Thoughts on the Health Benefits of Running

There’s just so much to love about running. It’s actually a pretty inexpensive sport (until you become a shoe hoarder or fall in love with fun compression socks or really cute running skirts, but that’s for a whole different post. haha) that’s easy to start and can be done pretty much anywhere and at any time (weather and gym hours notwithstanding, of course).

But, there are actually quite a few more reasons that make running worth loving or giving a try. Reasons that you may have heard before or you may not know. Reasons that have a direct effect on your health.

I’m linking up with Marcia, Erika, and Patty for this week’s Tuesdays on the Run where the question is, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, “what do you love most about running?”

Running can help you lose weight/get fit

This one you probably already know. Any form of exercise is likely to help you shed a few pounds just by nature of adding regular movement into your routine. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 hours per week of moderate exercise to improve your cardiovascular health. That breaks down to 30 minutes a day 5 days a week. If you aren’t reaching that mark, adding running into your repertoire can help you reach that point.

Running can help you fight anxiety

If you watched Legally Blonde, you probably remember that scene where Elle says, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands!” LOL! Any runner can attest to that. 😉

But seriously, there’s more to it than just endorphins and dopamine (which is also released during exercise) that make a person happy. Exercise, both resistance and endurance, has been shown to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. We have an amino acid in our central nervous system called GABA (Gamma-Amino Butyric Acid) that, when activated, helps calm and quiet those anxious nerve impulses. Exercise actually stimulates and helps to produce GABA so it does its job! (source)

Running can help increase/improve mental cognition

This is especially important in seniors. But, just because you may not be at that age yet doesn’t mean you can discount the benefits of running. You’re not going to stay young forever! Trust me, I’ve tried! As you age, your brain shrinks, which can lead to a decline in both memory and thinking skills. Engaging in physical activity, such as running, helps your cells thrive and actually stimulates growth in that white matter, which is also known as the “wiring” of your brain’s communication system. (source)

From a personal standpoint, I have actually seen this in action. My father has Alzheimer’s and is a far cry from the man he used to be. He doesn’t really converse much because the words are pretty much all gone and the remaining are difficult to form, his memories are a jumble of thoughts, he struggles with basic tasks like washing his hands, taking off his jacket, and using a fork, and he doesn’t always know who’s who when he comes to visit. It’s very difficult to watch. I’m lucky he still recognizes me. I know the day is coming when he won’t. But when we go out for a walk – while we’re out for a walk (and I don’t mean walking through the grocery store although I have experienced this with him in Ikea), he perks up. He’s much more aware. He’s much more present. The words are still difficult because there is just too much damage but he’s much more engaged. And we’re just out walking!

That’s direct evidence, in my book.

Running can help strengthen your bones

Osteoporosis is a loss of bone mass and women are generally more susceptible to it after the age of 50. Men can also get osteoporosis but women are the primary candidates due to changing hormones. In addition to ensuring your diet has enough calcium and vitamin D, one of the ways to help stave off osteoporosis is through weight bearing exercise. And guess what? Running is a weight bearing exercise!

Note: If you have been diagnosed with osteopenia (low bone density) or are
considered high risk for bone breakage, you should most definitely consult with your
physician before beginning any running regimen. There are other lower impact exercise
options that you can take part in that limit the possibility for stress fractures or broken
bones.

Did you know that bone is actually living tissue, much like muscle? Bone responds to exercise in the same way and becomes stronger. By the time you hit your 30s, your bone mass has reached its peak and will then begin to decline. (source) The best way to help prevent bone loss is through regular exercise. Not a runner? That’s okay – I promise I won’t hold it against you. 🙂 Other weight bearing activities that are beneficial for strengthening bones include weight/resistance training, walking, stair climbing, tennis, and even dancing! Swimming and cycling are also great ways to exercise but they are not considered weight bearing so the addition of strength training is necessary for bone health.

Running has more benefits than just that elusive runner's high. What you should know and why you should lace up. #runchat #running Click To Tweet

One of the main reasons, besides all of the above, that I love running is it’s my “me time.” It’s me doing something for me. I get that time to decompress, think about life, take it all in, daydream, zone out, talk to myself, listen to the birds, see the sunrise, etc., all while breaking a good sweat. I fell in love with running back in 2008 (can you believe it’s been 10 years?!) and I hope to be running for a few more decades.

Tell me:

  • What do you love most about running?
  • If you’re not a runner, what’s your preferred weight-bearing activity?

13 COMMENTS

  1. Clarinda | 19th Feb 18

    Love the Legally Blonde reference! Sorry about your dad. That must be very difficult. I’ve never really thought about how running can improve cognitive abilities.

    • Jennifer
      Jennifer | 20th Feb 18

      Thanks, Clarinda. It is really hard to watch. He used to be so strong and capable. And it’s actually pretty amazing how exercise benefits the brain! I’m enjoying working towards my degree and reading all this research!

  2. Chocolaterunsjudy | 16th Feb 18

    It’s absolutely one of the hardest things to go through (dealing with dementia/Alzheimers). My FIL was so brilliant; in the end he couldn’t talk at all and I’m not sure that he knew us, either. And he was always anxious. All the time. So believe me, big, big hugs.

    I must say my MIL really stepped up though, because she’d been used to being taken care of.

  3. Chocolaterunsjudy | 16th Feb 18

    I love that running always puts me in a better mood.

    I don’t think you’ve mentioned your father before? Big hugs. My FIL had dementia. It was very tough on all of us, but unfortunately when we moved here they moved to the west coast to be nearer my SIL. It is definitely one of the reasons I so wish my husband would be more active.

    • Jennifer
      Jennifer | 16th Feb 18

      I don’t think I’ve mentioned my dad before either. It’s been a difficult road to getting to talk about it. He was always the one I looked up to. And dealing with my mom dealing with the changes has been a challenge, too. I appreciate the hugs. I really do. 🙂 And I tell my husband the same thing. I don’t get it. I don’t want him to run with me – I would love it but running is not his thing – I just want him to get some exercise!

      And running ALWAYS makes me happy, too. 😀

  4. Marcia | 15th Feb 18

    Yes to all. So many health benefits are associate with running. It may feel hard sometimes but that afterglow (and calorie burn) is priceless.

    • Jennifer
      Jennifer | 16th Feb 18

      I love the afterglow! I feel so much more alive after a run. 🙂

  5. kookyrunner | 14th Feb 18

    Running definitely helps me with stress, especially work related stress.

    • Jennifer
      Jennifer | 14th Feb 18

      Oh yes. I totally need running for my stress relief!

  6. Wendy | 13th Feb 18

    You definitely hit all the high points here! I notice that I am much sharper on the days that I run. I’m hoping running will be my fountain of youth.

  7. san | 13th Feb 18

    I love that running has so many health benefits… and you don’t have to be an elite runner to reap them!

    • Jennifer
      Jennifer | 14th Feb 18

      Exactly! And it doesn’t actually take long to see some of them. Running is the best!

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