Not only is running a fun sport but science shows that the benefits of running far exceed just the pleasure of being outside engaged in physical activity. From a decreased risk of cancer to more and better sleep, running can help you make significant improvements in your life. That’s not just our opinion, either. Each of these benefits is evidence-based and many studies are linked here if you decide to dig deeper into the science.
Science-Backed Reasons To Run
Let’s get into it and enjoy those benefits of running!
1. Increase The Quality and Longevity of Your Life
Perhaps one of the biggest health benefits of running is that it simply keeps you healthier throughout your life. The physical act of running strengthens your heart and puts your muscles and joints through regular beneficial stress. Have you heard the saying “Use it or lose it?” That’s where running comes in to help you use your body on the regular.
A large meta-analysis of over 200,000 runners shows that regular runners enjoy a 25-30% decreased risk of all causes of death, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. The scientists linked that decrease risk to running itself as well as the generally healthier lifestyle that runners live, including eating nutritiously, getting plenty of sleep, and being outdoors more.
Even better, as you get older you’re less likely to experience decline in your physical abilities. This study followed runners for over 20 years and found that those who continued running preserved their physical abilities and lived longer than those who stopped running as the years went by.
2. Lose Weight and Keep It Off
A long time classic for weight loss, running is an approachable method that can work for everyone seeking to get fitter.
Though it’s a bit simplistic to say that weight loss is just a matter of “calories in versus calories out,” there’s no denying that you do need to move your body in order to lose weight in a healthy manner. Many folks intimidated by the gym or need for equipment enjoy the fact that you can simply put on your running shoes and step out your door to get started.
Even better, running is an efficient way to get in a good workout that can result in weight loss. In this study comparing runners and walkers, scientist Paul Williams spent six years following overweight men and women. He concluded that the runners consistently burned more calories than the walkers when they exercised for the same amount of time. So if you only have 30 minutes to get in some cardio, you’ll get a bigger metabolic effect by running for that half hour than by walking.
If you’re new to exercise and walking is what works for you, then keep walking! Just because running is more efficient doesn’t mean that walking isn’t effective, too. This study followed overweight individuals and found that both the running and walking groups lost weight. The runners lost more, but the walkers had positive outcomes, too. We all start somewhere, and starting with walking is a solid plan.
3. Get Better Sleep
Let’s start with the obvious. Any parent or dog owner out there knows that a good round of play or exercise can result in a solid nap for both kids and puppies.
So it makes sense that a comprehensive review of studies regarding running and sleep overwhelmingly show that running regularly has a positive effect on sleep behavior. Runners tend to fall asleep faster, sleep deeper, and wake less frequently during the night. This might be one of the most obvious benefits of running that you’ll notice on a daily basis.
The one exception to this is exercising vigorously too close to bedtime can have an adverse effect. So as long as you finish your high intensity interval workout at least an hour before bedtime, you can expect to get a night of solid sleep as a runner.
4. Get Stronger Knees and A Stronger Back
This one can seem counter-intuitive. It’s pretty standard to hear retired runners say that they gave up the sport because it was killing their knees. But it doesn’t have to be the case for any runner, new or experienced.
According to a decade-long study of runners with and without osteoarthritis, running does not cause pain or degeneration in the knees of runners. In fact, the study suggests that a runner’s lower body mass index (BMI) and generally active lifestyle might be part of what offers protection against osteoarthritis and other diseases such as diabetes.
As for your back, running can help there, too. While running itself is no magic bullet for curing chronic low back pain, the work you put in to support your running is what can help keep you healthy. In particular, strengthening the deep core muscles can help prevent that back ache from ever creeping in, according to this study.
Deep core muscles include those called the transverse abdominis (TVA). These are under the more obvious 6-pack muscles and require targeted training with practice at activating them. Once properly engaged, though, a strong TVA will provide the support your body and spine needs to absorb the impact and get the full benefits of running.
4. Boost Your Brain Power and Avoid Cognitive Decline
The research on this is still new and developing, but so far studies have shown that exercise in general can protect your brain in a few ways. Those ways include decreasing your risk of Alzheimers, reducing your mental decline and potentially even slightly reducing symptoms of existing cognitive decline and improving working memory.
The increased blood flow and oxygen intake during running are both credited with these protective effects. It’s also possible that the chemical cocktail that your body produces during exercise helps preserve your cognitive function. This study even suggests that running boosts your brain’s gray matter, which, as Einstein will tell us, can keep your brain sharp.
