Advantages & Disadvantages of Running as Exercise

Young woman leaping over a fallen tree
A young woman is running through a forest. (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)

Running is an enormously popular form of exercise. According to Running USA, In 2012, close to 30 million Americans went running at least 50 times. To the casual observer, the reasons for its widespread appeal seem as evident as the factors that would lead lots of would-be exercisers to quickly reject it. So what are the greatest advantages and disadvantages of being a distance runner?

Physical Benefits

If weight loss is your primary goal, then running has a clear advantage over other activities; according to, it burns more calories per unit of time than any other type of exercise -- upward of 1,000 calories per hour for some people. Running also strengthens your heart, helps you keep your blood pressure under control, tones and strengthens your legs and can improve your blood cholesterol profile. If you participate in a sport that requires aerobic fitness, such as soccer or basketball, preseason running can help bring you to the start of the season in top condition.

Physical Drawbacks

If you've been a runner for any length of time, it's a good bet that some well-meaning couch potato has warned you that you'll wind up trashing your knees. While this is grossly overstated at best, there's no denying that the biomechanical impact of some 1,500 foot strikes per mile can lead to joint problems, stress fractures, low-back pain and other maladies, especially if you run on asphalt or concrete.

In addition, in May 2013, the "Wall Street Journal" reported the results of a study that suggested that running more than about 30 miles a week may increase the buildup of plaque in the arteries of your heart.

Mental and Psychosocial Benefits

While running's visible and under-the-hood benefits to your physical self may be your main motivation for making a habit of it, it also has a wealth of advantages over other, non-aerobic forms of exercise on your psychological state. Although these are not as easy to quantitate as such things as blood pressure and weight, running can produce an elevation in mood, improved self-esteem, a more positive body image and a decrease in depression-related symptoms. Also, it can enhance your social life -- you might join a running club and expand your circle of friends, or even meet a romantic partner at a race.

Mental and Psychosocial Drawbacks

Running may not be the ideal activity for people with certain social or mental inclinations. Because you don't require any other people to do it, if you are prone to social isolation, running may exacerbate this tendency and leave you separated from sources of needed support. If you suffer from an eating disorder, running may lead you to focus even more on your weight and your food intake and drive you further into unhealthy and even dangerous patterns. If you run competitively, you may put such a high amount of pressure on yourself to succeed that running stops being fun and becomes merely one more source of stress.

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