Running might be one of the simplest and yet most effective exercises we can perform, right? You don’t need much to do it and we all know how to run. Numerous studies have shown that running increases lifespan. For instance, a well-regarded meta-analysis of research on running and longevity in 2018 found that runners have about a 30% lower rate of all-cause mortality on follow-up than those who don’t run or jog. It even went as far as to say that “any amount of running, even once a week, is better than no running.”
Why? Well, running ensures greater cardiovascular fitness, lower cholesterol and better body composition (meaning less fat). Runners also benefit from excellent glucose and insulin control, stronger bones, better hormone regulation and positive neurological functioning. Science writer Christie Aschwanden rates sleep as one of the few recovery “techniques” that’s actually supported by solid evidence. But when it comes to running, which is better for you? Quick, short bursts of speed? Or a more measured pace, spread out over long-distance?
Put another way: Does slow and steady really win the race? Like many things when it comes to fitness, it probably depends on who you ask and what you, yourself, are prioritizing. Short-distance runners prioritize speed and explosive power, while long-distance runners are more concerned with endurance. There are benefits to both and you might want to pepper your runs with both to get the most from each discipline.
The Benefits of Short Sprints
Sprinting is great at building muscle mass and strength, and it’s the key to increasing your speed, while helping tone muscles. If you’re looking to lose weight, the elevated intensity of running shorter distances can also lead your body to burn more calories at a faster rate. Melissa Kendter, an ACE-certified trainer and running coach, says sprinting relies on fast-twitch muscles. Strengthening those can be a useful transferable skill in other sports. For example, if you play baseball and want to master the mad dash to home plate, sprinting will be great for your training.
To train, Kendter suggests sprinting at your top speed for anywhere from 20 to 30 seconds, walk or rest for a minute, and sprint again. And this is why sprinting is better for weight loss because the body works harder during the exercise. Plus, your body continues to work hard after you've finished sprinting as it starts to recover. An added bonus? There’s a reduced risk of long-term injury. Short-distance runners are at less risk of wearing down their muscles in the long term.
Why You Should Go the Distance
Long-distance running can be a wonderful way to boost your endurance while improving your overall cardiovascular and respiratory systems. The long, sustained runs strengthen your heart and open your capillaries, which help send energy to working muscles and flush waste products from fatigued muscles. Long-distance runners rely on slow-twitch muscles, which efficiently use oxygen as fuel for longer periods. That means if you like sports such as basketball or soccer, where running is constant throughout the game, then long-distance running is an ideal way to boost your stamina. Of course, keeping up your strength for a long run requires nearly equal amounts of mental and physical work. Which means running long distances on a regular basis can help your concentration in other areas of your life.
To train properly for long distance run, personal trainer and running coach Ian Scarrott says that you should focus on a steady pace to start to conserve as much energy as possible for a longer period of time. Training for a long-distance race? He suggests aiming for a plan that mainly includes slower, longer runs with some speed work and strength training interspersed, once or twice a week. Slowly work your way to longer mileage, and remember to pace yourself at slower speeds as you start to run further for longer.
So there’s really no right or wrong way to run. Whether it’s quick springs or long-distance, it’s clear that running does a body good and both can have some serious pay-offs. The key is making the distances work for you. So get out, stretch those legs and hit the pavement with confidence.
* FYI: Over one billion pairs of running shoes are sold world-wide every single year.