Running 20 Minutes A Day: Benefits + 3 Tips To Maximize Your Sessions

While there are many benefits of longer runs, and if you stick with consistent training, you should be able to build up your endurance to get to that point yourself, there are also benefits of running 20 minutes a day.

Whether you are a beginner or just have limited time to train, 20 minutes of running can be a great, feasible target for the duration of your running workout.

In this article, we will discuss if running 20 minutes a day is enough, the calories burned in 20 minute run a day workouts, and tips for how to run for 20 minutes a day that help you maximize the benefits of your run.

We will cover the following: 

  • Is Running 20 Minutes a Day Enough?
  • Tips for Running 20 Minutes a Day

Let’s get started!

A group of people running in a park.

Is Running 20 Minutes a Day Enough?

When you first start running, even running for a couple of minutes without stopping can be extremely challenging. You may wonder how people are able to run 30, 40, or 60 minutes at a time, let alone take on something like a marathon.

But is a 20 minute run a day enough? Let’s analyze different potential goals and how running 20 minutes a day affects each one.

#1: Health

For most people, running for 20 minutes a day is enough to meet the physical activity guidelines recommended to support optimal health and reduce the risk of numerous lifestyle diseases, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. 

Per the physical activity guidelines for adults set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the British Heart Foundation, you should accumulate either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio exercise per week.

A group of people running in a park.

The good news is that unless you are purposely doing very easy slow jogging, running typically qualifies as “vigorous-intensity exercise.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), any exercise that increases your heart rate to 50-70% of your maximum heart rate falls under the umbrella of “moderate-intensity cardio exercise.”

A workout that elevates your heart rate to 70-85% of your maximum heart rate is considered “vigorous cardio exercise.”

Thus, as long as you are elevating your heart rate to 70% of your age-predicted maximum heart rate when you run, it will qualify as “vigorous exercise,” which means that you only need 75 minutes of running per week. This works out to significantly less than 20 minutes a day. 

Even if you run 20 minutes a day for only four days a week, you will satisfy these physical activity guidelines.

A person running on a road.

#2: Weight Loss

But what about running for weight loss? Is running 20 minutes a day enough to lose weight?

In order to answer this question, let’s look at the number of calories burned in 20 minute run workouts.

Note that in order to lose weight, you need to create a caloric deficit.

To lose one pound of stored body fat, you have to create a caloric deficit of about 3,500 calories, which equates to 500 calories per day if you want to lose one pound of fat per week. 

Running 20 minutes a day can burn around 200-500 calories, depending on your body weight and composition, running speed, and incline.

For example, Harvard Health Publishing reports that running for 30 minutes at 5mph (12 min/mile pace) burns 240 calories for a 125-pound person, 288 calories for a 155-pound person, and 336 calories for a 185-pound person.

Running for 30 minutes at 6mph (10 min/mile pace) burns 295 calories for a 125-pound person, 360 calories for a 155-pound person, and 420 calories for a 185-pound person. 

A runner holding a water bottle and smiling.

Running at a vigorous 10mph (6 min/mile pace) burns 453 calories for a 125-pound person, 562 calories for a 155-pound person, and 671 calories for a 185-pound person.

If we extrapolate this energy expenditure down to the calories burned running for 20 minutes, we will find that at the lowest end, for someone 125 pounds running 5 miles an hour, the expected calories burned in a 20 minute run is 180 calories. 

At the higher end, for someone running 10 miles an hour who weighs 185 pounds, the estimated calories burned by running for 20 minutes is 450 calories.

Note that you will burn more calories if you weigh more than 185 pounds and fewer calories running for 20 minutes if you weigh less than 125 pounds. Additionally, the slower you run, the fewer miles you run in 20 minutes and the fewer calories burned running for 20 minutes. 

Moreover, if you are running on a treadmill at an incline or running uphill, you will also burn more calories running for 20 minutes at an incline vs flat running.

All of this is to say that there are a number of factors that can significantly affect the calories burned for a 20 minute run, but somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 to 500 calories is a good estimate for most people.

If we try to land somewhere in the middle, around 350 calories for 20 minutes of running, it will take 10 days to lose 1 pound of fat by running 20 minutes a day.

Two people laughing and running.

#3: Performance

Finally, another common question that people have about running for 20 minutes a day is, “Is running for 20 minutes a day enough to train for a 5K?”

The short answer is yes, you can likely train to finish a 5K by running 20 minutes every day, but how well you will do in the 5k race is debatable. 

If you are truly only able to run at most for 20 minutes a day, you may struggle to perform your best in the 5k if you are a slower runner.

Advanced runners are often able to run a 5k in 20 minutes or less, but the average 5k finish time is over 20 minutes.

If possible, if you want to train for a 5K by running for 20 minutes a day, try to have at least one long run per week, that is, at least 30 to 45 minutes, and take at least one rest day per week. 

You can do most of your base-building distance runs as 20 minute runs, and then incorporate one of your 20 minute running workouts as a speed session, such as a 20 minute fartlek run workout.

A person jogging.

Tips for Running 20 Minutes a Day

The best tips for running 20 minutes a day will depend largely on your fitness level and why you have chosen to run for 20 minutes vs 30 minutes or a longer workout.

Basically, if you are a beginner trying to run for 20 minutes a day, the best tips surrounding how to run for 20 minutes will involve building up to running 20 minutes a day without stopping.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you are a fit athlete or experienced runner but have limited time to train, the best tips for running 20 minutes a day will involve ways in which you can maximize the effectiveness of your 20 minute run time. 

We will provide some actionable tips for running for 20 minutes a day for each of these potential situations:

#1: Slow Down

For beginners, running 20 minutes a day without stopping can be really challenging. 

It is best to start with a run/walk method until you can run 20 minutes a day without needing to walk. In order to do so, take time gradually increasing the length of the running intervals while you decrease the length and frequency of the walking breaks. 

The best advice is to slow down your running pace. 

This will help you run for 20 minutes without becoming so breathless that you have to stop.

A person running on a boardwalk of a river.

#2: Do Structured Workouts

Although this tip is particularly important for advanced runners who are trying to maximize the effectiveness of a 20 minute run when crunched for time, it can also be a useful strategy for beginners. 

For example, a 20 minute fartlek run involves interspersing bursts of faster running with recovery jogging without stopping and resting in between each interval. 

Beginners can do a 20 minute fartlek run workout by just incorporating 5 to 10 pick-ups that last 20 to 30 seconds, followed by two minutes of easier running.

Experienced runners can do a more advanced 20-minute fartlek run workout by doing a brief warm-up and then running 10 to 12 x 1 minute hard, 45 seconds easy, followed by a short cool down.

#3: Run Hills

Hill sprints are another way to maximize the effectiveness of a 20-minute run. 

Find a short, steep hill and sprint up, and then jog down before attacking the hill again. Focus on using good form and driving your knees up towards your chest as you pump your arms. Lean slightly inward towards the hill.

Are you looking for more motivation to run? We have got you covered. Check out our article on all of the benefits of running here.

Two people running on the road.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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