Even in non-pandemic times, the benefits of running have persuaded many beginners to lace up and hit the streets, trails, and tracks. But now more than ever—with many people still avoiding gyms but looking for a way to exercise outside of their living rooms—running has become perhaps even more appealing. But just how great is this free, accessible form of exercise for you, really? Here are 13 seriously impressive benefits of running that’ll convince you to hit the pavement.
1. Running Makes You Fitter.
Well, obviously. Running is primarily a terrific way to improve your cardiovascular fitness, slashing your risk of heart disease. According to research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology running could cut your risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 45 percent.
How? Running helps improve blood pressure, HDL (good) cholesterol, and blood sugar sensitivity. All these factors play a role in cardiovascular health. Improving heart health also reduces the risk of all manner of conditions, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and strokes. It’s also a great way to lose weight.
2. Running can help you lose weight…and keep it off.
If you want to be healthy, maintaining a healthy weight is key. Running burns calories like crazy, especially if you chuck in a few sprint sections during your run or power through your local par. The calories you burn running depend on a few variables, including your weight, sex, and age, as well as the weather, terrain, altitude, and effort you put into each step, but on average, most people lacing up burn about 100 calories per mile.
Even if you just maintain a nice steady pace for 45 minutes, you’re going to burn more calories than when you push yourself to the limit in a 20-minute HIIT session.
3. Running strengthens your joints.
Concern about joint damage caused hesitation for many to run. However, according to research published in The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, there is actually a lower prevalence of hip and knee arthritis amongst active marathon runners and the study found no correlation between running history and arthritis.
4. Running relieves stress.
Your mental health can benefit from running just as much as your physical fitness. Running requires you to focus on your breathing, which can have a meditative effect helping to regulate your heartrate and clear your head. Running is your own time, away from the stresses of day-to-day life, and the endorphin rush you get from the activity is a great pick-me-up.
Need more convincing? Running mitigates the effects of long-term chronic stress on the brain, according to a recent study published in a volume of Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. Better grab those sneaks!
5. Running keeps your peepers healthy, too.
Your eyes are the window to your health, and, like your heart, affected by conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. Since it helps ward off these chronic issues, running may also lower your risk for developing vision-clouding cataracts, too, says research published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
6. Running improves your follow-through (in all aspects of life).
If you can power through a run, you can power through anything. Really. Research out of the University of Iowa shows that since cardio exercise requires extended and consistent effort, doing it regularly can improve your ability to stick through lengthy and arduous tasks.
7. Running strengthens your bones big time.
After age 30, there is significant potential for decreases in bone density. Bones are living things and therefore get stronger when a force—like running—stimulates growth. High-impact exercise (like running!) spurs bone growth and promotes healthy bone mineral density. It’s a must if you want to avoid fractures and stay mobile your whole life long.
8. Running may reduce your risk of cancer.
Regular exercise has long been associated with a lower risk of certain cancers—a link highlighted by a massive Journal of Nutrition review of 170 studies. The National Cancer Institute suggests that high levels of physical activity may decrease your risk of bladder, breast, endometrial, colon, and gastric cancers, in particular.
Regardless of your access to gyms or fitness classes (or how much money you can invest in getting sweaty), running is a surefire way to move your body and protect your long-term health.
9. Running gets you outside.
Our primary source of Vitamin D is the sun. This important vitamin helps keep your bones healthy, your mood lifted, and your immune system humming —which is why research published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Pharamacotherapeutics suggests that the more time you log outside, the better.
Running helps you explore new places as well. Whether it’s a short jog around a city on a weekend break or a long trail run around a National Park, running is an excellent way to see more of the world.
10. Running boosts your confidence
If you need a reminder that you’re awesome, go for a run. Running boosts your confidence because you’re physically doing something challenging – something that you perhaps never thought was possible a few months earlier. This translates to everything else in life – how you do anything is how you do everything.
Runners are happier, more positive, and have higher self-esteem, according to a study by Glasgow Caledonian University of more than 8,000 pavement pounders, who scored 4.4 on the Oxford Happiness Scale. The average score is 4. Another study found that the mental health benefits of running were almost instantaneous.
11. Running can help you sleep better.
Researchers at John Hopkins Medical Center found that cardiovascular exercise can help you fall asleep faster and improve sleep quality—as long as you give yourself a few hours afterward to wind down for bed. And bonus – the more you sleep, the more likely you are to stick with an exercise routine!
12. Running can stimulate memory and learning.
Always forgetting where you left your car keys? Start running. Running can help new nutrient-transporting blood vessels grow, blunt the brain’s response to physical and emotional stress, and even promote neurogenesis, the process of creating new brain cells, according to Johns Hopkins Medical school professor of neuroscience David J. Linden, PhD.
The result, he says: Pounding pavement can have positive, long-lasting effects on the hippocampus, the part of your brain that aids in memory and learning. According to a study from the University of British Columbia, regular aerobic exercise increases the size of your hippocampus, and weight training doesn’t have the same beneficial brain effect.
The brains of runners have better-connected neural pathways essential for higher-level cognitive functions than sedentary people, according to the University of Arizona. Areas that worked especially well were those involved in working memory, multitasking, attention, decision-making, and spatial and visual awareness.
13. Ultimately, running may lengthen your lifespan.
If you haven’t noticed by now, running comes with a ton of mind and body benefits—and they all add up to one majorly impressive perk: a longer life.
When Stanford University School of Medicine researchers followed up with participants in a study about running’s influence on health after 21 years, 85 percent of runners were still alive compared to just 66 percent of non-runners, suggesting a connection between running and longevity.
The bottom line: Running offers a multitude of benefits for both your body and your mind—including everything from heart health to reduced stress—if you pace yourself and enjoy the ride. And all you need is a pair of sneakers.