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Will Running a Mile a Day Keep the Doctor Away?

I may or may not eat the apple as well

After spending most of high school in the pool as a competitive swimmer, I found myself landlocked and inert in college, where the greatest physical challenge involved traversing the half mile that separated the East Quad from the Modern Language Building on the University of Michigan campus. 

To become a little less inert — if still landlocked — I’d often hop on the treadmill at the gym and sprint one full mile, or as long as it took Master P to get through “Make ‘Em Say Uhh!” (I was young and impressionable, okay). If I was working out on campus, I jogged half a mile from the East Quad to the gym at the rec center before I lifted weights, and then jogged the same half mile home afterwards. 

For some reason, it was lodged in my brain that one intentional mile of running each day was doing my body a great deal of good.

Is it actually that good to run one mile a day?

It’s difficult to come up with reasons why the answer to this question would be “no,” but here are a few:

  • You’re a distance runner training for a marathon, and you should actually be running closer to 10 miles a day.
  • You have a lower body injury that you should be rehabilitating, but you’re hell-bent on ignoring the doctor’s orders.
  • The mile that you’re running is from the parking deck to your office complex, and walking into work drenched in sweat is greatly frowned upon.

Outside of these reasons, running one mile a day is a fantastic idea if you haven’t been running at all. Most people covering this distance at a moderate pace will complete their mile in 7 to 11 minutes, and burn 100 to 120 calories in the process. As you continue to complete regular single-mile runs, your muscular endurance will improve as your body strengthens itself to prepare for the rigors of the road. Likewise, your cardiovascular endurance will be enhanced as your heart learns to manage more blood per beat, and you’ll discover that you’re able to cover the same distance at a progressively faster rate. 

Eventually, you’ll arrive at the point where you can either push yourself to cover that mile as quickly as possible, or you can opt to maintain your pace and increase the distance you travel. Regardless, there are clear benefits to completing a mile by running it as opposed to walking it.

Why is it better to run a mile than walk it?

Because you’ll be preparing your body to endure a broader set of physical challenges.

World-class runners can breeze their way to mile times well below the 4:20 mark. From a calorie-burning standpoint, that near-dead sprint amounts to 100 to 125 calories being burned, which is a relatively paltry sum when juxtaposed with the 600 to 700 calories that can be burned by jogging for an entire hour. However, caloric consumption isn’t the be-all-end-all of fitness that we often make it out to be, and there’s far more to physiological adaptation than reducing or eliminating superfluous body fat

Certainly, we can extrapolate far greater athletic performance outputs from the person who sprints daily in comparison with the person who runs longer distances at a moderate pace. That’s the entire premise behind the original Tabata training protocol: Cyclists who trained four times per week through sprint intervals with one day of steady-state distance training tossed into the mix were as durable as cyclists who only trained for distance, and also had the ability to pick up the pace and sprint if necessary.

Cutting to the chase, it’s definitely good to run one mile a day — but it’s not the mile that’s inherently valuable; it’s the amount of effort you cram into your mile that determines how many benefits you’re able to squeeze out of it.