It seems like the world is divided into runners and non-runners. There are those of us who love pounding the pavement, challenging ourselves to go faster or cover more miles than before and then there are those among us who wonder what the fuss is all about.
If you belong to the latter group, perhaps learning that running can significantly improve your physical and mental health might convince you to change your stance. For such a simple activity -you really only need to put one foot in front of the other to run- running is associated with a large number of benefits both for our bodies and brains. Here are a few of them:
1. Running is good for your cardiovascular health.
As one of the best aerobic exercises, running gets your heart pumping and greatly contributes to cardiovascular fitness. The more you run, the healthier your heart is. You don’t even have to go all out to reap huge benefits. According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, running just 5-10 minutes a day at a relaxed pace could add years to your life and drastically reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
2. It improves mood and lifts symptoms of depression.
Runner’s high is a real thing. It happens when your brain pumps out endorphins and endocannabinoids as you run. These two feel-good hormones are responsible for lifting your mood, making you feel happier and calmer.
Along with improved mood, running has been found to alleviate symptoms of depression. Research shows that something as simple as jogging at a slow pace or spending half an hour on a treadmill can have a positive, uplifting effect on people with major depressive disorder. This is likely due to the release of endorphins and other mood-boosting hormones.
3. You’ll give your core and legs a killer workout.
While running involves whole body movement, it gives your core an especially intense workout, making it perfect for those looking to shed stubborn belly fat. Running stimulates movement that exercises your abdominal muscles (for a nice six-pack) as well as deeper core muscles such as your erector spinae and obliques whose main functions are to stabilize your spine, suck in your gut and coordinate power transfer between your arms and legs for smooth movement.
4. It’s a great way to burn calories.
The muscles in the legs and hips are among the biggest in the body so it makes sense that exercising them would burn a lot of calories. Add the fact that running requires you to move your whole body and you start to see why this is a fantastic workout for those looking for an effective way to lose weight. For instance, an average 160-pound person running a 12-minute mile or at 5 mph burns about 606 calories an hour. Not too bad, right?
5. Running helps you sleep better and improves your ability to focus.
If you’re looking for something that can help you get a good night’s sleep, you should consider running. Working out your muscles during a good run, coupled with the release of feel-good hormones that enhance relaxation, all combine to give you the kind of nice tiredness that results in a deep, restful sleep. Getting enough shut-eye at night contributes not only to good health but also better productivity. You’ll be able to focus better during the day and complete more tasks than if you were sleep deprived.
6. Running strengthens your bones and joints.
Most people cite knee pain as one of the reasons why they avoid running. However, contrary to popular opinion, running doesn’t necessarily increase your risk of developing knee osteoarthritis. Bones, just like muscles, respond to exercise by becoming stronger.
When you pound the pavement, you put quite a bit of stress on your bones and joints and this stimulates them to become stronger to withstand the continued impact. Low impact exercises like swimming or walking don’t have the same effect. Be careful though and take care to build endurance slowly as it is possible to injure yourself by doing too much, too soon.
7. It changes the brain and helps counter stress.
Aerobic exercises like running have been found to boost brain power, increasing your resilience to stress. Researchers are not sure why this happens but they think that these exercises contribute to an increase in the levels of neurotransmitters e.g. norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain. These compounds cause your brain to generate new neurons and neural pathways which in turn help you become more effective at combating stress. Additionally, running gives you ample time to think about your life and problem-solve, leaving you refreshed and with new insights.
Hopefully, these are enough reasons to convince you to give running a try. If you do, make sure you start with small goals like running for 5-15 minutes before gradually building up your speed and endurance. Also, pay attention to your body and give yourself enough time to recover. If you keep at it, you too could reap these and other awesome benefits of running.