We all know running is good for us. Jogging or running is a popular form of physical activity. Running is an appealing exercise because it doesn’t cost a lot to take part and you can run at any time that suits you. It improves the way we feel and look. Our hearts get stronger, our mind clearer and it’s great for weight control. Its benefits, however, go far beyond the obvious. Some runners choose to participate in fun runs, athletics races or marathons. If you are interested in competing with other runners, contact your local running club.
In fact, there isn’t a system in the body that doesn’t benefits of running. From the top of your head to the tip of your toes, running will give you a total body workout and improve all aspects of your health
Even in non-pandemic times, the benefits of running have persuaded many beginners to lace up and hit the streets, trails, and tracks. But now more than ever—with many people still avoiding gyms but looking for a way to exercise outside of their living rooms—running has become perhaps even more appealing.
The numbers reflect what licensed clinical psychologist and runner Karen Bagley, Ph.D., M.P.H., has seen among her clients at Momentum Psychology and Performance in Woodbridge, Virginia. “When other aspects of their lives are on pause and shut down a little bit, people really feel like, I need to get out into the world,” she tells SELF. Running—with its rhythmic simplicity and lower barrier to entry than other many other forms of exercise—represents a natural choice.
The benefits of running span both physical and mental. We’ll get into those in a few, but before we do, there are some things you should keep in mind before lacing up, especially if you’re new to this form of exercise.
Running every day may have some health benefits. Studies show that running just 5 to 10 minutes each day at a moderate pace may help reduce your risk of death from heart attacks, strokes, and other common diseases. But the same research also shows that these benefits top off at 4.5 hours a week, meaning there’s no need to run for hours each day. Running is a high-impact exercise and overtraining can lead to injuries such as stress fractures and shin splints.
Health Benefits of Running
Running Adds Years to Your Life And Life To Your Years
Numerous studies have shown that running increases lifespan. This has led to the oft-repeated observation: “If exercise were a pill, it would be the most popular pill in the world.” Worth noting: It would also be the least expensive, with little to no cost.
A 2018 meta-analysis of research on running and longevity found that runners have about a 25 to 30 percent lower rate of all-cause mortality on follow-up than non runners. It concluded: “Any amount of running, even once a week, is better than no running.”
Another runner-specific paper showed that runners gain about three years of extra life. Why? Some of the biological pathways include: greater cardiovascular fitness, better body composition (less fat), lower cholesterol, excellent glucose and insulin control, stronger bones, better hormone regulation, and positive neurological functioning.
Few of us, however, simply want to live longer. Rather, we hope for a long, productive, healthy, active life. That’s where running and high-fitness shine. Since “seniors” consume a high percent of the public-health budget with their late-life illnesses, much research is targeted at what can be done to keep them healthy. Exercise nearly always wins this race.
For example, recent research at Ball State University found that a group of 75-year-old lifetime runners and bicyclists (who had been exercising for 50 years) had biological profiles closer to 25-year-old graduate students than to their non-exercising 75-year-old peers.
In another famous study, Stanford researchers compared local runners in their mid-50s with non-exercising Stanford community members who had the same top-notch medical care. Twenty-one years later, the death rate was more than 50 percent lower among the runners. More unexpectedly, the runners were reaching certain “disability scores” 11 to 16 years later than the non-runners. In other words, they were staying younger for longer. And the older the subjects became, the greater the advantages seen among runners.
Running Strengthens Your Whole Musculoskeletal System
A finely tuned symphony of lower-body muscles—including your quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes—power you down the road or up hills, physical therapist Rhianna Green, D.P.T., the Washington, D.C., clinic director at Performance Care Clinics and a member of the District Running Collective, tells SELF. Upper-body and core muscles play a role in running efficiency too. (Of course, proper form and training—not overtraining—are important in reaping these strengthening benefits.)
And those aren’t the only body parts you’re strengthening, Megan Roche, M.D., a running coach, physician, genetics consultant, and clinical researcher working on her Ph.D. in epidemiology, tells SELF. Your tendons, ligaments, and bones also adapt to the pounding of running by building resilience. Bone strength is particularly important, since beginning in menopause, hormonal shifts cause bone density to decline, increasing your chances of osteopenia (weakening of your bones), osteoporosis, and fractures, says Dr. Green.
