We were built to run.
Researchers believe that the shape of our bodies evolved to make us extraordinary endurance runners, which helped us to both chase prey to exhaustion and evade predators.
Also, our tendency to sweat helps our bodies dissipate heat. Our spring-like Achilles’ tendons and strong leg joints support balance and long-distance running.
This natural movement rewards us with a treasure trove of health benefits and longevity.
And it doesn’t require much time. Running as little as 5-10 minutes a day at slow speeds is associated with markedly reduced risks of death from all causes – and could add an extra three years to your life!
What’s more, running is both free and accessible. You can do it pretty much anywhere at any time.
All you need is a supportive pair of running shoes.
9 Health Benefits of Running
Here are 9 benefits that may very well inspire even the most reluctant runner to give it a try.
Restorative sleep is critical for healthy brain function, immune response, mood, weight, hormonal balance, blood sugar, athletic performance, and more. Aerobic exercise, such as running, helps you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality.
And, counter to what’s believed about evening exercise interrupting sleep, with the exception of hard intervals within an hour of bedtime, research shows that a nighttime run will also help your sleep.
- Healthy Weight
Whether you run lighting fast or slow as a turtle, running burns a lot of calories because you continuously move your entire body weight. It’s estimated that you burn 100 calories per mile of running, which makes running one of the top calorie-burning activities you can do.
The National Weight Control Registry has tracked a group of people who have lost an average of 66 pounds and kept it off for more than 5 years. What do nearly all of them have in common? They exercise regularly. Consistent running will make weight management easier.
- Healthy Knees and Back
On average, sedentary, out-of-shape adults suffer more from knee and back problems, than runners do. In one study tracking a group of first-time marathon runners, novice runners actually saw sustained improvement in the bone marrow and cartilage of their knees for at least six months after the race!
In a 2020 report, longtime runners had less age-related decline in their lumbar intervertebral disc height than non-runners.
That said, health experts suggest that runners maintain a healthy weight and build core strength in order to minimize any running-related knee or back problems.
- Immune Function
While extreme exercise may put you at greater risk for getting sick, consistent moderate amounts of aerobic exercise improves immune function and reduces the likelihood of getting sick.
- Cognitive Function
Running may help protect against cognitive decline as it increases heart rate and blood flow. Plenty of oxygen-rich blood flowing to your brain supports optimal cognitive function.
Running also stimulates the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF supports the survival of existing neurons, and the growth and differentiation of new neurons and synapses. High fitness is associated with greater brain volume, including gray matter.
- Cellular Function and Health
A 2016 study of 1.44 million American and European adults showed that high-fitness exercisers had a lower risk of developing uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells than non-exercisers.
- Mood Boost and Stress Relief
Running makes us feel good. Research has found that aerobic exercise effectively alleviates low mood and stress.
You’ve probably heard of “runner’s high.” That occurs when running releases endocannabinoids in the bloodstream, producing a feeling of well-being and calm.
- Healthy Blood Sugar
Medical professionals have long known that exercise helps to stabilize blood sugar levels in the body.
A study focusing on 19,000 adults for more than 6 years comparing blood sugar levels in runners vs. non-runners found that runners were 72 percent less likely to develop blood sugar issues.
- Healthy Blood Pressure
Running and other types of moderate exercise is a proven, non-drug-related way to support healthy blood pressure levels in the body.
And while any type of running is good, higher interval training delivers the most healthy blood pressure bang for your buck!
How to Start Running as a Beginner
If you’re over 40, have a BMI of 35 or higher, or a family history of heart health issues, talk to your doctor before you start running.
Running isn’t easy. It’s important to make it habit by choosing a place you like (e.g., a beach, trail, or park) and a time that works for you and commit to showing up.
Fitness experts suggest following these tips:
- Begin with Walking. To start, especially if you’ve been sedentary, be gentle and go slow. Start with a 30-minute walk, 3-5 days a week.
- Add Running. After a few weeks, add in periods of running to your walk. You might start with as little as a few minutes of running followed by several minutes of walking and then repeating it. Gradually lengthen the time you run.
- Add Speed and Mileage Last. Continue to ramp up until you’re running a full 30 minutes several days a week. Once you master the time, then consider increasing your mileage and/or speed.
Remember to reward yourself after you run, have fun, and enjoy all those wonderful health benefits!
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