It becomes a tradition: You pull on your running tights or shorts, lace up your shoes and out the door you go in your ritual of running 2 miles a day. Maybe you do it because the run clears your head and gives you time to think, makes you feel more energetic or you just enjoy the unmistakable rush of a "runner's high." But that's not all that's going in your body. Even if you're not aware of it, those runs are doing you a whole world of good.
Just a few of the health benefits of running 2 miles a day include weight loss, improved heart and lung capacity, a natural mood boost, a stronger immune system, reduced risk of chronic diseases and even a longer life.
Running for Weight Loss
If you're looking to lose weight, running is an excellent choice of exercise. Aside from a good pair of shoes and clothes that you don't mind sweating in, it doesn't require any special equipment; and if you live in a reasonably run-friendly area, you can head straight out your door and run for your health, no gym membership required. That said, you can gain the same benefits from running 2 miles a day on a treadmill, using an elliptical trainer or swimming laps. It's physical activity in general that matters most for your health, not what you do.
But running does offer an impressive calorie burn. Although exact numbers vary depending on a number of factors including your weight, body composition and gender, not to mention how fast you run, estimates from Harvard Health Publishing are a great place to start: If you weigh 125 pounds and run at 5 mph (equivalent to a 12-minute mile), you'll burn about 160 calories in a 2-mile run. Kick up the speed to 6 mph (equivalent to a 10-minute mile) and a 125-pound person will burn about 200 calories in 2 miles, while a 185-pound runner will burn almost 300 calories.
If you're already eating a balanced diet with an appropriate number of calories, that could work out to more than 2 pounds of weight lost per month. While that might not sound like a lot, the Obesity Action Coalition notes that losing even 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can provide very real health benefits including decreased risk or better symptom management of heart disease, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, high cholesterol and general inflammation.
Just as weight gain adds up surprisingly fast over the long term, so does weight loss. Keep up your daily running habit for a year and you can burn away more than 30 pounds of excess fat, assuming you keep your diet in check.
Your Heart Will Thank You
Although losing excess body fat can do a lot to improve your heart health, running is also wonderful for your cardiovascular system, even if you're already at a healthy weight. According to a meta-analysis published in an October 2015 issue of the New Zealand journal Sports Medicine, after a year of running 5.6 to 12.3 miles per week, inactive but otherwise healthy individuals notably reduced overall body mass and body fat, their resting heart rates and their triglyceride levels.
The authors of the meta-analysis also note that the regular running notably increased the subjects' maximal oxygen uptake, or VO2max, and also increased their "good" cholesterol levels.
Running for a Better Mood
Running isn't just good for your heart; it's good for your mood. According to a meta-analysis published in a June 2016 issue of the Journal of Psychiatric Research, regular moderate or vigorous aerobic exercise has a significant antidepressant effect for people with depression. In fact, the authors point out that the potential effects of aerobic exercise to combat depression may have been underreported in the past due to publication bias.
Regular physical activity (including running) is often recommended to treat depression and anxiety. The Mayo Clinic notes that although the links between anxiety, depression and exercise aren't entirely clear, some of the ways exercise may help ease the symptoms of these conditions include releasing endorphins (your brain's natural "feel-good" chemicals), taking your mind off whatever is causing you mental and emotional distress, boosting your confidence, providing healthy social opportunities and offering a healthy coping mechanism.
You don't have to run a half-marathon whenever you want a natural pick-me-up. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America notes that just five minutes of aerobic exercise is all it takes to begin stimulating anti-anxiety effects.
There's another way that regular aerobic workouts, such as running, help keep your brain in tip-top shape. In a study published in the February 2019 issue of Neurology, researchers found that aerobic exercise contributed significantly to brain health and cognition in individuals as young as 20 years old, although the beneficial effects of exercise seemed to be magnified as age increased.
Quality of Life
If you're an avid runner, you may already know that regular cardiovascular exercise is important for maintaining quality of life as well. Part of that is because exercising regularly gives you the stamina and good health you need to stay independent into your later years. Many runners also use their outings as time to think, "me" time, or simply an outlet for whatever they might be feeling at the time.
But running can also increase your odds of simply being here long enough to enjoy that quality of life. According to a review published in an August 2014 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, runners have a 30 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 45 percent lower risk of cardiovascular mortality compared to non-runners. And a study published in a November 2015 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that running just 6 miles a week could add several years to your life, and regular aerobic workouts also decrease your risk of several chronic diseases.
Regular aerobic exercise — such as running — can also improve your quality of life by strengthening your immune system. Because running is weight-bearing, it can also improve or maintain bone density in your lower body.
Things to Keep in Mind
Although running is a great way to keep fit and healthy, there are a few potential downsides you should watch out for. The first is that running is a very high-impact exercise and not everybody tolerates this sort of workout well. If you have bone, joint or muscle conditions that keep you from doing high-impact exercise, or if you carry enough body weight that doing so is uncomfortable, consider doing your runs on an elliptical trainer, or wearing a flotation belt and jogging in a pool.
The other thing to watch out for is overtraining. The runner's high is a real phenomenon, but so are symptoms such as disturbed sleep, poor performance, unusual fatigue, extra-long recovery time and nagging injuries, all of which can come from overtraining.
But does running 2 miles a day mean overtraining? That depends on your level of fitness. If you're a beginner, it very well might. So if you're new to running, don't be shy about starting with a little less — for example, doing your 2-mile runs three times a week to begin with — and then gradually ramping up the intensity and frequency as your body adjusts to the workouts. This will also help you avoid the soreness that sometimes results when you tackle too much, too soon in a new workout regimen.
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level"
- Obesity Action Coalition: "Benefits of 5 to 10 Percent Weight Loss"
- Journal of the American College of Cardiology: "Leisure-Time Running Reduces All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality Risk"
- Sports Medicine: "Meta-Analyses of the Effects of Habitual Running on Indices of Health in Physically Inactive Adults"
- Journal of Psychiatric Research: "Exercise as a Treatment for Depression: A Meta-Analysis Adjusting for Publication Bias"
- Mayo Clinic: "Depression and Anxiety: Exercise Eases Symptoms"
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America: "Exercise of Stress and Anxiety"
- American Council on Exercise: "9 Signs of Overtraining"
- Mayo Clinic Proceedings: "Effects of Running on Chronic Diseases and Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality"
- Mayo Clinic: "Top 10 Reasons to Get Physical"
- Neurology: "Effect of Aerobic Exercise on Cognition in Younger Adults"
- CDC: "LDL and HDL Cholesterol: 'Bad' and 'Good' Cholesterol"