Sometimes we get so caught up in the demands of life that we fail to make time for bettering ourselves. While running may not sound like everyone’s idea of fun, once you are hooked, you will not only be feeling better physically but mentally as well. Running is not only a good way to get you moving, but it has been shown to improve our mental and physical health.
Need more convincing? Here are some scientifically proven health benefits of running.
1. Boosts Your Mood
Studies have continuously found positive links between exercise and mood. When we run, our bodies release endorphins, chemicals produced by the body to relieve stress and pain. These chemicals are often linked to a euphoric feeling that we associate with good mood. Studies found that, generally, the largest improvements in mood were decreases in tension, depression, anger, and confusion. Additionally, some studies have looked into what we know as ‘runner’s high’ and found that running releases endogenous opioids and endocannabinoids, which contribute to that euphoric feeling.
2. Helps Prevent & Fight Depression and Anxiety
Many runners will tell you that running has become a form of meditation for them, and indeed it is quite therapeutic. Besides its mood-boosting benefits, running can improve your mental health on the long term when it comes to anxiety and depression. Studies have shown that running reduces the levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, and consequently improves the way we respond to physical and emotional stress. It is to no surprise then, that exercise is often recommended to people struggling with mental health by medical professionals as well.
3. Improves Attention and Memory
Another cognitive benefit of running is the ability to improve our attention span, concentration, and memory. Studies found that running regularly can improve brain function in task switching, selective attention, the ability to suppress non-goal oriented impulses, and the memory span. When you add running to your weekly schedule, you are showing commitment to something and simultaneously improving your multitasking skills
4. Improves Cardiovascular Health
The heart is one of the most essential organs in our bodies, which we must protect by controlling risk factors. Running once again comes to the rescue, as one of its main physical benefits is that it helps to improve cardiovascular health. Many studies observed how distance runners have larger, thicker left ventricles of the heart than non-runners, and that runners’ hearts are therefore more efficient, by pumping more blood per beat. Exercise has shown to help regulate blood pressure levels, cholesterol, and blood sugar sensitivity. All of these factors contribute to a lower risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other complications.
5. Helps Maintain Healthy Weight
Running, together with cycling, top the list of sports that are considered to burn the most calories. Combined with getting the right nutrients and food, running is the perfect workout if you are looking to lose weight in a healthy way. The caloric expenditure can vary from one individual to the other, but generally, people who weigh more burn calories faster. By exercising regularly, over time, the body will then start to adjust to needing less energy (aka calories) to move. For example, this Harvard Medical Blog article lists the average calories burned at different weights in 30 minutes of running at 5mph (12min/mile): a 125-pound person burns around 240 calories, a 155-pound person burns 298 calories, and a 185-pound person burns 355.
6. Strengthens Joints
There is a common misconception that running weakens joints and knees especially. As we get older, joints tend to get weaker over time due to a decrease of synovial fluid in joints and thinning of cartilage. Running and exercise, on the contrary, are known to promote joint health, as they build bone density. In fact, a study that collected data from more than 74,000 runners found that running significantly reduced the risk of osteoarthritis and hip replacement, partially due to the lower body mass index in runners.
7. Improves Sleep Quality
With stress being almost an inseparable part of life, a lot of people struggle with their quality of sleep and bad sleeping patterns. Improving sleep quality is another of the many advantages of running. A study compared sleep quality in teenagers who were assigned to run for 3 weeks with those who did not take up running, and the results show that the duration of sleep improved in runners (more slow-wave sleep, sleep latency decreased), together with overall sleep quality, the mood of the participants and concentration during the day.
Another study on aerobic exercise in adults with chronic insomnia found that aerobic physical activity together with learning about healthy sleeping habits are an effective way to improve the quality of sleep and mood.
8. Keeps Lungs Healthy
Aerobic exercise, which includes running, can help improve lung capacity. Those first few runs surely will have you out of breath at some point, but as you start to incorporate running into your routine, your lungs adjust to delivering oxygen quicker into the bloodstream, and they simultaneously get rid of waste carbon dioxide quicker.
9. Reduces Risk of Premature Mortality
Any form of physical fitness is beneficial for a better lifestyle and increased longevity. But, extensive studies have shown that running is one of the most efficient forms of exercising, which has reduced the risk of premature mortality in their subjects by 25% to 40%. According to experts behind this research, runners live approximately three years longer than non-runners do.
10. Daily Dose of Vitamin D
If you spend most of your day indoors, you are likely not getting as much sun exposure, and consequently, not enough vitamin D. Running is a great way to take your workout outdoors. This way you breathe fresh air, enjoy the sunshine and get your daily dose of vitamin D, a vitamin in which many people are often deficient. This vitamin is essential for healthy bones, teeth, and muscles, as it regulates the calcium and phosphate in the body.
These were some of the many benefits of running, from psychological to physical. If you are hesitant to run, start with a walk! A brisk walk will eventually get you to an easy run, and before you know it you will be getting the benefits of jogging, running, and the healthy lifestyle that they promote. Remember, we were all born runners!