Running. You think it is the perfect way to burn calories, build up cardiovascular fitness, tone up your leg muscles, or even for some, find peace with your mind. Actually, running too much can be bad for your body despite many of its popularly known health benefits. For fitness junkies everywhere, this might come as a shock. It turns out that this beloved calorie burning and endorphin-boosting exercise may actually be doing your body harm. 

We all know that anything in excess can be bad for you, and running is not exempt from this rule. If your goal is to be healthy, there comes a point that running an extra five miles a day actually will make you less fit. More and more emphasis on the incredible benefits of high-intensity interval training and weight training just show us that there are more effective and time efficient ways of getting fit, and running just doesn’t seem to cut it.

1. Runner's Munchies

A lot of people think running goes hand in hand with huge calorie burns. While an average 150-pound person can burn 361 calories running at 6mph in 30 minutes, most people forget about the post-workout food frenzy. Studies like this have shown that low-intensity cardio stimulates appetite. So, all those added calories negate all of that work you just put in if you can’t tame your hunger.

2. Better Fitness, Less Calories

coffee, wine, tea, beer, cake
Kacie Saar

Even though you might be getting out and burning calories daily through running, your body will adapt to the exercise and become more efficient as you run at a steady pace each workout. This means that over time, you’ll burn less and less calories each time you’re out jogging, which is why interval training is so much more effective. Women’s Health Magazine explains that HIIT training keeps your body guessing with short bursts of high intensity paired with low-intensity recovery. You burn more calories during a high-intensity workout like this one, and its effects last hours after a HIIT workout.

3. Old Man Aches

When you run, your feet are repetitively hitting the ground, absorbing shock and allowing vibrations from the hard surface through your lower body. If you don’t pay attention to your body, the inflammation caused from too much shock can be harmful. As many as 40 to 50 percent of runners experience an injury on an annual basis, says 2010 findings from researchers in North Carolina in “Current Sports Medicine Reports.” Common complaints among runners are shin splints, Achilles tendinitis, heel pain, IT band syndrome, and most prominently, knee pain.

Patellofemoral pain syndrome, also known as runner’s knee, is one of running’s most common body wreckers. It’s the pain around or just behind your kneecap, especially after long periods of running, squatting, or climbing or descending stairs. The best treatment for these aches is to take a short break from running and then slowly ease back with plenty of warm-up exercises or supplemental training. But, many people just disregard it as soreness and make it worse.

4. Bye Bye Muscle

In general, your daily cardio session might be burning too many calories to create the surplus needed for muscle growth. A lot of the time with cardio, it’s really easy to overdo it in an attempt to stay lean, especially if you are pairing your run with additional weight training. Because you’re burning so many calories, it puts you in a catabolic state that doesn’t allow muscle damage to be repaired.

A 2012 meta-analysis examining interference of aerobic and resistance exercises showed running’s expanding negative effect on strength and hypertrophy (size gains) as volume increased. The reduction in muscle mass comes from the large damage that excessive long distance running causes to muscles due to its eccentric contractions. Without adequate recovery, muscle breakdown can occur.

However, it’s important to note that muscle loss doesn’t happen if you have a well-balanced workout; moderation is key. But, if you’re the type to skip weight training in fear of bulky muscle, let me put it this way: your butt is a muscle, that muscle is not being adequately repaired with excessive long distance running and that muscle will get smaller and smaller. No one wants a small butt.

5. Heart Break

People often see long-distance runners as paragons of heart health and general fitness, but several studies over the past decade have found that running more than a moderate level can actually damage your heart. For instance, this German study done in 2008 found marathon runners surprisingly had more plaque buildup compared to moderate level runners.

While most of us aren’t actually reaching that level of running, another study published in the British medical journal found that high-intensity exercise sessions lasting longer than one to two hours, think your six-miler through the park, can overload the heart and actually reverse any health benefits of cardio. Another 2012 study supported this by indicating that benefits of vigorous aerobic exercise can cause adverse cardiovascular effects after just one hour daily.

While more and more research on long-distance running is turning supporters into skeptics, in moderation, running an hour a day is healthier than lounging on your couch. A majority of the studies pointing to detrimental health effects of running are done on marathon runners or those running way more than twenty miles per week. With the increasing obesity levels in our country, some sort of exercise is better than none at all. But, if you’re really looking to get fit, HIIT and lifting is more effective in building muscle and will give you more results in less time. Try these intervals you’re at the gym for ultimate gains or read this to learn more about strength training.