Runners know that engaging in the sport can improve both their physical and emotional lives, helping them feel overall fit and uplifted. It’s no surprise as multiple experts now believe that the human body has evolved to make us highly effective for long-distance running. We’re a unique species in that the length of our legs, our hips, feet and our shock-absorbing spinal discs allow us to run miles upon miles.
Research shows that running offers multiple benefits for our physical and mental health. As runners start to acclimate more to the physicality of running, they will see changes — and benefits — to their body, in more ways than one.
Weight Loss and Toned Muscles
As many know, running requires a lot of fuel. The average 160-pound person will burn about 660 calories per hour running at a pace of 5 mph. A 200-pound person would burn 755 calories. For example, runners who move at 8 mph (a 7:30 mile) can burn between 861 and 1,074 calories.
But that’s merely one of the physical outcomes of running on flat terrain. Running on outdoor trails with diverse terrain and uphill slopes for resistance and you can expect to burn even more and running even faster can help you burn more calories.
High-intensity running can also help tone the body’s muscles. That’s because it is a highly effective stimulator of growth hormone, which contributes to stronger muscles and enhanced physical performance. Regular running and training can help runners gain strength and speed to stimulate similar effects to steroids over time.
Stimulates the Heart
Running is considered one of the best workouts for cardio. According to a landmark study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, running for 5-10 minutes each day — even at a slow pace — can drastically reduce the chances of humans dying from cardiovascular disease. Compared with non-runners, regular runners cut down their chances by 50 percent. Every time we take up running, we decrease the resting heart rate. This helps your body by ensuring our hearts don’t work as hard.
In previous years, there was some concern that running in excess, like ultramarathon distances, could put too much stress or even scar the heart. However, more research has found that it’s not true and people who run a minimum of 40 miles each week have overall healthier hearts than people who run 13 miles each week.
Improves Knee and Joint Health
Contrary to popular belief, running benefits knee movement and it doesn’t increase the risk of osteoarthritis. Instead, it actually helps your joints stay healthy. A large study from Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise indicates that runners are half as likely to experience joint pain than walkers. An eight-year study of over 2,000 participants also found that the more avid a runner, the less knee and joint pain they will experience. While studies aren’t sure if running itself improves knee pain, experts know that running helps strengthen legs and helps keep BMI under control, so there could be a strong correlation. If runners do experience knee pain, it’s a sign to improve their form or flexibility, or it may be a sign they overexerted themselves during a workout. Overall, those who run should see improvements in their bone, knee and joint health over time.
Helps with Feelings of Stress and Depression
According to a study released by the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, running for a half-hour can also help improve your mood and help someone suffering from depression. As you run, your brain secretes two chemicals, endorphins and endocannabinoids, which have been shown to give people an experience of happiness and euphoria. Numerous studies suggest that aerobic exercise can improve the ability to cope with everyday stressors and many of these studies have tested this theory on runners. Researcher Peter Salmon wrote in his review of the published study that running and other aerobic activities help stimulate enduring resilience to stress. Researchers have said this may be because aerobic movement increases the amount of neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine, which increases neuron creation in the brain.
In another study of young people (all aged around 18), half of the group of participants were assigned to run regularly, while the other half didn’t add a running routine to their regular workouts. Those who did add running to the mix ran for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. The group of runners showed signs of improved psychological functioning, like better sleep, improved mood, and a better ability to focus.
As many who incorporate running into their routines can attest to, the sport helps motivate people and even helps cultivate a physical goal or sense of purpose. Since there are so many physical and mental benefits of the sport, there’s no time to waste in adding it into your weekly routine.