I tried running for 30 minutes a day - here's what I discovered after just two weeks
Writer Samantha Priestley reveals all the benefits she found in running 30 minutes a day
Running 30 minutes a day is certainly a challenge, but it’s a challenge that comes with many benefits and once you’ve started, keeping it up isn’t as hard as you might think.
Most of us assume that running for 30 minutes a day is reserved for serious runners, not the likes of us who run, yes, but wouldn’t necessarily call ourselves ‘runners’. It’s for people training for a marathon or the ultra-fit. But actually, running 30 minutes a day is achievable and not as difficult as we might think.
When I decided to try running 30 minutes a day I approached it with apprehension. I’ve run for this amount of time before, but never every day, and it seemed like such a huge undertaking. I’m currently dealing with menopause, and running has been helping me get rid of my achy joints and it’s lifted my mood. But I did pose the question, should I run every day? I’m prone to injuries, especially to my knees and ankles and I was concerned that running every day could create more problems than it solved. But, honestly, the biggest issue I encountered was the weather. It’s much harder to get out there and run when it's raining hard outside.
I’m aware of the importance of pushing myself a little more now that I’m getting older, and while I am running for weight loss too, it’s more about my physical health. Mike Hamlin NSCA, a CSCS personal trainer, tells us how significant regular running is for women in my age bracket. “Regular running can improve your bone density and decrease your risk of osteoporosis which is something that will be super important for women in their 40s and over in their coming years.” Osteoporosis runs in my family, so this is especially important for me. With this in mind, I was ready to give running 30 minutes every day a try and after running for two weeks, I couldn't quite believe the benefits I experienced.
Benefits of running 30 minutes a day
1. Running 30 minutes a day helps build fitness
This is a benefit I saw very clearly just a week into my challenge. I’m used to running for shorter periods of time and I’m used to walking for 30 minutes, so I was interested to find out what the differences were between running vs walking. It was hard at first and there were days when I thought I wouldn’t make it through the full 30 minutes but I knew it was important to try. I kept going and after a week I began to feel it getting easier. Hamlin, who is also the founder of Everflex Fitness, acknowledges we might not all get faster over a two-week period, and I don’t think I did, but we will get stronger and more confident.
"In a two-week period, you may notice quite the difference in your abilities," he says. "Even if you don't see a massive change in run times, you should start to feel more confident in your stride just by going through the actions of running for a couple of weeks."
2. It leads to better sleep
Anyone experiencing menopause symptoms knows that sleep issues are one that affects our ability to function normally in daily life. To my surprise, over the two weeks and after just a couple of days even, I found running helped me find more restful sleep. I was ready for bed earlier than normal and I slept much more deeply without waking up during the night.
I woke up feeling refreshed the next day and, as the week went on, I began to feel more ready for my daily run as my energy levels were up.
Sleep and running go hand-in-hand though, explains Lorna Wilkins, a level 4 personal trainer. "Resting and getting a good eight to nine hours of sleep will really help improve your recovery time and give you a good boost of energy when you run," she says. So, as much as running 30 minutes a day can help you sleep, sleeping well helps you run better.
3. Running can help with weight loss
Many women who take up this challenge may be running to lose weight - I was certainly one of them. I put on a little weight when my menopause first hit and I'd really wanted to start working toward the size I was before.
I’ll be honest, after running 30 minutes a day for two weeks I only saw a small amount of weight loss, but since I didn’t change my diet at the same time, I think this is to be expected. Although I did notice some changes to my body shape overall: I saw my muscles become more defined and my wobbly bits becoming firmer.
Weight loss may take a little longer than two weeks and to be done most effectively, it needs to be done with a healthy calorie deficit, but the changes I have seen over just that short amount of time show me that this will happen with a little patience.
4. Running 30 minutes a day can reduce stress and anxiety
While it’s no substitute for seeking professional help if you suffer from anxiety or any other mental health-related issues, I found running is one of the best exercises for stress relief, helping to reduce daily stress and anxiety and boosting my mood.
I've always found being able to get out in the fresh air and among nature helpful when it comes to dealing with stress and anxiety - which is something I’ve suffered more with since experiencing menopause - but running for 30 minutes has supercharged this reduction even further, simply because I’m outside for longer. I run further, so I get to enjoy areas of the countryside I wouldn’t normally get to, and that’s really helped to boost my mood. It's for this reason that I prefer running outside vs on a treadmill; there's nothing that beats the feeling of fresh air.
