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Is Running Good For You? (12 Science-Backed Health Benefits)

Don’t take my word for it. As a life-long runner I know I’m biased! Instead, here are some of the amazing benefits of running – all backed by scientific research. Read on to find out – is running good for you? Some of the benefits to your overall health may surprise you!

Running is about a lot more than weight loss and a runner’s body. It will help you live longer, sleep better, and improve your mental health! It’s even good for your knees (yes really) and can help you build a stronger body.

Is running good for you

#1 Running Adds Years To Your Life

According to a 2014 study, running can add up to three years to your life. The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology looked at data from more than 55,000 adults aged 18 to 100 and found that runners had a 30% lower risk of early death compared with non-runners.

The same authors extended their study in 2017 to cite over 70 different reference articles and still reached the same conclusion. Everyone can benefit from running and improving physical fitness, even if it’s as little as 5 to 10 minutes a day of regular running at a very slow pace.

Of course, most of us don’t just want to live longer and reduce the risk of death, we want to be mobile and enjoy a healthy active life. This research at Stanford University discovered that running in middle and older ages is associated with less disability in later life. If you want to stay active as you age – keep up your running!

#2 Running Is Good For Your Heart

The same 2014 study of more than 55,000 adults found running will significantly improve your cardiovascular health. If you just look at a cardiovascular disease such as a heart attack or stroke, running reduces risk by 45%. That’s a huge improvement in heart health!

If you want to protect yourself against the risk of heart disease – start following a running training plan. Frequent short runs are all that’s needed to improve your cardiovascular fitness. Running decreases your resting heart rate so overall your heart doesn’t have to work as hard.

running is good for you

#3 Mental Health Benefits Of Running

Most runners I know find going for a long run is a great way to clear the mind. All those pent-up frustrations seem to disappear with the joy of running in the fresh air. Think of running as a form of meditation.

Research shows running is beneficial for your physical AND mental health. Regular exercise can alleviate symptoms of depression and may help with anxiety disorders.

#4 Running Helps You Sleep Better

Quality sleep is one of the best immediate benefits of running. Of course, we all want to be healthier in the long term, but better sleep is something running can help you with right now.

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that exercise improves sleep quality, mood, and quality of life among adults with insomnia.

If you’re worried that running in the evening might have the opposite effect and leave you wide awake – don’t be. Analysis of 23 studies found that you can exercise in the evening as long as you avoid vigorous activity at least one hour before bedtime.

Exercising in the evening may even help you fall asleep faster and spend more time in deep sleep.

#5 Running Reduces High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) is a precursor to many serious health problems. It’s a silent killer damaging arteries and blocking your blood circulation.

This recent study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found modest but consistent reductions in systolic blood pressure, (the top blood pressure number), amongst hypertensive patients who started following an exercise regime. Exercise proved to be as effective as commonly used antihypertensive medications!

That’s why the American Heart Association recommends getting active with regular aerobic exercise to control blood pressure.

why running is good for you

#6 Running Helps You Lose Weight And Keep It Off

Losing weight is one of the best-known benefits of running and it’s often the number one reason someone takes up running.

If you want to burn fat, aerobic exercise such as running is one of the best ways to create the calorie deficit you need to shift the pounds. The treadmill comes out top when you compare which cardio machines burn the most calories and, of course, you get the same effect running outside.

Your diet is the other part of the equation and it’s true you can’t outrun a bad diet. But once you have reached your target weight, running will help you keep the weight off permanently.

Instead of yo-yo dieting, control your body weight and keep the weight off for good with a consistent long-term exercise program. The National Weight Control Registry tracks over 10,000 individuals who have lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off for long periods of time. Physical activity has been found to be an important part of weight loss maintenance.

Find out more about running for weight loss.

#7 Running Is Good For Your Knees

Now I know not everyone is going to believe this. Non-runners love to tell you running is bad for your knee joints. I live with a climber whos convinced running causes his knee pain.

Of course, his knee problems have got nothing to do with torquing his knees on hard climbs or the years he spent carrying extremely heavy rucksacks mountaineering.

But running is good for your knees.

