15 Benefits of Running That Will Make You Want to Log Some Miles –

Thanks to the pandemic-fueled popularity of outdoor activities, a whole lot of people have decided to try out the benefits of running for themselves. Whether these are newbies lacing up for the first time or people returning to the sport after a hiatus, the lure of running has taken hold on a growing percentage of our population.

In fact, according to a recent survey by World Athletics, the governing body for the sport of track and field worldwide, nearly 3 in 10 people from the US now consider themselves runners, with plans to stick with it for the foreseeable future.

So what’s behind the push to hit the roads, treadmills, and trails? It all varies: There’s not one particular impetus that drives all runners—it’s way more individualized. In some cases, runners are motivated by the chance to collect some bling at the end of a race, notch a new personal best time, win an age-group award, or qualify for another event, such as the Boston Marathon. However, even those drawn to running’s competitive side are noticing there’s far more to gain than speed and fitness. About three fourths of runners in the World Athletics survey agreed with the statement “Running is good for my mind as well as my body.”

Indeed, the benefits of running span both physical and mental. And they exist for all runners, regardless of whether you choose to race or don’t care a lick about your pace, or whether you log your miles each and every day or you pull on your sneakers only when the mood strikes. We’ll get into those benefits in a few, but before we do, there are some things you should keep in mind before starting a new routine—especially if you haven’t been a runner in the past—so you can make the most out of each of these benefits.

What do you need to know before starting running?

Running is simple, but there are a few key considerations for starting a new running program. For one thing, proper equipment plays a larger role in this form of exercise than it may in other kinds.

The right shoes matter a lot with running: You’ll be producing a lot of force with each stride, so you want to choose a pair of running shoes that are supportive and comfortable. It’s often very helpful to visit a specialty running store to try on a few different pairs so you can see what feels right for you, as SELF reported previously. (If you don’t have a good running retailer nearby, choosing an online outlet with easy returns would be a solid option too.) You also want to choose a sports bra that offers you enough support for high-impact activity, as well as some of these running essentials to make your workout more comfortable and effective.

And then there’s safety. Depending on factors like location or race, some people may not feel secure running by themselves or at certain times of day—or may feel like they may not be able to exercise outdoors at all. (One thing that can help in low light is equipment to make you more visible to cars, but other issues, like systemic racism and lack of access to safe outdoor spaces, require more long-term solutions no one individual can provide on their own.)

Progression is big too: Whether you’re doing it outdoors or on the treadmill, because running is high impact, it’s best to start slowly and gradually increase your mileage over time. One good way to do this is to start out walking—say, for 30 minutes, 3 times a week. From there, add in brief intervals of running, Subha Lembach, a certified running coach in Columbus, Ohio, who works with many new runners, tells SELF.

Over time, you can gradually increase your faster intervals until you’re running continuously. Then you can slowly ramp up the amount of time you run or the distance you’re covering. As you do, it’s a good idea to incorporate cross-training and strength training to keep your body in balance and avoid overuse injuries like shin splints or stress fractures, Lembach says.

Once you’ve got the basics down, you can get started running—and reaping the benefits of it for your body, mind, and spirit. Here are 15 positive effects of running newbies and seasoned runners alike might want to keep in mind.

1. Running strengthens your whole musculoskeletal system.

If you’re wondering what running does for your body, well, the answer is a lot. So it’s not surprising that many of the benefits of running that we’ll talk about are physical.

And they’re not all cardiovascular either. While running is an aerobic exercise, it also can help you get stronger, particularly in your lower body. A finely tuned symphony of lower-body muscles—including your quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes—power you down the road or up hills, Rhianna Green, DPT, an NYC-based physical therapist and runner, tells SELF. And if you ramp up the intensity on those hills, you may get even more strength benefits. A 2017 study confirmed that there are legit hill-sprint benefits: When soccer players performed 10 sprints of 10 seconds on a 7% incline twice a week for 6 weeks, they noticed significant improvements in their leg and back strength. Upper-body and core muscles play a role in running efficiency too.

And those aren’t the only body parts you’re strengthening, Megan Roche, MD, a running coach and physician, tells SELF. Your tendons, ligaments, and bones also adapt to the pounding of running by building resilience. Bone strength is particularly important, since beginning in menopause, hormonal shifts cause bone density to decline, increasing your chances of osteopenia (weakening of your bones), osteoporosis, and fractures, says Dr. Green.

Up through your 20s, weight-bearing exercises like running can help you increase your peak bone density. Afterward, running helps you maintain the density you have and decrease the rate at which it seeps away as you age. “The human body is this tool that we can use for movement for decades, and having that stronger foundation, to me, is very cool,” Dr. Roche says.

2. It may improve knee health.

Some people feel wary about getting started running because of the risk of injury—particularly, the belief that it’ll wreck their knees. Research, however, doesn’t actually back that up.

