Running seems to be a somewhat divisive sport, with people either vehemently loving or hating it. Just the sight of runners voluntarily trodding down the slushy road on freezing winter morning can leave non-runners driving by scratching their heads in utter bewilderment, perhaps remembering the days of receiving laps as punishment at sports practices or struggling through the mile to pass PE.
However, the sport of running doesn’t have an avid fan base of millions of dedicated runners for no reason — once you get started with running and work past the initial discomfort, running has some amazing benefits that improve your physical and mental health and well-being. If part of you has always been curious about what the hype is all about, or it’s been quite a long time since you were regularly running as part of your workout routine, keep reading to learn about the benefits of running and how to get started running. You never know, in a few weeks, you might be one of those morning runners getting in your miles before work with only the glow of a headlamp illuminating your determined smile.
The list of benefits of running is extensive, spanning the gamut from improving cardiovascular fitness to reducing stress. Here are some of the key benefits of running:
Running Improves Cardiovascular Health
If you’ve ever run to catch a subway, child, or your dog, and felt breathless immediately afterward, it probably comes as no surprise that running works your cardiovascular system. Your heart rate increases as you run to pump more blood (and thus oxygen and nutrients) to your working muscles. Over time, with consistent running, your heart and lungs adapt. Your heart becomes stronger, enabling it to pump a greater volume of blood per beat, and lungs become more powerful and capable of taking in more air per breath. As your cardiovascular efficiency improves, you are able to run faster with less effort.
Running Builds Muscular Strength
At some point, most of us have walked behind a runner and envied their muscular, defined calves. As long as you are properly fueling your body with enough calories and protein to support your training, running can help build muscle and increase strength. As a total-body workout, running strengthens your legs, core, and upper body.
Running Increases Bone Density
Numerous studies have demonstrated that high-impact activities like running place stresses on bones that stimulate them to adapt by laying down more minerals within the bony matrix to strengthen the structure. Running also increases the production of bone-building hormones in the body, stimulating the body to make more bone cells and inhibiting the activity of cells that break down bone cells. Stronger bones are more resilient and less likely to fracture.
Running Improves Markers of Health
Studies have shown that consistent running can lower blood pressure and resting heart rate, improve blood sugar control, lower triglycerides, and lower cholesterol, and reduce waist circumference and body fat percentage. Improving these markers of health can reduce disease risk and help you feel healthier overall.
Running Reduces Stress
Getting outside and pounding the pavement or trail is a great way to diffuse stress and tension. Running can lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, helping you feel more relaxed.
Running Boosts Confidence
Running is a lot about goal setting and achieving things you didn’t think were possible. As such, running can help develop a sense of self-efficacy and boost your self-confidence.
Running Burns Calories
Running is a metabolically-demanding exercise and burns a lot of calories. In fact, running is one of the most efficient types of exercise when it comes to the number of calories burned per minute, so if fat loss or weight loss is your goal, running can contribute to creating the calorie deficit you need to burn fat.
Running Is Accessible
Besides a good pair of running shoes, you need very little equipment to get started running. That said, having the right gear will keep you comfortable in different seasons. For example, you’ll want warmer layers for winter running and wind-resistant gear for fall running.
Running Improves Your Mood
The “runner’s high” isn’t some factionalized unicorn or elusive wonder; rather, it’s a rush of mood-boosting endorphins brought on by a long-distance endurance run. Finishing a good run can leave you feeling proud, capable, powerful, and even elated, ready to conquer anything that comes your way with a good attitude. If you suffer from depression, running can alleviate symptoms and stabilize your mood.
Running Can Connect You to Nature
Though treadmills are certainly viable training tools, if you choose to run outside, running gives you a chance to unplug from technology and screens and connect with nature. So much of our lives take place inside these days, but research shows that exercising outside independent of any other factors confers significant mental health benefits over indoor workouts. Whether you find a peaceful wooded trail or a local park, getting outside while running is a sure way to soak up some vitamin D and fresh air.
Running Can Be Social
There are thousands of running groups and running clubs all over the country (and world) that enable new and veteran runners alike to connect and enjoy miles together. You may meet a whole new group of buddies and develop relationships that last a lifetime.
In many ways, running is as simple as it sounds, and we are innately wired to have the movement patterns we need to run. However, getting started with running isn’t just a matter of lacing up your running shoes and hitting the road—or at least that’s not the full extent of it. Because running is a high-impact activity, you need to progress slowly and build up your volume—mileage, and speed—over time. If you’re not currently running, or are just starting out, consider the following helpful guidelines for a safe introduction and initiation into running.
Start With Walking
Depending on your current fitness level, you may need to start out with walking. If you haven’t been active at all for quite some time, just walk the first week, increasing your distance and speed each day. If you’re hitting the gym, or working out in other ways, you may be able to jump right into jogging, though many beginning running programs recommend interspersing walking breaks into your running over the first couple of weeks. Walking breaks give your heart and lungs a chance to relax a little and also change up the muscular demand on your legs. As you get fitter, reduce the frequency and duration of walking breaks.
Don’t Push Yourself Too Hard
It takes the muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments longer to adapt to the stresses and impact of running than it does for your cardiovascular system to adapt to the aerobic demands. In other words, you may feel like you can keep going and do more miles from a breathing standpoint, but you should limit your mileage as you get started running to avoid overdoing it on your body and risking musculoskeletal injury. Many beginning runners become overly eager and end up sidelined with an injury in the first few weeks of training. This can be sidestepped with a conservative, gradual increase in distance and speed.
Get Fitted for Shoes
Visit a local running shop to get your gait analyzed. Shoe experts can recommend the best running shoes for your biomechanics to prevent injury.
Follow a Plan
Consider following a running plan or program for beginners to ensure you ramp up your training safely and effectively.
Give Your Body a Break
Be sure to take adequate rest days or opt for low-impact exercise on alternate days to reduce the impact and stress on your body as you build strength.
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