Among all types of exercises, running is one of those things that you either love with a passion or hate with every atom in your body. However, it’s also uncanny how many people start by hating it and slowly but surely begin to love it once they start practicing it. That’s because the benefits of running are somewhat elusive until you get into it and experience it consistently for a while. I find it very hard, if not impossible, to convince someone to start running. Heck, it took my friend, Chris, three years to convince me. That’s because it’s an internal decision that you must make on your own one way or another. Once you get going and begin to see the results, running often becomes an integral part of your exercise regimen. It so happened for me, a scrawny kid with no athletic abilities and debilitating pain in both shoulders. Let me tell you all about it.
My Running Story
I was probably in 5th grade when our gym teacher told us we had to run three laps around the school. It was our resistance training, and it counted as a part of our grade.
I never really ran in my day-to-day, although back in those days, we’d spend most of our free time outdoors. I stayed away from playing soccer with my friends because that round thing called a ball eluded me, so I spent most of my time climbing up trees.
When the teacher blew the whistle, I dashed on against the wind, full of hope. About halfway through, sharp pain in both my shoulders gutted me all of a sudden. It was as though pointy knives were poking me through the collar bones radiating through to my stomach.
I had no idea what that was, although I had an inkling—when I was three years old, an evil metal gate had fallen and broken both my collar bones. Could it be this?
Dozens of doctors followed and patted me on the back, telling me that it’s okay. There was nothing on the X-Rays, and I probably imagined things.
But I wasn’t. It hurt like hell. So I decided not to run ever again. Doctors reluctantly told teachers to leave me the heck alone, and they did. Middle school, high school, college.
The Turning Point
Fast forward to 2009 when my friend Chris asked me for the fiftieth time if I wanted to run a 5k in the summer. I almost choked on my Martini, laughing. But for some reason, I gave it a thought. Why not? Maybe… just maybe.
Next weekend, I gave it a shot and ran around the neighborhood. What do you know? No pain. At all.
So, the weekend after, I ran more. Then more, and then more.
Eventually, I joined my local runner’s club because now I was eager to learn and run even more.
By 2020, I had run one marathon, three half-marathons, one hat-trick, and lots and lots of 10Ks and 5Ks.
Although I started with a legitimate fear of the pain running would give me, eventually, I wound up embracing running as one of my main ways to keep myself healthy and fit.
It not only helped transform my body, gave me strength and endurance, but it did something more than that: it trained my mind. Run training allowed me to develop discipline and resilience. It taught me how to push through when things get tough and gave me the edge to constantly force myself to get over difficult times and never linger in the comfort zone for too long.
In this article, I would like to present the health benefits of running based on my own experience, observation, and research. I hope I can convince you to change your idea about what running is and what it can do for you one day.
Health Benefits of Running
People have been running since the beginning of time. After all, running is one of the best ways to escape predators and quickly get to a safe place. On the flip side, since most edible animals run pretty fast, it was also a critical skill to have when hunting for food.
Several millions of years passed since that point and the moment when humans began competitive running. There are records of such sports in Ireland during the Tailteann Games between 632 BCE and 1171 BCE. The first recorded Olympic Games took place in 776 BCE.
Because running doesn’t require equipment, it’s been described as the world’s most accessible sport. Really, all you need is a pair of shorts, a shirt, and some foot ware. The rest, as they say, is history.
RunRepeat published statistics analyzing 70,000 races from 1986 to 2018, counting over 108M race results. Although the trend has declined in the last few years, the numbers are still awe-inspiring.
So, if so many people worldwide are running, it makes you wonder: why do they do it?
What are the health benefits of running that make so many people put those shoes on and face the wind? Let’s look at ten of them.
Helps you live a longer life
A study published by the Archives of Internal Medicine (Eliza F Chakravarty et al.) concluded that vigorous exercise (running) at middle and older ages is associated with reduced disability in later life and notable survival advantage.
The study targeted 1000 adults aged 50 and over for 21 years. Their results showed that 85% of the runners were alive and active, while only 65% of the non-runners were active.