Up through your 20s, weight-bearing exercises like running can help you increase your peak bone density. Afterward, running helps you maintain the density you have and decrease the rate at which it seeps away as you age. “The human body is this tool that we can use for movement for decades, and having that stronger foundation, to me, is very cool,” Dr. Roche says.
It Also Burns Calories Like Crazy
Of course, “the calories you burn running depend on a few variables, including your weight, sex, and age, as well as the weather, terrain, altitude, and effort you put into each step,” says certified running coach Corky Corkum, CPT, Variis Precision Run Instructor. “On average, most people lacing up burn about 100 calories per mile.” Not bad, eh?
It Prevents Disease
For women, running can actually help to lower your risk of breast cancer. It can also help reduce the risk of having a stroke. Many doctors today recommend running for people who are in the early stages of diabetes, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis, and it is proven to help reduce the risk of having a heart attack. By helping the arteries retain their elasticity and strengthening the heart, your chances of suffering a heart attack can be significantly reduced.
Running is Good for Your Heart
So why exactly is running good for you? For starters, running is the king of cardio. Running even five to 10 minutes a day, at slow speeds (how does a nice 12-minute mile sound to you?) is associated with a drastically reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. Compared with never-runners, regular runners have half the chance of dying from heart disease. Every time you run, you decrease your resting heart rate , so your heart doesn’t need to work as hard, says exercise
Government guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week (or a combination of the two) for optimal cardiovascular health. Regardless of your pace, running fits that vigorous bill. According to a review published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings in 2015, you might not even need that much. Runners who went out once or twice per week, for a total of six miles or less, reaped as many heart-health benefits as marathoners.
It makes sense—after all, your heart’s a muscle, too, Dr. Roche says. Just as you might notice more muscle in your quads and calves as you run, you can visualize your cardiac strength increasing. A stronger heart can pump more blood out with every beat, making your entire cardiovascular system that much more efficient and resilient.
Running Can Help You Lose Weight
If you want to be healthy, then maintaining a healthy weight should be right at the top of your to-do list, and running will help you tick that off in double-quick time. You burn a whole lot of calories when running, especially if you chuck in a few sprint sections during your run or power through your local parkrun. And even if you just maintain a nice steady pace for 45 minutes, you’re going to burn more calories than when you push yourself to the limit in a 20-minute HIIT session.
Running helps you sleep better.
If you haven’t seen numerous articles on the importance of sleep in recent years, you’ve been, well, asleep under a rock somewhere. And sleep may be especially important for athletes. After all, it’s when the body performs all its repair work. In Good to Go, her book on sports recovery, science writer Christie Aschwanden rates sleep as one of the few recovery “techniques” that’s actually supported by good evidence.
According to experts from Johns Hopkins, “We have solid evidence that exercise does, in fact, help you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality.” An article in the American Journal of Lifestyle Exercise notes that the exercise-sleep connection goes both ways. The more you exercise, the more you need quality sleep. Also, the worse your sleep habits, the less likely you are to exercise regularly.
Runners were once warned that an evening workout would disrupt that night’s sleep. However, a 2018 meta analysis of 23 studies on the topic produced an opposite finding. Except for a hard interval workout undertaken within an hour of bedtime (don’t do it!), other evening exercise actually improved ease of falling-asleep and quality of sleep.
Surprisingly, It May Improve Knee Health for Some People
Some people feel wary about getting started running because of the belief that it’ll wreck their knees. Research, however, doesn’t actually back that up. Over the long term, research suggests running doesn’t increase the risk of arthritis, at least for people who run at a recreational level. In fact, a 2017 meta-analysis of 25 studies concluded that recreational runners were actually less likely to develop knee arthritis than sedentary people (or professional/elite runners) were. And one small 2019 study published in BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine of 82 marathoners even found marathon running improved some aspects of knee health in middle-aged runners, perhaps by reducing inflammation in the joint. (It also did find some asymptomatic wearing of cartilage along the side of the knee in some of the runners, though.)
Knee pain does tend to be a common complaint among the runners Dr. Green sees in her office. In many cases, there’s a relatively simple fix, she says: strengthening your legs and hips (like with this runner-focused strength workout), changing shoes every 500 miles or so, and switching up the surfaces you run on (like spending some time on softer trails or grass in addition to hard concrete). In some cases, though, pre-existing serious conditions like knee osteoarthritis, joint replacements, or failed ACL reconstructions might mean you should consider a different sport.