Over the long term, research suggests running doesn’t increase the risk of arthritis, at least for people who run at a recreational level. In fact, a 2017 meta-analysis of 25 studies concluded that recreational runners were actually less likely to develop knee arthritis than sedentary people (or professional/elite runners) were. And one small 2019 study published in BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine of 82 marathon runners even found marathon running improved some aspects of knee health in middle-aged runners, perhaps by reducing inflammation in the joint. (It also did find some asymptomatic wearing of cartilage along the side of the knee in some of the runners, though.)

Knee pain does tend to be a common complaint among the runners Dr. Green sees in her office. In many cases, there’s a relatively simple fix, she says: strengthening your legs and hips (like with this runner-focused strength workout), changing shoes every 500 miles or so, and switching up the surfaces you run on (like spending some time on softer trails or grass in addition to hard concrete). In some cases, though, preexisting serious conditions like knee osteoarthritis, joint replacements, or failed ACL reconstructions might mean you should consider a different sport.

3. Running can improve heart health.

Ever wonder how long to run for? Well, if you’re looking to benefit your heart health, it may not be as much as you may think.

Government guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week (or a combination of the two) for optimal cardiovascular health. Regardless of your pace, running fits that vigorous bill, meaning there are slow jogging benefits as well as rewards to picking up the pace.

According to a review published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings in 2015, you might not even need to spend that much time on the road either. Runners who went out once or twice per week, for a total of six miles or less, reaped as many heart health benefits as marathoners.

It makes sense—after all, your heart’s a muscle too, Dr. Roche says. Just as you might notice more muscle in your quads and calves as you run, you can visualize your cardiac strength increasing. A stronger heart can pump more blood out with every beat, making your entire cardiovascular system that much more efficient and resilient.

4. Running can reduce your risk of many other chronic diseases.

Left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to heart attacks, stroke, vision loss, and other health issues, according to the American Heart Association. Medication can help, but running can help lower it too: A 2020 research review in the journal Sports Medicine concluded a regular running habit reduces resting systolic blood pressure (the top number) to the tune of about 4.2 mmHg. (Note: Don’t skip any meds without consulting your doctor, but some may let you try lifestyle changes before, or in addition to, trying prescriptions.)

Studies also show a whole host of other health benefits of running, as running coach, elite runner, and public health consultant Kaitlin Goodman, MPH, tells SELF. You may lower your risk of diabetes, respiratory diseases, and some cancers, perhaps by improving your body’s ability to control blood glucose and reduce inflammation.

5. Running can anchor a whole host of healthy habits.

One of Dr. Roche’s areas of research involves lifestyle behaviors—the choices people make every day about things like nutrition, sleep, and exercise. “One of the biggest things is cue reinforcement,” she says. “There’s this cascade that, once you take this step to get out the door to run, it makes some of the other positive behaviors easier.”

After all, once you’re hitting the pavement regularly, you’ll probably think more about how you’re fueling your miles. And you’re likely to prioritize heading to bed earlier if you’ve set an early-morning alarm for your run. Pretty soon, you may acquire what Lembach calls a “runner’s identity” and find yourself structuring your days and routines around when you can get out the door and how you can feel your best when you get there.

6. Running can improve your mood.

Anxiety, depression, stress—if you’re feeling them all in full force these days, you’re not alone. The American Psychological Association’s most recent report on stress in America found about one third of adults said they felt completely overwhelmed by stress most days, and one in four find it difficult to function as a result.

Running (or any form of exercise) isn’t a cure-all, and sometimes medications or therapy are also required. But as a 2020 review of 116 studies in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health points out, there’s strong evidence running could be an effective way to help address many mental health challenges. That’s provided, the authors warn, that it doesn’t become a compulsive need to exercise.

7. Running may help you cultivate mindfulness.

One way running exerts its psychological power is through mindfulness—the practice of tuning into the present. Especially if you leave your headphones behind, something Philadelphia-based running coach Vanessa Peralta-Mitchell recommends doing for at least some of your runs, it may be the one time of day you’re not doing 50 things at once.

Once runners tap into this mental clarity, they’re often compelled to seek more of it—Dr. Roche says she often sees athletes get curious about meditation after they’ve been consistently logging miles for a while.

You can heighten this experience by using “sensate focus,” Karen Bagley, PhD, MPH, a psychologist at Momentum Psychology and Performance in Woodbridge, Virginia, tells SELF. Make mental notes of what you hear, touch, feel, smell, and taste on your route. That can help pull you out of an internal state where you might be experiencing a lot of stress, she says.

8. Running can boost your brainpower.

With age, brain tissue—like muscle mass—naturally begins to shrink, increasing your risk of cognitive decline. But the more aerobically fit you are, the more gray matter you’ll retain, according to a recent study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

That includes within the part of your brain called the hippocampus, critical to maintaining your memory; previous studies have suggested running or other regular workouts can even increase its size over time, including in people who already have signs of fading recall.

9. You might sleep more soundly at night.

Mental health conditions like stress and anxiety can also interfere with a good night’s rest. A running routine, meanwhile, can help ease your tossing and turning.