But Hamlin suggests another reason for this running related-mood boost. "Running is cardiovascular work and this has a particularly positive mental effect on us," he says, all thanks to the effect it has on the prefrontal region of the brain, which is involved in mood regulation. As a study linked to the University of Tsukuba reveals, even just 10 minutes of moderate-intensity running can bring about a more positive mood by activating this area of the brain.
“In addition, you will notice that your muscles don't feel as sore anymore since your body will have adapted to this huge training stimulus that it wasn't prepared for at one point, and that brings a feeling of achievement and tangible progress.”
What happens if you run 30 minutes a day?
If you run 30 minutes a day, as I did, chances are you'll notice a difference in both your mental and physical wellbeing. I feel stronger than I did before I started this challenge. One of my main aims was to improve the weakness and pain I’ve been having in my joints since menopause. My knees used to hurt just walking up and down stairs and my ankles would give me pain during shorter runs. After running for 30 minutes a day, I can honestly say these pains have almost completely gone.
As Hamlin says, this is a huge bonus for anyone over 40 experiencing perimenopause symptoms. "One of the main benefits women over 40 will get [from running regularly] is increased bone density, which is important," he notes, as the natural decline in hormones like estrogen during menopause lowers bone density and puts those going through it at a higher risk of osteoporosis and fractures. But as the trainer also says, improving bone density can be hugely beneficial for women of any age.
However, I did feel tired after running every day for two weeks. I will still try for the half an hour mark going forward but I've decided not to do it every day. I’m glad I did the challenge, but I think setting myself the rigid goal of 30 minutes a day might be difficult to stick to in daily life with everything else going on.
Concerned about losing the progress I'd made over the two weeks, I asked Hamlin if I could still experience the same benefits of running after shorter sessions on some days, whether it's even necessary to run for 30 minutes a day, or if a gentler exercise for a longer amount of time - like walking 30 minutes a day instead - would be better.
“While running for 30 minutes a day can provide many health benefits, it may not be for everyone," he says. "The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, which can be broken down into smaller sessions if needed. So, running for two to three times a week for 20 to 30 minutes each time can also provide positive changes in health and wellbeing."
Overall, he notes, "More movement every day can be helpful for the average person. But for one person, running 30 minutes per day may be too much, and for another person, it may not be enough. There is a lot of individual variation in this and it will depend on their injury history, weight, and cardiovascular health.”
Tips for building up your running endurance
- Accept that it's going to be a challenge: Even if you’re already a regular runner, like I was, going from shorter runs or not running every day to running 30 minutes a day can be tough. It’s important to understand your mind and body as a whole and to pay attention to it.
- Eat the right foods: Personal trainer Wilkins, who is also the founder of wellness and consulting company Tommy Hatto Online, points out that what you’re putting into your body is as important for endurance as how hard and frequently you train. “It’s essential to make sure that you're fuelling your body with the right food. [You should be] eating all food groups and sufficient amounts of carbohydrates, such as oats, to give you energy prior to running, and protein to help aid muscle repair and recovery afterward."
- Invest in good kit: If you're not comfortable when you're running, you're unlikely to stick to it. Make sure to get fitted for a good pair of running shoes and opt for the best running shorts for women.
- Listen to your body: It’s also really important to know when you need to take a break. I like a challenge and I did push myself during these two weeks, but I know my limits and if something doesn’t feel right I’m not afraid to slow down. I also listened to the aches and pains I felt after each run, taking the time to stretch and cool down (with one of the best stretching apps for runners) post-workout.
- Take regular rest: “Listen to your body,” says Hamlin. “Pay attention to how you feel. If you are not feeling recovered mentally or physically there is a chance that you are overtraining and you may need to back off. This can help you in the long term by knowing how much running volume you can put your body through to improve your endurance and prevent injury."
Samantha is a freelance writer from Yorkshire, writing about health and wellbeing for Woman & Home, Reader's Digest, Giddy, and Good Housekeeping. For the past 15 years, she's combined her personal experiences with reporting, to write about menopause, fitness, sleep, and healthy eating. She also writes about travel and food and drink for The Independent, The Good food Guide, Lonely Planet, Frommer's, and more.
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