Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 10.13.41 AMSo you’ve decided it is time to lace up those running shoes and hit the trail, treadmill or track. Your friends have convinced you to shoot for a goal of a steady state 45-60 minute run and you believe that sounds about right.

The only problem is that you’d actually be wrong in believing that you need to go on a “long distance” run to optimize your health. You don’t! At least according to the latest observational study involving data collected from 55,000 adult runners.

While running generally leads to a 30 percent reduction in the risk of premature death and a 45 percent reduction in the risk of cardiovascular death, those benefits are the same regardless of speed, duration or frequency of running.

That’s right. Whether you run five or ten minutes a day or much longer, you’ll experience the same reduction in death risk, leading to a three-year increase in your life expectancy!

Here’s what Iowa State University’s College of Human Sciences professor, and lead author of this study, Duck-chul Lee, said:

“The (World Health Organization) guidelines recommend at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity such as running… However, we found mortality benefits in runners who ran even as little as 30 to 60 minutes per week.

You see, long-distance endurance runs are not always better. For so many Americans who think in all or nothing terms (“either I run for an hour or more at a time or I’m a loser”) there’s no real need to exercise for more than 30-45 minutes at a time, IF you exercise efficiently and effectively. Like so much in life, more is not always better.

In fact, too much exercise may lead to serious heart damage through oxidative stress and inflammation as well as plaque formation. Further there is the possibility of increased risk of injury with microscopic tissue tears, too much cortisol (stress hormone) being released, sleep difficulties and weakening of your immune system. For what it’s worth, the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in 2010 found that consistent exercise can reduce cardiovascular risk three-fold, but prolonged endurance running actually increases cardiovascular risk seven-fold!

Study after study tells us about the benefits of shorter duration high intensity interval training (HIIT), that include a proper stretching warm-up, then short all-out sprints followed by periods of slower jogging or walking, for six to eight cycles, ending with a proper cool down and stretching.

Reductions in body fat, improvements in insulin sensitivity, blood sugar regulation, and aerobic power have all been found in shorter sessions of these interval runs.

Get started slowly, yes, with properly fitted running shoes. Strive for reasonable and flexible goals that reduce, not increase, your risk of injury. After all, isn’t that what running, indeed, all fitness activities are about—optimizing your health and longevity? Remember it’s not the duration, speed or frequency of your run. It’s that you run that matters.

Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D. has served as an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego and as the Senior Fitness Consultant for Behavioral Sciences for the American Council on Exercise. He is a behavioral sciences coach and consultant, an Advisor to many fitness and health organizations, a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the International Council on Active Aging, the Chief Consultant for Behavior Sciences for the Premier Fitness Camp at Omni La Costa, a presenter for Rancho La Puerta, a best-selling author and an international fitness-health speaker. In 2013, named Dr. Mantell as one of “The 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness.”