mileage slowly following the 10 percent rule and add calories into your diet accordingly.

Are you on track to achieve your fitness goals? Download the MyPlate app to keep tabs on the number of calories you burn during your workouts and stay motivated.

So, Is Running Every Day OK?

For most people, running four to five days a week should be the max, allowing you ample time for cross-training, strength training and rest.

Your level of experience should dictate how frequently you decide to run. "With experience, many runners can run five, six or even seven days per week, but early on, I wouldn't recommend more than every other day," Cane says.

"For veteran runners with good mechanics who are relatively injury-free, I have no objection to running every day, though, for most I'd probably prefer to complement their running with some cycling or swimming or other lower-impact cardiovascular activity," he says.

If you're going to run every day, your training schedule becomes even more important. "Your running program should be structured at the appropriate intensities and volume, which has to take into account the individual's training goals and fitness history," Ambler-Wright says.

"You can run most days, but you have to alternate distance and speed," Olson adds. "Some days should be slower, but could be longer runs; some days could be faster but shorter; some days could be on softer terrain, such as grass or bike paths." Switching up the terrain and intensities of your runs can help reduce the repetitive pressure on your joints.

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