The American College of Cardiology published another study (Duck-chul Lee, Russell R. Pate, et al.) showing that running—even 5 to 10 min/day and at slow speeds of 6 miles/h or less—is associated with significantly reduced risks of death from all causes, including cardiovascular disease.
That shows scientifically that running done consistently over long periods of your life will contribute to increased longevity and the ability to stay active later in life.
Helps with weight loss and keeping weight off
When you exercise and eat the proper nutrition, the calorie deficit will help you lose weight no matter what. However, running burns more calories at the same time, but it also doesn’t require sophisticated machinery or trainers.
Here’s a chart that shows how many calories you can burn depending on how fast you run and for how long. This chart shows the results for a 130-pound woman.
As you can see, even at a moderate speed of 6.6 miles per hour (30 minutes 5k), you burn about 600 calories in one hour.
Of course, an exact measurement depends on many more variables, such as terrain, inclination, altitude, age, sex, and so on, but at a base, you can see that running burns calories like crazy. When you combine that with proper nutrition, not only will you lose weight, but you’ll find it easy to keep it off.
Improves your sleep
Any cardiovascular exercise will promote better sleep. Running is just the same, but I found that running fatigue is a perfect way to put yourself to sleep and sleep deeper and longer.
It would be best if you had a few hours between running and going to bed for the full effect, but running is an excellent promoter of restorative sleep regardless.
Even if you don’t run in the evening, the cumulative effects of cardiovascular exercise and working out your muscles while running will contribute to better sleep.
Running is a sort of active meditation. When you run, you are away from everything, alone with your thoughts. It’s a time when you can be present, focused, and give your brain a chance to disconnect temporarily from all the issues in your life.
In addition to the benefits you get from that momentary isolation, running has been shown to increase the hormone norepinephrine in the body—a chemical that our bodies release to mitigate stress.
In a study published in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, the researchers were able to show that running is a viable method to protect learning and memory mechanisms from the negative cognitive impact of chronic intermittent stress on the brain.
That means that the more you run, the less stress you will feel.
Most people are afraid of running because they have an inner belief that they can’t do it. In my case, there was some physical pain I had thirty years ago that prevented me from trying it out. Others never ran in their lives, and so it seems daunting and impossible.
But once you run those first 100 yards, you’ll realize that you can run 150. And with every yard you add to your distance, the more you start to believe that you can do it. Your self-esteem grows, and soon enough, the roles reverse. You don’t need the self-confidence to run; instead, running itself boosts your self-confidence.
From there, it’s just a small step to using run training as a practice ground for your self-discipline everywhere in your life. When you understand that you can run and do it consistently, the running benefits will extend beyond just the physical.
Running helps your mind, trains your resilience, and, in the end, makes you a more confident human.
Boosts Your immunity
When you run, several things happen in your body:
- breathing rate increases
- body warms up
These three events all work in synergy to improve your immunity. Fast breathing clears out your lungs of lingering bacteria while warming up your body fights existing bacteria in a similar way in which fever works.
When you run, your body naturally boosts white cells and antibodies that help fight disease.
Last but not least, running helps reduce the overall inflammation in your body. When you run, your body releases a protein called IL-6, which has been shown scientifically to lower an inflammation-triggering protein called TNF Alpha.
In addition, let’s not forget that being outside and getting sun exposure helps the human body accumulate vitamin D. There are about 41.6% of Americans who suffer from Vitamin D deficit, as per a study by Nutrition Research.
People with vitamin D deficiency suffer from muscle weakness, risk of cardiovascular disease, and a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Vitamin D also has significant effects on the immune system. A study published in the Journal of Investigative Medicine showed a strong correlation between low levels of Vitamin D and autoimmune diseases.
Improves cognitive functions
The brain’s cognitive functions are the mental processes that allow us to maintain sustained attention, inhibit responses to stimuli, process information, memory, pattern recognition, and more. In other words, things that you always want your brain to be better at.
