Running is a near-perfect exercise for nearly everyone, young or old, big or small. The benefits of running are vast and can be customized to work around your schedule and physical needs. Whether you’re looking to make running your primary workout or need it to supplement your regular training, there’s always a way to reap its benefits.
And while it’s a little more complicated than it appears, running isn’t exclusively for the already fit. Those previously uninterested in fitness and those recovering from injuries can get in on running’s benefits. In short, it’s a sport for all seasons.
The Physical Benefits of Running
Let’s start off with the obvious stuff here. Running is an aerobic exercise. It helps transport oxygen throughout your body more efficiently, improving your cardiovascular health. In other words, it’s good for your heart. Even doing the bare minimum–running for five minutes a day–can be beneficial. Running can positively impact your immune system as well. Devoted runners experience greater lung capacity.
By strengthening these systems, you can not only increase your physical health but also prevent illnesses. Runners are at a decreased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and stroke because the exercise helps arteries retain their flexibility – strengthening the heart and allowing for great blood flow. Women can decrease their risk of breast cancer by adding running to their workout regimen.
Weight Loss as a Benefit of Running
In the long-term, running helps decrease your cholesterol levels and is one of the single best exercises to burn calories. This translates into weight loss. However, losing weight while running isn’t easy. Hell, losing weight, in general, isn’t easy. Diet plays an important factor, as well as the types of running you do. If you’re interested in using running as a weight loss method, running for speed and distance will help you in your goals. Intense anaerobic and interval running can also be helpful in burning calories at an accelerated rate. Adding in other exercises, such as swimming, yoga, and light weight-training can aid your progress.
That said, we’re aware that if you’re reading this, you’re probably new to running. We’re not going to overload you.
In short, yes, running can help you lose weight.
Runners tend to be lean, but not frail. Naturally, putting stress on muscles, bones, and joints can be painful and can lead to injury. However, exercises, including running, are about building strength and resistance. Yes, you’re taking a risk of injury, but so long as you’re running safely, the pain you’re feeling is that of the body becoming stronger. In the long-term, you’ll be less likely to get injured because you’ve spent all this time preparing it.
In the case of running, you’re mostly building the muscles in your legs–quadriceps and hamstrings. There are, of course, supplementary exercises to help build the tender muscles of the ankle and toughen the skin of your heel, too. With proper running form, the joints of your hips, knees, and feet are being strengthened. For younger runners, you’re increasing bone mass; in older runners, you’re preventing the loss of that mass and decreasingly the likelihood of osteoarthritis.
With some injuries–back, legs, feet–sometimes running can help the healing process. Of course, before putting those running shoes on, discuss the idea of it with your doctor first. Your body does need downtime to heal, of course. However, if your doctor allows it, go for a run. Running increases blood circulation to these areas, which will aid in the healing process. You’ll probably be limited to a light jog, which is fine. It’s a low-impact exercise with a low risk of injury (or in this case re-injury) but still strenuous enough to get the blood pumping.
Mental, Psychological, and Social Benefits of Running
Running is an exercise you can start at any age and continue to do in some form as long as you can put on foot in front of the other. This is a good thing because outside of finding one of Ra’s al Ghul’s Lazarus Pits, you’re not going to be able to avoid getting older. Running–or at least jogging–has been suggested for older people not only for the previously mentioned physical and physiological benefits but for the mental benefits as well, which we discuss in detail in another article.
Running, along with sports like tennis, engage you cognitively as well as physically. In older people, it can help keep their minds sharp. Maintaining proper speed, form, and preparing for and adapting to changes in terrain require coordination between the mind and several parts of the body.
The benefits of running can be reaped by people of all ages.
People in any age group can be prone to anxiety and depression. Running provides a way of treating it. When muscles are properly engaged, your brain will release feel-good chemicals like serotonin and endorphins, which will boost your mood. The focus you need for your run will distract you from your worries and the physical exertion will allow your body to release pent up frustration.
Running can be a social experience.
Remember that group of elderly people jogging the malls on Better Call Saul? Well, that’s a real thing. There are also running groups for younger people too.
