Most women get into it as a way to lose weight or shape up, which we totally understand: Running burns about 100 calories per mile, builds strong bones, and—contrary to popular belief about wrecking your knees—can reduce your risk for arthritis. Just one and a half to two hours of slow or moderate running per week can add about six years to your life.
Use your breath to find your pace.
All of us instinctively know how to run, but most didn’t inherit an innate sense of the exact speed we can sustain. Proper pacing depends on factors like how far you’re going, how fit you are, and your genetic ability—and it’s a skill that takes time to hone. Even Olympic runners spend a lot of time trying to get it just right.
In fact, go ahead and walk if you need to: Newbies should start with three 20-minute run/walks per week. Aim to run more and walk less each week until you can run 20 to 30 minutes without stopping. Then keep using the talk test to guide your efforts over a few weeks and months, and you’ll naturally become fitter and speed up without consciously trying to run faster.
Eventually, that steady speed can become a snooze, and pushing harder can up the calorie-burning and fitness-boosting benefits. But it’s also extra stressful on your body, so ease into it to avoid injury: Once you’ve consistently run for 20 to 30 minutes three times a week for at least four weeks (but ideally up to three months), add one of these elements near the end of one (yes, just one) run per week: four 20-second all-out bursts, three 30-second dashes up a hill, or six sprints from driveway to driveway in your neighborhood. Alternate the high-intensity interval with at least two minutes of easy jogging. Every week or two, turn up the burn by adding 10 seconds to your fast intervals.
Don’t run every day.
It’s true that practice and reps are two keys to success. Each run stresses your muscles, bones, joints, and ligaments; as you do it more often, they’ll adapt by growing stronger and more efficient. But you can do too much of a good thing. Pounding the pavement is high-impact and repetitive, so doing it too often or too fast can increase your injury risk. The trick is to find the sweet spot in which you run enough to spark changes but also give your body enough time in between to recover.
You don’t have to go long.
Measuring your runs in minutes or miles involves a bit of personal preference. Some beginners may feel “one mile” sounds much more daunting than “a 15-minute run,” while a marathoner may prefer to view a long run as an 18-miler, rather than sweat over how many minutes it will take to complete. Either way, picking the right distance or duration based on your goals and fitness level is a crucial step to getting the most from every workout without overdoing it.