There are numerous benefits to running. My non-runner friends simply don’t understand my addiction to it. They see it as mindless repetitive exercise. But those who do run know that the rewards far outweigh the demands. This article details the physical, mental, and even social benefits of running.
Most runners run for weight management, whether it be to lose weight or maintain current weight. Running burns more calories than any other form of cardiovascular exercise, except for cross country skiing. Consider the fact that losing one pound of body weight requires that you burn 3500 calories. Running burns an average of 100 calories per mile. If you run five miles per day, seven days per week, you can lose one pound in one week. This is quite an astounding rate of weight loss. Additionally, running requires the heavy consumption of oxygen, which facilitates fat burning and increases the percentage of lean muscle.
Of all the benefits to running, better cardiovascular health is probably the most rewarding. Running forces the heart to pump more to deliver oxygenated blood to the muscles. This workload effectively strengthens the heart, and consistent long term conditioning can lead to decreased risk of heart attack and heart failure. Running causes the arteries to expand and contract up to three times as much as when sedentary, which maintains their elasticity and subsequently leads to lower blood pressure. With hypertension being one of the leading causes of heart disease and stroke, running does much to lower risk. The lungs experience an increase in capacity and strength as well, which leads to increased oxygenation of the blood for the heart to deliver. This higher efficiency decreases the amount of workload stress needed for adequate delivery, which leads to better long term health of the cardiovascular system.
Running goes a long way in promoting better general health. For example, running helps prevent a number of diseases, from the common cold to cancer, by boosting the immune system. While running, the body metabolizes carbohydrates and stored glycogen, which may help prevent diabetes or improve the health of people with diabetes by regulating blood sugar levels. The increased workload of running stimulates the bones to become denser, making them less susceptible to osteoporosis as the runner ages. Running keeps the body youthful by increasing overall agility, strength, and coordination.
Aside from the numerous physical benefits to running, there are also numerous psychological benefits. Many runners that I talk to report an improvement in mood, or even an intense euphoria after a run. Running relieves stress, and increases energy and concentration levels for more enjoyable daily living. There are many explanations for this effect. At the biological level, running causes the brain to release beta endorphins. Their essential purpose is to relieve pain, but they also have the tendency to make a person feel extremely lofty and happy (much like morphine would). Another explanation is that running allows the runner to focus on the task at hand, and breaks the residual effect of daily stressors such as work and family responsibilities. Likewise, have you ever noticed at times that the most brilliant ideas come to you while running? Running seems to improve mental processes so that the runner can better problem-solve issues that are bothering him or her. Lastly, running improves self-image not only from a physical standpoint, but with a sense of pride, accomplishment, and confidence that comes with overcoming the challenge of running.
Although by nature running is a highly individual sport, it helps promote a better community. A communal running event brings together people from all skill levels and walks of life under a friendly welcoming atmosphere. There’s a strong sense of camaraderie, the kind that people feel when they are all working towards a common goal. People are very encouraging, and you can usually spot a couple groups of runners pushing each other along. Most times, there’s an after run celebration with music, food, and drinks, so you can have some time to get to know some of the runners a little more. I’ve met many friends this way. You can also make friends by joining a running club, visiting your local running store, and even signing up with an online running forum. Running benefits society at large. The organizations that put together running events usually donate a portion of revenues to charities benefiting all sorts of causes. It sure feels great knowing that you can make a difference in someone else’s life.