“Exercise can deepen your sleep, improve your overall sleep quality, and is proven to help with insomnia,” says Shelby Harris, PsyD, director of sleep health at Sleepopolis and author of The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia. “At least 20 to 30 minutes of cardio a day can help you fall asleep faster in the evening and reduce daytime fatigue, so you feel more energized during the day.”

One caveat: For many people, vigorous exercise at night elevates their heart rate, body temperature, and adrenaline levels, making it more difficult to drift off. Aim to leave at least four hours between your last mile and bedtime, Dr. Harris suggests.

10. Running gives you practice setting goals, achieving them, and celebrating them.

Running offers ample opportunities to set a goal and go for it. Maybe you want to go farther than you ever have, run a mile three days a week for a month, or get your fastest time in an in-person race or virtual challenge.

Getting there will require breaking a big goal down into step-by-step processes. “That skill translates mentally into other things—say, if you want to start a business or a new job,” Peralta-Mitchell says.

11. Running helps you learn resilience.

Even optimistic runners like Dr. Roche (who coauthored a book called The Happy Runner) and Goodman (whose coaching company is called Running Joyfully) admit not every single run is a great one. Especially if you’re a new runner or dabbling in faster paces or longer distances, things can get a bit uncomfortable.

“You can use self-talk in the middle of a workout to talk yourself through the hard miles or keep going if you want to give up,” Goodman says. “I’ve heard a lot of people reference that—‘Well, I feel like I’m able to tackle this hard thing, whether it’s in work or in my personal life, because I know I can do hard things on the run.’”

Peralta-Mitchell recalls the confidence she built from running her first marathon. “You start to think that nothing is impossible,” she says. “That really carries over to other things in life, in terms of you being able to conquer the unconquerable.”

12. Running doubles as social time and can lead to deep friendships.

Joining a running club can help you make friends, whether you’ve just moved to a new place or are simply looking to expand your social circle. Often, the bonds you build over the miles—doing a difficult activity together—wind up being particularly strong.

“You’re able to open up and be vulnerable with someone when you’re side by side, in parallel, in ways that you’re not when you’re face to face,” Dr. Bagley says. “It’s like, I can trust this person because they’re struggling in ways that feel really similar, and they’re cheerleading for me when I’m struggling.”

13. Running connects you to a community.

Jogging through the streets and parks near you can help you feel grounded and connected to your surroundings. For years Goodman lived in Providence, Rhode Island, and reveled in seeing the seasonal changes around her—the fall leaves, the holiday lights—as well as the consistency of neighbors walking their dogs.

It’s the habitual nature of running—if you’re on the same route around the same time, you’re going to start to see the same people and forge some connections and community that way, she says. You might also notice landmarks you’d never see otherwise or spot the latest cute new shop or cafe.

14. Running serves as an avenue for activism.

Of course, fully engaging in a community may opening your eyes to aspects of it that need to change. People of color, LGBTQIA+ people, and others who are marginalized may not feel welcome in running groups or see themselves represented in the sport as a whole. Some people may not feel safe enough to run at all in public, whether it’s due to their identity or the conditions around them.

Running tends to attract “curious, passionate” people, Dr. Roche says, and when you combine those tendencies with an opportunity to clear your mind and think creative thoughts, many are moved to take action.

For instance, as she got deeper into the sport, Peralta-Mitchell noticed that few running coaches were women of color. She got certified herself in 2017, then she started a mentorship program to guide—and fully fund—other runners of color through the Road Runners Club of America Run Coach Certification. Now her Game Changers program has more than 50 graduates, representatives in 21 states, and sponsorships from big companies like Brooks.

“Within the running world, there’s a burgeoning awareness now about having spaces that really emphasize and recognize value in diversity, whether that is race or ethnicity, whether that’s gender identity or sexuality, and really having spaces that feel safe for all kinds of runners,” Dr. Bagley says. “Through this one thing, we now have an opportunity to open up a bigger space and talk about things that might be difficult but are really important.”

15. Running can be a lifelong (and perhaps even a life-lengthening) pursuit.

With a few exceptions, such as with persistent joint problems, many people can keep running into their later years. That’s a contrast from other sports, such as field hockey, which Dr. Roche played in college. “I was always attracted to running, because I thought, ‘Hopefully I can do this forever,’” she says.

And those who can keep it up may reap benefits in longevity. In one 2019 meta-analysis in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, scientists crunched the numbers and found that runners had a 27% lower risk of an early death than non-runners; another, published in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases in 2017, found those who stride regularly live about three years longer than those who don’t.

And those years are likely to be healthier ones—a phenomenon called “compression of morbidity,” which is also enhanced in runners. (Of course, these are observational studies and can’t confirm cause and effect. While the studies were controlled for possible confounders, it’s possible that people who run regularly also have other healthy lifestyle habits—like we mentioned in number five above—that can help account for that risk reduction.)

While running can feel daunting at first, those who keep at it often find themselves racking up a surprising number of far-reaching perks along with their miles. Before long, you might even find running becomes more than a workout and part of your identity. In the World Athletics survey, 41% of runners said that at this point, “it’s part of who I am.”

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