Why You Should Run A Mile Instead Of A Marathon

Erin Brodwin

So you swore you'd run a marathon this year.

Good news is you can stop feeling guilty about not starting to train for it yet.

As it turns out, you can get some of the same benefits of long distance running and other types of endurance training without ever passing the five-mile mark.

That's right. Running fast and hard for just five to 10 minutes a day can add years to your life, just like running for hours can. In fact, people who run fewer than an hour a week — so long as they get in their few minutes of daily running — get similar benefits in terms of heart health compared with people who run more than three hours a week.

That finding squares with recent research showing that short bursts of intense exercise can provide some of the same health benefits as long, more endurance-style workouts.

Marathoners, Meet Interval Training

One of the most popular forms of the quick workout — and the one that's been studied the most — is interval training. Basically, you work yourself as hard and fast as you can for a few minutes, rest, then do it again. The best part? It typically only lasts between five and 10 minutes total. (There's even a New York Times workout app based on the idea, called the 7-Minute Workout. More on that here.)

Despite being far less time consuming than a marathon training session, an interval workout may actually be healthier in the long run (pun intended), according to some research done in the past decade.

A 2012 study comparing a group of runners who did traditional, continuous runs with a group of runners who did interval training found that both groups achieved nearly the same results. There was one small difference, though. The interval trainers had better peak oxygen uptake, an important measure of endurance.

And a recent study in the journal Diabetologia found that doing walking interval training — an hour of alternating between three minutes of brisk walking and three minutes of stopping — helped people with diabetes control their blood sugar levels far better than simply walking at the same pace continuously.

Still Not Convinced?

Consider this: Distance running could actually be bad for you.

There's some evidence to suggest that prolonged, intense exercise — like the type that's necessary in the weeks and months before a marathon and the time of the race itself — can have some unhealthy side effects, from reduced immune function to digestive issues.

Working the body to its maximum, some research shows, can reduce the body's natural ability to fend off upper respiratory infections including colds and the flu. Short bouts of activity, on the other hand, improve immune function. Quick workouts appear to not only reduce your chances of getting sick but reduce the severity of an illness when you do come down with something.

Up to 71% of long-distance runners also experience abdominal cramping and diarrhea (the latter being so frequent that runners have a term for it: "Runner's Trots," a.k.a. "runner's diarrhea"). Many runners (even those without a history of it), experience acid reflux, a condition that causes everything from heartburn and indigestion to coughing, hoarseness, and asthma during and immediately after a long run.

Here's what it all comes down to: Whether or not you stick to a long-distance routine or opt for a quicker, daily exercise plan, it's important to keep in mind that more is not always better.

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