, , ,

8 key ways running can transform your body and brain

People are built to run.

Many experts think human bodies are shaped the way they are because we evolved to be extremely effective endurance runners. The shapes of our hips and feet, the length of our legs, our shock-absorbing spinal discs, and our ability to sweat make it possible for us to run mile after mile.

So it’s perhaps no surprise that running is strongly associated with a number of benefits for our bodies and brains.

Many experts consider exercise to be the closest thing to a miracle drug. As a form of cardio exercise that’s easily accessible, running is one of the most straightforward ways to get the important benefits of exercise.

Since it improves aerobic fitness, running is a great way to help improve cardiovascular health. Plus, it burns calories and can build strength, among other things. There’s also a long list of psychological benefits runners gain from their sport.

Getting used to running, if you haven’t done it in a while or ever, can be brutal.

But once your body and mind start to acclimate, running can be blissful, meditative, and provide a sense of freedom. As someone who recently completed his first half-marathon, I can confirm that’s true. One piece of advice from several experienced runners made a big difference during my race: remember that you’re running to have fun.

These are some of the physical and mental health benefits of running.

Even a 30-minute run can lift symptoms of depression and improve mood.

Even a 30-minute run can lift symptoms of depression and improve mood.Shutterstock

Spending 30 minutes on a treadmill is enough to lift the mood of someone suffering from major depressive disorder, according to a study published in the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine. Even participants who moved at a walking pace to received the same mood-lifting benefit.

This shows that no matter what pace you’re going, moving has positive effects and adds to the already significant body of research showing that running and other forms of exercise can improve mood and help fight depression.

Contrary to what many people think, running actually seems to improve knee health.

Contrary to what many people think, running actually seems to improve knee health.Rob Ludacer

Knee pain can quickly sideline a runner. It’s often a sign of overtraining or a need to improve one’s form or flexibility. But running probably isn’t the cause of knee osteoarthritis.

In one eight-year study of 2,637 participants, researchers found that the more people ran, the less likely they were to suffer from knee pain or osteoarthritis. While it’s hard to say that running directly caused people to experience less knee pain, researchers think that could be the case since running helps people keep their BMI in check and their leg muscles strong. Running also strengthens bones.

Running helps young people sleep better, improves their mood, and boosts their ability to focus.

Running helps young people sleep better, improves their mood, and boosts their ability to focus.Shutterstock

In a study of 51 young people with an average age of 18, half were assigned to add running into their routines, while the other half did not (they did get some exercise, but didn’t add a regular running regimen). To get the benefits associated with running, the group of runners ran at a moderate pace for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, for three weeks.

Those in that running group were found to sleep better, show signs of improved psychological functioning, and focus better during the day. The same benefits are likely to apply to runners of any age.

Running can significantly improve cardiovascular health.

Running can significantly improve cardiovascular health.Shutterstock

We know that aerobic activity is good for the heart, so it’s no surprise that running can improve cardiovascular fitness. In general, the more people run, the healthier their hearts tend to be. But you can get big benefits without having to do a lot: running just five minutes per day could add years to your life, according to a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

There has been some concern that extreme amounts of running — we’re talking ultramarathon distances — could stress or scar the heart. But a growing body of research seems to indicate that’s not something to worry about. Researchers have found that people who run at least 40 miles per week have healthier hearts than those who run 13 miles a week, for example.