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Running can be an excellent choice for getting in your recommended 150 minutes of weekly activity. It provides many benefits for your body and mind but also comes with risks. Knowing the perks and the potential downfalls of running can help you decide whether running is right for you.
How Running Benefits Your Body
Improves Your Cardiovascular System
“As just about anyone who has ever been a runner knows, no activity works your body and cardiovascular system as thoroughly,” says Timothy Miller, MD, a sports medicine physician and director of the Endurance Medicine Program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Your heart and lungs work together to pump oxygen-rich blood to all of your muscles while you run, building a more robust cardiovascular system. “Like with your muscles, proper stress on the lungs and heart makes them stronger and thus function better daily,” says Diana Wang, a physical therapist at Performix House West Hollywood.
Reduces Your Risk of Certain Diseases
One of the best benefits of regular cardiovascular activity, such as running, is that your risk of certain diseases decreases significantly. “Regular aerobic activities have been shown to manage high blood pressure and decrease the risk of heart disease and other diseases,” says Wang. Your risk of dying from any cause is reduced by 29%, and your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease is reduced by 50% when you run for leisure. Even running for 5 to 10 minutes per day or at slower speeds of 6 miles per hour can significantly improve your risk of disease and mortality.
Works Every Muscle in Your Body
Running is an effective full-body workout. “Many non-runners consider it to be only a lower body workout, but running recruits essentially every muscle group in the body,” says Miller. Your core muscles will work hard when you sprint, while different legs and core muscles also activate whether you’re running up or downhill. Downhill, your quadriceps at the front of your thighs will work to keep you upright against gravity, while uphill, your glutes and hamstrings at the back of your thighs, as well as your calves, will need to work hard to propel you upwards.
Transforms Your Body
“Without any doubt, if you begin a running program and stick with it, your body will transform. Not only will you lose weight in the form of body fat, but you will also build muscle in your upper and lower body,” says Miller. Running, especially sprinting, contributes to hormone production that increases muscle growth, helping you create strong, firm, rounded curves.
Improves Your Daily Functioning
Carrying out your daily activities while feeling energized and fully capable is one of the most impressive rewards of a running habit. “You will be able to walk longer distances and climb stairs without getting winded,” says Miller. Even people with existing joint issues, such as knee pain, can see an improvement when they take up running. Running is often associated with knee pain or causing joint pain to worsen, but research shows that the opposite is true. Since you strengthen the muscles and tendons around the knees while keeping your weight at a healthy level, running is thought to decrease knee pain.
Boosts Your Mood
Running releases endorphins that can boost your mood, help with depression, and increase your cognitive abilities. “A lot of people say they feel more creative and energized post-run,” says Wang. This can have a big effect on your life, improving everything from your work productivity to your relationships. Aside from the coveted “runner’s high,” Miller explains that “for many people, the physical fitness gained by running can improve your job performance and even your sex life.” So, not only will your mood be elevated by the act of running, but all of those physical changes can give you more confidence in your appearance and abilities, too.
“Most people run outdoors, which already has its benefits. Fresh air, a change of scenery, time away from a screen, and some good ol' vitamin D? Who doesn't love this combo?” says Wang. But fresh air, limiting screentime, and vitamin D also help you get a better night’s sleep. On top of that, running has been shown to help increase your ability to fall asleep in only 30 minutes per day. You’ll feel less drowsy and more alert, further boosting your productivity and energy levels and helping you feel your best.
Boost Your Confidence
While the physical changes and capabilities that come with running can lead to a huge confidence boost, even the act of accomplishing something you’ve never tried before and seeing the progress you can make is inspiring. “Setting goals and achieving them is a massive way to build self-confidence. If you're just starting, it's important to start small, but with consistency and progress, you'll be accomplishing distances and times that you never thought were possible. I guarantee by that time, you'll be feeling yourself!” says Wang.
The Potential Negative Effects of Running
We would be amiss to ignore the potential downsides of your new running habit. From physical to psychological, being aware of the negative aspects of running can better prepare you to take action, preventing the worst.
It’s vital for new runners to start slowly and listen to their bodies. “Increasing your mileage or intensity too quickly will often lead to overuse injuries,” says Miller. Common injuries include plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, shin splints, IT band syndrome, and tendonitis.
Starting too hard too fast may cause injuries before you have a chance to reap the benefits of running, possibly deterring you from keeping up your new habit. “A gradual ramping-up is needed for the body to adapt to the amount and distance you are running. It is also recommended to add strength training into your running program too—every step you take when you run is four to five times your body weight into the ground, so having a baseline of strength can help you run better and reduce injury risk at the same time,” says Wang.
Research shows that adding about 10% to your distance every week is ideal for staving off injuries while still progressing. If running is very difficult for you, try starting with a run/walk program first and adding more running as you get better at it.
Running can feel boring after some time, especially on a treadmill. Boredom can deter even the most motivated runner. But, there are ways to make your running routine more stimulating. “Using hill sprints, tempo runs, and track sprints in between your long runs is a great way to challenge your body in a different way but still get your daily run in,” says Wang.
Health Precautions for New Runners
Running is beneficial for every age group and fitness level, as long as you take precautions. As always, get clearance from your doctor before beginning any new fitness routine, especially if you have any underlying health conditions. Some general precautions include:
- Start slowly and progress your training and intensity gradually
- Warm up with dynamic movements
- Wear proper footwear and replace them every four to six months (or 300–500 miles)
- Listen to your body and take rest days when you need them
- Drink electrolytes if exercising in the heat or for extended periods
Running is an excellent activity that can add to your physical and mental health. Starting where you are and increasing the challenge slowly while adding variety can help you build your skills while preventing boredom. Running also helps you to take some time for yourself. “Taking up running is a great way to take a break for some much-deserved self-care,” says Wang.