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7 Potential Health Benefits of Running

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Saturday, February 17th, 2024
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There’s a reason running remains a popular form of cardio: The health benefits — mental and physical — are numerous.

1. Running Builds Cardiovascular Fitness

One of running’s biggest claims to fame is its ability to boost aerobic or cardiovascular fitness, which the Cleveland Clinic defines as how well your heart and lungs can supply the oxygen you need to exercise at medium to high intensity.

[1]Aerobic fitness is often measured by VO2 max, or the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilize during intense exercise.

[2]A higher VO2 max typically is a sign of greater fitness. Running, like other forms of cardio, forces your heart and lungs to deliver more oxygen to the bloodstream and muscles than they do at rest. The more you run, the more efficient your heart and lungs become.

[3]This not only helps you run longer and faster but also makes everyday aerobic activities like walking and climbing stairs feel more effortless.

2. Running Improves Heart Health

Building your cardiovascular fitness can pay off in heart health benefits. For example, a systematic review and meta-analysis of 22 trials found that running can help lower blood pressure in people with chronic high blood pressure (hypertension). However, the greatest results were from running at a moderate pace and lower volume (total running time or mileage).

In addition, a large-scale study that used data collected from more 55,000 adults over the course of 15 years found that runners were 45 percent less likely to die from a heart attack or stroke than nonrunners. Even running fewer than six miles per week was enough to lower risk, compared with not running.

3. Running Improves Mood and Energy Levels

Running is a proven mood- and energy-booster. For example, one study found that jogging for only 15 minutes (approximately one to two miles) improved perceived energy levels in undergraduate students and was more effective than meditation, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery.

Exercise releases feel-good brain chemicals known as endorphins.

Endorphins act as natural painkillers, create a general feeling of well-being, and are most effectively released by moderate-intensity aerobic exercise like running, notes Harvard Health.

Some runners are even lucky enough to experience a “runner’s high,” a relatively rare sensation often described as a feeling of bliss. Research suggests this sensation happens when the endocannabinoid system (which helps regulate pain perception, memory, mood, appetite, and many other bodily systems) gets triggered.

“When you run, it stimulates the release of endocannabinoids, which are your body’s natural pain relief medications, and that’s what gives you that ‘runner’s high’ feeling,” says Jordan Tishler, MD, an internal medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, who specializes in endocannabinoid medicine.

4. Running Maintains Healthy Bones

Running is a high-impact activity, which means there’s a moment when both feet leave the ground. That tends to generate concern about whether running places too much stress on your joints and bones, especially in older runners.

The stress of running spurs your bones to adapt and become stronger .However, it’s important to start with less intense exercises and progress your running slowly, she adds. If you ramp up your mileage and intensity too quickly, your bones may not adapt quickly enough, increasing injury risk. Research suggests that incorporating strength training with foam rolling into your routine can help lower injury risk, too.

5. Running May Lower Chronic Disease Risk

As a form of physical activity, running can help prevent chronic conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and many types of cancer, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Research in more than 1,000 adults showed that runners had a 28 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes during an average follow-up period of 6.5 years, compared with nonrunners.

“Regular running can also be useful for weight management,” Walrod adds. “That often creates a beneficial ripple effect on your health.”

6. Running May Help You Live Longer

Running may prolong your life by improving your health and lowering your risk of chronic disease. In fact, research shows that runners generally have a 25 to 40 percent reduced risk of early death, compared with nonrunners. Moreover, runners tend to live three years longer than their nonrunning counterparts.

7. Running May Help With Weight Loss

Aerobic activities like running can burn many calories — between 240 and 336 in 30 minutes at a 5-miles-per-hour pace, per estimates from Harvard Health. Boosting your intensity also boosts your calorie burn.

By increasing the number of calories you burn during the day, you may be able to create a calorie deficit for weight loss. But know that exercise is only part of the weight loss equation; dietary changes are needed, too. For example, one study involving 538 new runners found that those who ran five kilometers (approximately 3.1 miles) per week without changing their diet had an average weight loss of 5.6 kilograms (approximately 12.3 pounds) over one year. Meanwhile, those who ran and made dietary changes lost roughly 9.4 kilograms (20.7 pounds).

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