For years, I felt that if I ran for less than an hour I hadn’t really worked out. Whatever effort I put in wasn’t enough if I worked out less, so it didn’t count. When I trained for half marathons, marathons, and sprint triathlons, I would run or work out for at least 60 minutes and up to 2 hours.
Was it enough? Did I lose weight? Did I feel superfit? Nope. I felt exhausted most of the time, and when I trained for two marathons, I actually gained weight. (Yes, that happens.) Running for long periods of time didn’t work for me and new research shows that I’m not the only one.
A study in the British medical journal Heart, found that limiting exercise to between 30 and 50 minutes may be best for your heart. Researchers studied a group of marathoners and found that while their overall health was better than those who didn’t exercise, the marathoners who ran more than 20 miles a week were more likely to have heart problems than those who ran less.
I don’t think the two marathons I did (one where I was outpaced by a power walker old enough to be my mom) really put that much strain to my heart, but I do know that making a switch to running more often and for less time has made all the difference for me.
Instead of working out longer, I’m trying to work out smarter. I’m working with fitness expert Holly Perkins, who has taught me that I don’t need to wait to exercise until I have an hour and a half to go on a long run. I’m getting a little bit of exercise in every day. Some days (okay, most days) I barely have a half hour. So I do what I can. I pop in a workout video or do push ups or go for a quick run. I’m not exhausted and because I’m not just running, I feel stronger all over.
In Gretchen Reynolds’s book The First 20 Minutes, the New York Times columnist explains that any amount of exercise will make you more healthy than if you’re not moving your body. You can get fit by working out for 30 minutes a day 5 days a week even if you split it up to two 15-minute sessions twice a day.
Not only do I feel better when I run for less than an hour, but I also feel less hungry on days that I exercise. I’m often famished after a long run, but I also feel that I deserve to eat something crazy because I worked out so much. I’m working out just as hard, but for a shorter period of time, so physically and psychologically, I don’t feel I can reward myself with a burger and fries every other day that I’m training for a race.
So I’m running less, which means I’m eating less (and I’m working with a dietician so I’m eating healthier). It’s sadly ironic that for the past 20 years, I was convinced that if I just ran longer, harder, faster that I would lose weight. Now that I don’t run as much and take a more moderate approach to exercise, I’m losing weight. And now that I weigh less, I’m running faster than ever.
Read more from me at
More from me at Mom o Menos: