Health Benefits Of Running
In today’s hyper-connected world, where everything and everyone seems to be moving at light speed, all the time, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and burnt-out. It can seem like there isn’t enough time in the day to do everything that we’d like to do, and for many of us, we know we should take better care of ourselves -- by eating better than we do, or by exercising more than we currently are -- but it can be really hard to get started and even more challenging to stay motivated.
When my friends talk about this very subject, I tell them the same thing I tell myself: get back to the basics. And for me, the basics include something that all of us have been doing since we were little, the same thing our ancestors thousands of years ago did each and every day to stay alive: run.
There are so many health benefits to running, and fortunately, there are tons of different types of running, too. When I hear people say that they hate running, I know they mean that they just haven’t found the right type of running for them yet. There is so much variety in this sport that I really do believe there’s a type of running available for everyone; it’s simply a matter of finding the best fit.
Below, I’ll talk in more detail about the various health benefits to running. It’s my sincerest hope that after reading this list, you’ll feel inspired to go lace up and go out for a run, whatever type of running that you’re digging these days.
Running helps you sleep better. When you get into a running routine, chances are high that you’ll find that your quality of sleep improves. It may be because you’re actually more tired than usual, thanks to purposefully stressing your body by way of your running routine, but it also may be simply because your body will crave sleep. Many people incorrectly think that we get stronger when we’re in the throes of our hardest workouts and races, but in reality, it’s during the periods of rest immediately thereafter when our body recharges and strengthens. So many people are sleep-deprived or are quality sleep-deprived, and running can help to rectify this problem.
Running can help you in the bathroom. Runners don’t shy away from talking about their bathroom habits, and for a lot of the population, we have digestive or bowel issues: we aren’t going as often as we should be; when we do go, it’s painful or unpleasant, and a whole host of other issues. Fortunately, a side effect of a consistent running routine is that it can make your bowel movements more “regular” and predictable, and it can help with your digestion, too. A word of caution, though: be mindful of what you eat immediately post-run. Avoid consuming too much caffeine, fiber, or sugar in the hours or minutes pre-run, else you may find yourself running for the bathroom rather unexpectedly.
Running can help your cardiovascular health. When you run, your muscles require more oxygen to contract. The heart and blood vessels work together to pump fresh oxygen to the working muscles. With consistent run training your heart becomes more efficient at pumping blood to the body. The number of small blood vessels called capillaries increase becoming more efficient in delivering oxygen to the body. These are both positive adaptations to the cardiovascular system.
Running can do a number for your mental health. If you hear runners talk about their running, you’ll likely notice that many people liken it to their free therapy. There’s a reason for that; for most of us, running is a relaxing and cathartic activity. It can give you space and opportunity to think, to work through your problems, and more often than not, you’ll probably finish a run feeling better than when you started. Running can allow you to meet people and begin new friendships and relationships, which can also be meaningful and important to improving your mental health, and some physicians even suggest that it can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Running can help you unplug and relax. So many of us are stressed beyond measure, and giving ourselves the time each day to go for a run -- to be with nature and not be tethered to our phones or computers -- can be hugely important. As children, we were gifted with the experience of having recess every day as part of our school curriculum, but as we age, our opportunities for recess diminish. The onus becomes on us to put ourselves outside periodically for fresh air and for a chance to be physically active. Running is a great reason to do both.
Running can help inform your nutritional decisions. Finally, while running won’t transform you from a hamburger-lover to a kale queen overnight, it can help you make better -- read: healthier -- dietary decisions each day. You may find that your body begins to crave certain foods more than others -- like more fruits and vegetables and less sugary snacks, for example -- and experience will also likely teach you that you feel better, and you run better, when you’ve eaten nutritionally-dense, high-quality foods. This doesn’t mean that once you become a runner you’ll eschew sweets forever; it simply means that more often than not, you’ll likely find that you’re less drawn to them than before.
There are so many health benefits to running that this list doesn’t even begin to cover the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully, this list provides you with a bird’s-eye-view of all that running has to offer you and your health. It’s never too late to start, and it doesn’t matter if you run 1 km, 1 000 km, or 1 000 000 km : if you run, you are a runner.