This 2018 study published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery concluded that the knee osteoarthritis rate of active marathon runners was below that of the general US population.

A 2017 study by Arthritis Care and Research concluded there’s no evidence it’s bad for your knees and it’s widely accepted that weight-bearing exercises are essential for stronger joints, stronger bones, maintaining bone density, and protecting against osteoporosis.

It’s particularly beneficial for female runners where significant bone loss occurs post-menopause.

That doesn’t mean you’ll be immune from knee pain. Runner’s knee, patellar tendinitis, or iliotibial band syndrome are common overuse injuries.

Just like any other sport, it’s important for new runners to treat their body with respect: build running longer distances slowly, include strength training in your workout routine, and avoid muscle imbalance. Regular yoga is a great way to stay injury-free.

benefits of running

#8 Start Running And Get Less Colds

Consistent running improves your immunity provided you don’t overtrain. This 2019 study, published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science, concluded that modest amounts of regular exercise are good for the immune system providing an overall anti-inflammatory influence.

But if you get carried away and overdo it, expect the reverse effect. High exercise training workloads and competition events can increase the chance of illness.

#9 Running Reduces The Risk Of Cancer

This remarkable 2016 study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, investigated the risk of 26 types of cancer in 1.44 million American and European adults.

The results were a strong link between exercise such as running and lower risks of many types of cancer. The benefits of exercise such as running were apparent irrespective of body weight, so if you’re an overweight runner, exercise is still helping to protect you against many forms of cancer.

One type of cancer that led to an increase in risk from physical activity was malignant melanoma – so slap on the sunblock when you exercise!

#10 Running Reduces The Risk Of Alzheimer’s

There’s growing evidence that exercise such as regular running can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.

When you run you’re increasing the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain – this could be the reason exercise protects the brain from cognitive decline.

More research is needed but it’s yet another reason to start exercising. Brisk walking or regular running at a moderate pace have so many health benefits.

#11 Running Lowers The Risk Of Diabetes

Avoiding diabetes must be one of the most important benefits of leisure time running. A 2016 study published in Diabetes Care concluded that:

  • Exercise such as running improves blood glucose control in type 2 diabetes, reduces cardiovascular risk factors, contributes to weight loss, and improves well-being.
  • Exercising regularly may prevent or delay type 2 diabetes development.
  • Exercising regularly also has considerable health benefits for people with type 1 diabetes (e.g., improved cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, insulin sensitivity, etc.).

The evidence is strong – if you want to avoid diabetes, get out there and start running.

why running is good for you
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#12 Yes There Is A Runner’s High

Perhaps one of the most talked-about benefits of running is the runner’s high. But does it exist? Most runners will happily tell you YES!

It’s a deep, relaxing state of euphoria and it’s often felt after an intense or lengthy run.

The cause used to be attributed to endorphins, neurochemicals released naturally by your body, but more recent research believes endocannabinoids may be the cause.

These are chemicals that interact with the same receptors as THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana. This high is real and it can be very addictive for regular runners!

Endurance runners have bigger hearts

No this doesn’t mean they’re more likely to remember Valentine’s Day! Endurance runners can have hearts that are 50% bigger than normal. They can also have wider arteries and slower resting heart rates. This all sounds good. But it’s also possible excessive running thickens the heart tissue, causing fibrosis or scarring.

So what is excessive and is it really a concern? Medical science fully supports moderate exercise. Running just 5 to 10 minutes a day can make a big improvement to your health, reducing your risk of heart disease. It’s the effect of high volume running that’s inconclusive. What about those runners clocking up ultra-marathons and pushing through 40+ mile weeks? At the moment there are no clear answers.

That doesn’t mean it’s bad for you. Running persistently gives you good cardio and it’s encouraged by your doctor – you just need to be aware of the potential risk of overdoing it. It’s always okay to slow down or walk on those steep hills. Just listen to your body.

Is running good for you?

It’s a resounding yes! Any downsides to running come from overdoing it. If you want a great runner’s body, enhanced moods, the ability to sleep better at night, and benefit from good cardiovascular health – lace up some running shoes and join a running group. The positive effects are enormous!

Related post: Running Benefits: Is Running The Best Exercise?

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