6. Improve Mental Health, Avoid Depression, and Reduce Stress
It probably doesn’t come as much of surprise to anyone that there are mental health benefitsto running. I can personally attest that a good run after a tough day can be a fantastic way to shake off the day. Whether it’s from the endorphins and following runner’s high or just the joy of being outdoors, running on a regular basis is fantastic for your mental well being.
For example, in a study conducted on mice, researchers found that exercise reduces the effect of stress on the brain, specifically the hippocampus. This part of the brain is important for your memory and learning ability.
A meta-analysis of 23 different studies looked into the effect of many forms of exercise on depression. Their results were very encouraging, finding that exercise was a comparable treatment for depression as therapy and medication, and in some cases might even be an appropriate substitute if you’re unable to access traditional treatments. Keep in mind, though, that depression is a clinical condition and we don’t recommend skipping medical advicefrom a professional.
Finally, it’s possible that you can find even more support and morale by joining a running clubto build a community of like-minded people. Whether you need to deal with stress or are feeling isolated, a running group can help find connections and make new friends.
7. Boost Your Immune System
Who doesn’t want a more robust immune system, especially if it can be a side benefit to the physical activity you already enjoy? Although the exact reasons why running improves your immune system is still being researched, there are a few agreed upon theories.
Running decreases stress, which reduces the amount of stress hormone cortisol in your body. Cortisol suppresses your immune system, so any reduction is a boon to your well-being. Another theory is that the increased blood circulation stimulated production of white-blood cells which are one of your body’s primary defense mechanisms to fight many types of infection. A third solid theory is that runners tend to have higher quality diets with adequate intake of nutrients, whole foods, and hydration, all of which support a healthy immune system.
The benefits of running to your immune system can be had with just 20 minutes a day of moderate activity. You may have heard that marathon runners actually tend to have a weaker immune system, and this is true to an extent. After a particularly high intensity workout any runner can experience a short window of lower immunity as the body reacts to the physical stress of the workout. For marathoners in particular, this immunity suppression can occur more frequently as the weeks of consistent training pile up. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be a healthy marathon runner! Just be sure to maximize your sleep, take recovery days, and eat a well-rounded diet to support your body through your training cycle.
8. Reduce Your Risk of Certain Cancers
In a vast study of almost 1.5 million people, researchers found that regular exercise can help prevent more than 20 types of cancers. The participants engaged in moderate to vigorous activity regularly, and it was the runners who enjoyed the most reduced risk of developing the studied cancers. The most protective effect was against esophageal cancer with a potention 46% reduced risk, followed by a 26% lower risk of lung and liver cancer. Others included colon, kidney, and bladder cancer.
That’s an amazing benefit of regular running, and one more reason to lace up your running shoes throughout the week. Even better, it was the exercise itself that resulted in a lower risk, not just qualities typical of regular exercisers such as having a lower BMI or being a non-smoker.
9. Lower Your Blood Pressure
Cardiovascular disease is the largest cause of death in the US, and high blood pressure, or hypertension, is one of the biggest risk factors. Fortunately, vigorous exercise such as running can help lower blood pressure by reducing force and stress on your arteries. As you run and your heart rate increases your heart has to work harder. This extra work is like strength training for your heart, and results in less effort needed to keep your body supplied with blood. Less effort means lower blood pressure.
In a huge meta-analysis of more than 300 studies, researchers found “modest but consistent” reductions in blood pressure with running alone, but that a combination of running and medication resulted in the greatest reduction. They did call for further research and studies, but this is a great start to helping reduce a known risk factor of cardiovascular disease.
10. Lower Your Risk of Diabetes and Regulate Your Blood Sugar
Two of the most prevalent diseases in the US are pre-diabetes and diabetes, with an estimated 34% and 10% of the population, respectively, being affected. However, these are also two very preventable diseases that can be helped with running. While type 1 diabetes is a genetic condition due to a lack of insulin production in the body, type 2 diabetes is connected to a person’s lifestyle choices.
Multiple studies have shown that regular runners have a much lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. In one study, men ranging in age from 35 to 75 had a 95%-46% lower risk, with greater protection seen in the younger men. The preventative effect was credited in part to a lower body weight, glucose regulation, and other beneficial effects of running.
Another study looked at men and women alike, and found that the runners had a 28% lower risk of developing diabetes when compared to non-runners. No matter how you slice it, getting out for regular exercise and running in particular can provide significant protection against pre-diabetes and diabetes, and can even reverse the disease.
Whew, so many benefits of running! Keep these studies in mind for those days when you don’t feel like getting out the door and it just might be enough to give you that extra boost.
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