Running Strengthens Your Joints.
Running strengthens your joints.Don’t let that “running is rough on your joints” mumbo-jumbo fool you. “There is always a lot of commentary around the negative effects of running on knees and joints, but there is actually a lower prevalence of hip and knee arthritis amongst active marathon runners,” says Corkum. (Yep, research published in The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery backs this up, finding no correlation between running history and arthritis.)
“Instead, the study concluded that hip and knee arthritis is highly dependent on age, family history, and surgical history,” Corkum says.
It Relieves Stress
Stress can actually cause a number of health and mood problems. It can also diminish appetite and sleep quality. When you run, you force your body to exert excess energy and hormones. Running also helps to reduce your chances of developing tension headaches.
Running Is Brilliant For Your Mental Health
Your mental health can benefit from running just as much as your physical fitness. Running is your own time, away from the stresses of day-to-day life, and the endorphin rush you get from the activity is a great pick-me-up.
The long-term benefits of the sport can actually help prevent mental health problems developing. When we spoke to Dr Brendon Stubbs from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London about running and mental health, he told us about a study he’d conducted in 2018 looking at 260,000 people all over the world, which found that when people did 150 minutes of moderate and vigorous activity a week, their risk of depression was reduced by roughly 30%.
Running can also have a huge impact on stress in the short term. Another recent study conducted by Stubbs found that amateur runners saw a 29% increase in their ability to deal with stress and an increase of up to 18% in relaxation levels after just 20 minutes of running.
Running Improves Your Memory
Always forgetting where you left your car keys? Start running instead, becausae regular aerobic exercise increases the size of your hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for memory and learning, according to a study from the University of British Columbia. The research found that weight training doesn’t have the same beneficial brain effect.
What’s more, running mitigates the negative effects that chronic stress has on your hippocampus, the part of your brain responsible for learning and memory. Periods of prolonged stress weaken the synapses between neurons, causing a negative impact on your processing power – but running helps keep these connections firing, according to the journal Neurobiology Of Learning And Memory. “The ideal situation for improving learning and memory would be to experience no stress and to exercise [but] it’s empowering to know that we can combat the negative impacts of stress on our brains just by getting out and running,” says study author Jeff Edwards.
Running Improves Your Immunity
Exercise scientist and 58-time marathoner David Nieman has spent the last 40 years looking at the links between exercise and immunity. He’s uncovered mostly very good news and a few cautionary notes, while also looking at the effects of diet on the immunity status of runners. His summary: Modest exercise improves immunity, ultra-endurance efforts can decrease immunity (at least until you have fully recovered), and dark red/blue/black berries help your body stay strong and healthy.
In a 2019 paper, Nieman and Laurel M. Wentz summarized “The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system.” Among advice on intensity levels and diet, they report evidence that running can improve the body’s surveillance against disease, lower inflammation, enhance gut microbiota composition, reduce risk of upper respiratory infections and influenza, and improve antibody response.
Nieman proposes a J-curve illustrating the finding that regular exercise is good, but extreme exercise can temporarily lower your immunity. Many other health investigators have confirmed this pattern. In the textbook Muscle and Exercise Physiology, the authors state: “It is generally accepted that moderate amounts of exercise improve immune system functions and hence reduce the risk of infection.”
Running Lowers Your Blood Pressure.
In 2016, a world health index called the Global Burden of Disease published results of its investigation into a mind-boggling 388 different health risks, and the effect each of them has on our wellbeing. It found that the number one risk, by a large margin, was high blood pressure. (Even more so than cigarette smoking.)
Running and other moderate exercise is a proven, non-drug-related way to lower blood pressure. A 2019 meta analysis looked at results from 391 randomized controlled trials, and confirmed “modest but consistent reductions in SBP in many studied exercise interventions across all populations.” The same paper reported that the systolic blood pressure lowering effect of exercise among hypertensive populations “appears similar to that of commonly used medications.” A year earlier, a review article in the Journal of the American Society of Hypertension concluded that both aerobic and strength training “elicited significant reductions in both systolic and diastolic BP.”
What kind of running is most likely to improve your blood pressure? It was formerly thought that steady, continuous workouts were most effective. However, newer research has reversed that position. This 2019 meta-analysis supports higher intensity interval training for better blood pressure.