The number of U.S. marathon finishers in 1976 was a measly 25,000 people. The number of finishers in 2011 topped all previous records with a whopping total of 518,000. Running has seen a continual (and annual) increase over the last 37 years. But what makes people want to run? What benefits are people seeking by pushing themselves every week to get out and put in the mileage?
First off, there are two types of runners: those who need a reason to run, and those who need a reason not to. People who turn to running as a way to maintain weight may find it more difficult to enjoy than those who are running for stress relief. Either way, I have seen people take a liking to running whether it be prescribed by a doctor or self-motivated. No matter your reason for running, you will experience some extraordinary benefits from hitting the pavement for a few miles each week.
#1 Weight Loss – It is no surprise that running has been attributed with weight loss. Running is great cardiovascular exercise, increasing your heart rate and pumping oxygen to your muscles. A person who weighs 175 lbs will burn 400 calories on a 30-minute run. If they did that 5 times a week, they would burn an entire day’s allowance of calories. Aside from calories being burned, many runners change their diet for performance. This diet will consist of whole-grains, fruit, nuts, and leafy greens. There’s a completely new set of benefits that stem from this diet change.
#2 Stress Relief – Some of the greatest runners will tell you, “If you can’t solve a problem after a long run, there may not be a problem.” People who run display less stress and anxiety due to the natural release of endorphins and decrease in cortisol. You may have heard the term “Runner’s High.” This is the feeling a runner gets when he/she is at the peak of their run. Life’s problems disappear at this exact moment; an emotional balance appears to set in. After about 20 minutes of running, your mind will begin to focus solely on your breathing, heart rate, and the scenery around you. By the time you are finished, you should be completely relaxed and free of wasteful worries.
#3 Increase in Energy – Many people would believe that a person who runs 20, or even 30, miles a week would be constantly tired. This couldn’t be further from the truth. People, who exercise regularly, often have an increase in energy level. Again, this is due to the releases of endorphins (feel-good hormones). The more you run, the more you are able to run.
#4 Brain Health – Recent studies have shown that running not only benefits our heart and lungs, but our brain too. According to 5 Brain Benefits of Running by Denise Schipani from Runner’s World Magazine, our brain seems to benefit from our running as much as other organs. Running appears to increase our ability to learn and store new information and memories. Being aerobically active also helps you to find those new memories and stave off age-related dementia. Having trouble with decision-making? Running makes decision-making, planning, organizing, and juggling mental tasks easier.
#5 Increased Social Life – Now that doesn’t sound right? Running to be social? It’s true. With the increase in popularity of social apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Runkeeper, Dailymile, and Endomondo, people are finding it easier to share their achievements with others. Start posting your runs on Facebook via Runkeeper. Someone on your friend’s list may notice this activity and decide to invite you to go with them on theirnext run. I highly recommend Dailymile, which is pretty much Facebook for runners. You can meet a variety of local runners by joining Dailymile. Not only is it great to meet new people, but you can learn new routes as well. Sign up for races. Races, no matter what the length or size, allow you an opportunity to meet other healthy-minded people. This could prove to be a great source of relationships that will last a lifetime.
#6 Improved Spirituality – Probably the greatest (and most unknown) benefit to running is its meditational qualities. “Just as your body becomes stronger and more accustomed to running through training, your mind becomes stronger and more able to focus and stay calm and present through meditation,” says Jon Pratt, a veteran runner who’s completed two Ironmans and 20 marathons (including a PR of 2:40). Running allows you to still your mind, focus on breathing, and take in the beauty of nature around you. Focusing on your breathing and letting go of distractions is simple, when your mind and body are working together. To learn ways to incorporate meditation into your runs, click here.
As you can see, running has benefits that every one of us could and should be enjoying. These benefits are not limited to elite runners; they are available for anyone who puts in the effort. You can increase your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being by tackling just a few miles a week. For those just starting out, take it easy, and don’t run past enjoyment. A common problem for beginners is that they take on too much, too soon. This will not only cause injuries, but it can give running a negative feel, discouraging you from trying it again. We can also get lost in the confusion of what gear to buy. Starting off, you need 3 things: shoes, running shorts, and a shirt (optional, unless you’re a woman). If you have been idle for some time, allow your body to adjust to your new lifestyle. Once you have gotten a routine in place and running feels natural, you will begin to notice improvements in all areas of your life. Enjoy these benefits and encourage others to join in the journey.