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6 Surprising Health Benefits of Running That Aren't A Rocking Bod

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Health Benefits of Running
Happy couple running and jogging together in nature

Whether you’re a seasoned treadmill-trotter or a die-hard marathoner, there’s no denying that running is one of the easiest ways to get in shape. And why wouldn’t it be? Literally, all you have to do is lace up your sneakers and put one foot in front of the other – sounds simple, right?

Of course, choosing the right gear and hitting the ground is just the beginning mainly because running comes with a slew of health benefits which span anywhere from a healthy heart to reduced cancer risk. So, if you want to give up on the couch potato lifestyle and rack up the miles, these six health benefits of running will definitely convince you to take the leap and head out the door.

1. Running Makes You Happier

If you’ve been hitting the ground for quite some time, you probably know that running is linked to improved mood, especially if you are a fan of long-distance runs. That occurs because intense physical activity triggers a variety of metabolic processes, the most noteworthy of which is beta-endorphin(1) synthesis (FYI, these are the so-called “happy hormones”).

So, once produced, these neuropeptides(2) attach themselves to certain receptors which later inhibit the release of GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid). In its turn, the sudden decrease in GABA neurotransmitters increases the production and release of dopamine, which is a hormone that’s closely associated with pleasure.

That’s actually why you feel elated every time you pound the pavement. And for those of you wondering, yes - this is what most people refer to as “runner’s high,” and as you see, research(3) backs up its opioid-like effect on a person’s mood and psyche.

Of course, hitting the road day in day out isn’t possible for everyone, which is why we were super excited to hear all about this recent study(4). According to its findings, just 30 minutes of brisk jogging a couple of times per week are enough to crack a smile on anyone’s face.

2. Running Helps You Lose/Manage Your Weight

The health benefits of running are countless, but perhaps the one we are most acquainted with is weight loss. Lacing up and hitting the open road has always been a go-to option for anyone interested in torching a bunch of calories in one go, and truth be told, experts(5) agree.

Of course, losing weight is just one of the perks. You see, since a runner’s physique is used to burning more calories (even at rest), regular pavement-pounders have a better chance at maintaining their weight as well as keeping their BMI (Body Mass Index) at an all-time low.

Running also triggers the production of certain appetite hormones such as ghrelin(6) and peptide YY(7), helping you keep your cravings at bay. And if you don’t believe us, check out this study(8). According to the experts involved in it, runners usually eat 200 calories fewer than they’ve previously burned while non-runners consume 50 calories more than they torch.

3. Running Strengthens Your Joints

You’d think that pounding the pavement on the reg would put unnecessary pressure on your knees to the point of severe damage. But, experts(9) say this is not the case. In fact, compared to walking, running blunts the effect of high peak joint loads due to the relatively short duration of ground contact. That means that your joints (especially the ones in your knees) are not susceptible to osteoarthritis.

More than that, this study(10) proves that running at medium intensity can strengthen your joints by causing them to spring back stronger every time you stress the cartilage and bones. So, we guess the good old “running is bad for your knees” quote is not as legit as we thought.

4. Running May Reduce the Risk of Cancer

Considering cancer is turning into one of most common causes of death these days, it’s always great to hear that there are still ways to protect ourselves from the big C - and that’s exactly what this recent study(11) does. Based on the findings, we now know that people who engage in physical activities in their spare time (that includes running) are 7% less likely to develop cancer.

But, that’s not all. An extensive review(12) of 170 studies confirms the conclusions of the previous research by proving once again that racking up the miles is linked to low cancer incidence. That mainly occurs because running eliminates a variety of cancer-inducing factors, from excess weight to low immunity to hormonal imbalance. Not that we needed another reason to lace up our sneakers, but it’s motivating to know that one of the top health benefits of running involves a cancer-free you. 

5. Running Increases Life Expectancy

While many think genetics is the key to a long, healthy life, recent studies prove that longevity is a much more complex issue. Factors like a balanced diet and an active lifestyle play a huge role in adding more years to your lifespan, putting once again exercise and running in the limelight.

Research(13), in particular, shows that runners have a 25-40% reduced risk of premature mortality and tend to live three years longer than the average Joe who spends his/her free time sitting down instead of hogging the local gym’s treadmill. The reason behind this surprising health benefit? From preventing carcinomas to thwarting diabetes, running helps stave off several diseases and keep your health in tip-top condition throughout the years.

6. Running Enhances Your Cardiovascular Health

Considered a highly aerobic activity, running is also the perfect way to boost your heart’s health(14). The main reason behind this health benefit is because your heart is forced to beat faster on the reg and thus has larger and thicker left ventricles. That trait alone maximizes the amount of oxygen you consume while you’re running or even at rest, forcing your heart to pump a greater volume of blood per beat.

But, here’s our word of advice: Even though running does your heart a world of good, you should always keep track of its pace just in case. Athletic heart syndrome(15), a.k.a athlete’s heart, is a thing, especially among runners, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Final Thoughts

Sure, finding enough time to pound the pavement during the workweek is next to impossible for some of us. But, squeezing a few rounds throughout the week can be such a rewarding habit, and not just physically but also mentally. So, no matter your current fitness level, gear up, hit the road and let your mind, body, and soul soak up these six health benefits of running. It’s that simple!

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9257407
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3104618/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18296435
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC474733/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23190592
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17212793
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12851312
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22619704
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24042311
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23377837
  11. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2521826
  12. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/132/11/3456S.full
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28365296
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3902253
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1829849

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