5 health benefits of running and how you can get started
Running is one of the best forms of exercise for your overall health. From better sleep to a stronger heart and improved mental health, the health benefits are extensive.
And you don’t need to be a world-class sprinter or marathon runner. Even a slow and steady jogging pace can help you achieve the following health benefits:
Running may help you lose weight
Running is an especially efficient form of exercise for weight loss because of the calorie- and fat-burning advantages.
The exact number of calories you burn largely depends on your weight and the intensity of your workout. But, in general, people burn around 100 calories for every mile they run.
When compared to other types of aerobic exercise (or cardio), running burns many more calories in the same amount of time:
In 30 minutes of running, a 160-pound person burns about 450 calories.
In 30 minutes of walking, a 160-pound person burns about 260 calories.
In 30 minutes of moderate cycling, a 160-pound person burns about 220 calories.
However, keep in mind that as you run more often, your body will become more efficient and you may find that you don’t lose as much weight as when you first started running. You’ll have to increase your speed and intensity to see the same results.
If your goal is weight loss, the best approach is to pair running with a healthy diet to create a calorie deficit. For more information, read about how to lose weight safely and keep it off.
Running can boost mood
You may have gone on a run and felt your mind clear and tensions ease. That’s because exercise increases blood flow and the release of feel-good chemicals like dopamine and endorphins to your brain — which helps fight stress.
In fact, research published by the American Psychological Association in 2017 suggests that sticking with a running routine in times of stress can lead to greater resilience, leaving you better able to handle life’s challenges.
Moreover, a 2019 study in the JAMA Psychiatry Journal found that running can be an effective strategy for preventing depression. The research revealed that replacing inactivity with just 15 minutes of vigorous activity each day — like running — can reduce the risk of depression by roughly 26%.
Learn more about the best types of exercise for depression and how physical activity can improve mental health.
Running may help you sleep better
There are many reasons why exercise can help you get a better night’s sleep.
For example, physical activity releases serotonin, which helps regulate your circadian rhythm and establish regular wake-up and sleep times. Regular exercise also improves slow wave sleep, or deep sleep, which gives your brain and body a chance to rejuvenate overnight.
While there’s no single best time in the day to run for better sleep, it may be helpful to avoid running too late in the evening so you don’t have trouble winding down before bedtime.
Running can improve heart health
Running gets your heart pumping and blood flowing, and in turn makes your heart stronger and more efficient.
It also protects your long-term cardiac health if you stick with it. For example, a 2014 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that regular runners had a 45% lower risk of dying from heart-related causes, such as a heart attack or stroke, over a 15-year period.
Read more about the best types of exercise for heart health and how to create a heart-healthy workout routine.
Running may help you live longer
Some research has also found a positive connection between running and an extended life expectancy.
A 2019 British Journal of Sports Medicine meta-analysis found that running lowered the risk of early death by 27%, including a 23% lower risk of death from cancer. Even more encouraging, regular runners were found to live approximately three years longer than non-runners.
Tips for beginners
If you’re not already a regular runner, it’s not too late to get started.
When you’re first starting out, you should build your endurance with a brisk walking program of 20 to 30 minutes daily, says Aaron Baggish, director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and medical director for the Boston Marathon.
When this feels comfortable, Baggish says to introduce two-to-three minute bouts of jogging into your walk. Depending on your level of fitness, this can be as soon as after the first week of walking.
Ultimately, the goal should be to string together 20 to 30 consecutive minutes of conversation-paced jogging, five days per week. It might even be helpful to run with a partner, who can hold you accountable and make the exercise feel more enjoyable.
Or, you may enjoy a solitary run. Feel free to plug in headphones and listen to music or a podcast, which can help you pass the time.
Here are a couple tips to keep in mind to help you hit the pavement safely:
Incorporate rest days. All forms of moderate-to-high intensity physical activity, like running, tax your muscles and bones, says Baggish. To realize the health benefits of exercise and to avoid injury, at least one to two rest days per week are required to allow appropriate healing and get rid of sore muscles.
Stretch. Include a warm-up before each run to loosen your muscles and a cool down afterwards to safely lower your heart rate. A good warm-up incorporates dynamic stretching, where you can move instead of holding a static stretch — think leg swings and arm circles. And cooling down can be as simple as slowing your pace down to a walk when you finish your run.
Don’t try to run too fast. You may get unnecessarily discouraged if you tire yourself out quickly because you’re trying to do too much too soon. Easing into things will also help you prevent common running injuries like shin splints, stress fractures, or knee pain.
Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your run. This will regulate your body temperature and restore much-needed energy to your body’s cells.
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