Dr. David J. Linden, Ph.D. from John Hopkins Medical, explains that “running increases the levels of endocannabinoids in the bloodstream. Endocannabinoids can move easily through the cellular barrier separating the bloodstream from the brain, where these mood-improving neuromodulators promote short-term psychoactive effects such as reduced anxiety and feelings of calm.” (read article)
In layman’s terms, this means that one of the benefits of running is the production of chemicals that help reduce anxiety and stress and, instead, induce tranquility and calmness. In that state of mind, the brain performs better, thus the noticeable increase in cognitive functions.
Being physically active in general is known to help cognitive functions, but running contributes to it at an elevated pace.
Boosts energy and metabolism
The metabolic rate is the rate of energy expenditure while at rest. In other words, it explains how fast your body burns calories while resting. Depending on your body, age, and physical fitness, your metabolic rate will be different.
Although it is difficult to change your metabolic rate once you reach a certain fitness level, you can boost your metabolism for short periods, resulting in increased calorie burn.
While running, your body must boost its metabolism to increase the rate of producing the energy needed for the running effort. That results in burning calories at a higher rate than you would while being at rest.
However, unlike what you may have heard, running doesn’t permanently increase your metabolism by itself, and especially not for the entire day. It usually only does so while running. But, done consistently, the effects will stack up and result in weight loss, decreased fat, and an increase in lean muscles.
One way to ensure a more prolonged increase in metabolism is to integrate some form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into your running routine. That could be, for example, alternating between max-speed sprints for one minute and moderate jogging for three minutes, for a total period of half an hour.
Strengthens your joints and bones
It’s not uncommon for us to think about our bones as the toughest elements inside our bodies. That is true, but as we age, bone density decreases. The body’s ability to drive minerals into the bones reduces, and, over time, our bones lose some of that strength.
When you run, the strain that you put on your bones causes the body to reconsider. Running will stimulate bone growth and will act as a catalyst for gathering minerals into the bones. That ensures that you avoid injury, such as fractures, especially in old age.
At the same time, joints help our mobility. A lot of people are afraid of running because they believe that, over time, running could damage the joints. Rest assured that it’s not true. A study in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery showed a lower prevalence of hip and knee arthritis in active marathon runners.
So, running strengthens your bones and improves and protects your joints. That results in better strength, mobility and flexibility, balance, and injury prevention.
Increases your self-discipline
From running a single mile to running a 26-mile marathon, running is a sport that requires discipline. You have to do it consistently and on a schedule to reap its full benefits.
The good thing is that you can run at any time and any distance. Therefore, you can start small and build from there. If you have trouble with procrastination, goal setting, or simply getting the basic things done, running can help you train that part of you.
Self-discipline is difficult to practice because you need self-awareness to know what you have to do, when, and how. Running is highly accessible at its core: go outside and start moving your legs.
That’s why running is a perfect training ground for your self-discipline. Will Smith once said, “When you’re running, there’s a little person that talks to you and says, ‘Oh, I’m tired. My lung’s about to pop. I’m so hurt. There’s no way I can possibly continue.’ You want to quit. If you learn how to defeat that person when you’re running. You will know how to not quit when things get hard in your life.”
Don’t Miss Out on The Benefits of Running
To say that running is for everyone would be a lie. Some people won’t be able to run due to their health or their body’s general state, including past injuries or surgeries.
But if there is no physical impediment to you running, I cannot think of any reason why you wouldn’t do it. Yeah, maybe you hate running. I get that. I used to hate it for most of my life.
However, getting outside of your comfort zone, which most of the time involves doing something you don’t particularly like, is the catalyst for growth.
There are many ways to get healthier. The advantage of running is that it’s a low-cost alternative to all other sports. All you need is some comfortable shoes, shorts, and a shirt, and you’re good to go.
I highly recommend giving running a try. I guarantee you’ll see quick and lasting improvements to your health and wellness.
Other Resources on Running Habits
- 10 Amazing and evidence-supported Health Benefits of Running
- 13 Top Benefits of Running and Walking You Never Knew in 2020
- 12 Benefits Of Running That’ll Convince You To Lace Up Your Sneakers, Stat
- 13 Benefits of Running That Make You Healthier (and Happier)
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- Do you enjoy running? If yes, what is the best thing about it for you?
- Which running benefits are the most compelling?
- If you don’t do any run training, why did you make that decision?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!