It’s wise to take it slow at the start of whatever sport you decide to take up, but it’s especially important with running. That’s because running can be an absolute chore at first. Within a minute you’re breathing hard, muscles start screaming at you within five, and after ten a lot of people have convinced themselves they won’t bother with running again.
However, if you take it easy at the start and don’t put any pressure on yourself to run quickly, it won’t be long until its charms become clear. Here are 11 reasons you’ll fall in love with running if you give it a chance.
1. Running Makes You Fitter
Well, obviously. Running is primarily a terrific way to improve your cardiovascular fitness, which reduces the risk of all manner of conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and strokes. It’s also a great way to lose weight, more on which is coming up right… now.
2. Running Can Help You Lose Weight
If you want to be healthy, then maintaining a healthy weight should be right at the top of your to-do list, and running will help you tick that off in double-quick time. You burn a whole lot of calories when running, especially if you chuck in a few sprint sections during your run or power through your local parkrun. And even if you just maintain a nice steady pace for 45 minutes, you’re going to burn more calories than when you push yourself to the limit in a 20-minute HIIT session.
3. Running Is Brilliant For Your Mental Health
Your mental health can benefit from running just as much as your physical fitness. Running is your own time, away from the stresses of day-to-day life, and the endorphin rush you get from the activity is a great pick-me-up.
The long-term benefits of the sport can actually help prevent mental health problems developing. When we spoke to Dr Brendon Stubbs from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London about running and mental health, he told us about a study he’d conducted in 2018 looking at 260,000 people all over the world, which found that when people did 150 minutes of moderate and vigorous activity a week, their risk of depression was reduced by roughly 30%.
Running can also have a huge impact on stress in the short term. Another recent study conducted by Stubbs found that amateur runners saw a 29% increase in their ability to deal with stress and an increase of up to 18% in relaxation levels after just 20 minutes of running.
4. Running Is A Great Way To Meet Up With Old Friends (And Make New Ones)
If your busy schedule makes it tough to meet up with people and stick to your exercise plan, then start convincing your friends to join you on a run. Or, if you’re short of running buddies, join a running club and you’ll make a whole bunch of new friends in record time.
5. Running Provides Motivational Targets For Your Exercise
All too often people have admirable but vague goals in mind when they start exercising, like losing weight or getting fitter, which are poor motivators if you don’t see quick results. With running, though, you can forget those and instead set clear targets like running 5K without stopping, or signing up and preparing for a half or full marathon. Or, if you’re an experienced runner, you can work on improving your best times. In the course of hitting those precise targets, you’ll find that things like weight loss come naturally.
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6. Running Helps You Explore New Places
Whether it’s a short jog around a city on a weekend break, or a long trail run around a National Park, running is an excellent way to see more of the world.
7. Running Is Cheap
You can spend huge amounts on running if you so desire, splurging on the best gear and wearable technology, but you absolutely don’t have to. Once you have a pair of running shoes and one outfit to wear, you can put your wallet away.
8. Running Can Make You Feel Happier Immediately
Runners are happier, more positive and have higher self-esteem, according to a study by Glasgow Caledonian University of more than 8,000 pavement pounders, who scored 4.4 on the Oxford Happiness Scale. The average score is 4. Another study found that the mental health benefits of running were almost instantaneous.
9. Running Improves Your Memory
Always forgetting where you left your car keys? Start running instead, becausae regular aerobic exercise increases the size of your hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for memory and learning, according to a study from the University of British Columbia. The research found that weight training doesn’t have the same beneficial brain effect.
What’s more, running mitigates the negative effects that chronic stress has on your hippocampus, the part of your brain responsible for learning and memory. Periods of prolonged stress weaken the synapses between neurons, causing a negative impact on your processing power – but running helps keep these connections firing, according to the journal Neurobiology Of Learning And Memory. “The ideal situation for improving learning and memory would be to experience no stress and to exercise [but] it’s empowering to know that we can combat the negative impacts of stress on our brains just by getting out and running,” says study author Jeff Edwards.
10. Running Sharpens Up Your Brain
The brains of runners have better-connected neural pathways essential for higher-level cognitive functions than sedentary people, according to the University of Arizona. Areas that worked especially well were those involved in working memory, multitasking, attention, decision-making and spatial and visual awareness.
11. You Don’t Have To Do Much Running To Benefit
You might be looking at all of the above benefits and thinking, “sure, but how much do I have to run?” The happy answer is really not much at all (if you don’t want to). And that goes for both mental and physical benefits of the sport.
On the mental side, the recent research by Stubbs found benefits in reduced stress and frustration, plus an improvement in memory and decision-making, after just 20 minutes of running. Past research from Stubbs has shown that the benefits of running kick in after just 10 minutes and the benefits grow the more you run, up to about 300 minutes a week.
As for the physical, research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that looked at the results of 14 previous studies involving a total of more than 230,000 people found that doing any amount of running was good for you.
The study found that runners had a 27% lower risk of early death from any cause, a 30% lower risk of early death from cardiovascular problems and a 23% lower risk of early death from cancer. It also found that these benefits could be gained from running once a week, or for 50 minutes a week, and the risk of early death did not reduce more if you did more running.
A note of caution: the study simply showed an association between running and these beneficial health outcomes, rather than definitively proving one causes the other. But still, go out and run – it’s almost definitely going to do you some good, even if it’s only once a week.
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