Some runs require you to keep a “conversational pace,” which is exactly as it sounds: you run at a pace that allows you to have a conversation normally with no gasping for breath. Some choose to call their friends or family during this time, but if you’re lacking a social outlet, you can find groups to run with at any age or experience level.
Local running-centric stores, gyms, and yoga studios will often have fliers up for people looking to form running groups. There are also apps that you can use that are essentially matchmaking services for running groups and running partners. You make a profile detailing your personality, fitness level, and running goals, and search for other with similar profiles. Some of these apps double as dating apps, allowing you to find someone who has a similar passion for running, giving you something to immediately talk about, share, and work dating ideas around.
How Should I Run to Reap the Benefits of Running?
As we said earlier, this article is geared to a less experienced group, so we’re not going to get too advanced here. We’ll just go over some of the basics.
Depending on your health and comfort level, you can easily do these runs with a partner or by yourself.
We’re not going to get too technical with this. Not here anyway. The short version is that you’re born with the running form that works best for your body. Changing it at a core level is asking a lot of even the most experienced runners. However, there are small aspects of your run that you should be cognizant of to streamline your run and make sure you’re not wasting energy.
While only certain muscles will be worked out during your run, you’ll need your entire body functioning in unity to keep proper running form and perform at your maximum potential.
We’ll start from the top-down.
When running, keep your chin up. While it’s rather natural to keep your head down to check the terrain, you’ll tire out faster by keeping your chin down. Keeping your chin up will become harder to do as you legitimately become tired so be watchful for that. The easiest way to do that is to keep your eyes and head fixed ahead of you. As long as your ears are aligned with your shoulders you’re doing it right.
Speaking of your shoulders, maintain good posture throughout the run. Keep from hunching over. Pull your shoulders back if you have to. You should be making an X with your body. If your right leg is ahead, your right shoulder is back. When your left leg is ahead, your left shoulder is back. As you grow tired, your shoulders will tighten together toward your neck. You’ll expend more energy and get less out of the run. Be aware of it and keep your shoulders loose.
Your arms and hands play an important role in propelling you forward. Don’t flail about–that wastes energy. Keep your arms at a 90-degree angle, elbows close to your sides, never crisscrossing along your chest. Keep your hands open. Closing your hands expends energy needlessly. As the run goes on and becomes more taxing, your body may close your hands automatically. Keep them open.
We mentioned earlier the importance of good posture for your shoulders. Do it for your back too. A straight line. Your back and your core help balance you during your run. Keeping your core right during your run will keep you from leaning too far forward or back. That’s why doing core-based exercises (crunches, sit-ups, etc.) should be a part of a runner’s warm-up and general exercise schedule.
This one is admittedly tough. While you want your back straight, you’ll want to lean into your run ever so slightly with the hinge of your hips. Your torso should be kept just ahead of your hips. Leaning with the hinge allows for a more powerful stride.
Keep your knees lined up with the middle of your foot. The knees should also be directly ahead of the hips and not turned inward. Your shins should be at about a 90-degree angle when your foot strikes the ground so that your joints–from your ankles up to your hips–absorb the impact evenly, increasingly your running strength and decreasing the likelihood of injury. As a rule of thumb, if you’re striking the ground with your heel, the angle is too big, and if you’re striking with the fire of your foot, your angle is too small.
Never run on your heels or toes. If you do that naturally, speak to a doctor about orthotics that can help change your gait. Running on your heels or toes can cause damage, especially when running. Try to strike the ground with the ball of your foot. Upon impact, don’t lift your foot, but rather use the ball to push off from the ground again. This will keep your stride from getting too far out ahead of you and propel you forward with greater ease.
One Last Word of Caution
No matter the exercise, people just love skipping their warm-ups or not giving them the necessary amount of time they need. Your muscles need to be woken up and eased into exertion. Tight muscles suddenly exerted are substantially more prone to injury. So remember to check out our article on the best stretching exercises for runners before hitting the pavement.
And make sure to have fun!