23 Health Benefits of Running That Will Finally Convince You to Give It a Try

Finding a running partner is a great way to stay motivated. (Image: filadendron/E+/GettyImages)

Finding the time and motivation for exercise can be a challenge. However, the physical and mental health benefits of running are so worth it. So if you've been dabbling with the idea of taking up running and you're looking for some inspiration, read on for 23 answers to: "Why is running good for you?"

1. Running Clears Your Head

If you're stuck on a problem or experiencing a mental block, running may help. Ashley Crossman, running coach, personal trainer and owner of She Runs Strong, says she loves running because it can help shake off the mental fog.

And science backs her up: A 2014 study published by the American Academy of Neurology linked higher cardiovascular fitness and better cognitive function. "If I've got writer's block or am trying to solve a personal or work problem, I head out for a run," says Crossman. "Ninety-five percent of the time I come home with a solution."

2. Running May Help You Live Longer

Huzzah! Running could help you live a longer, healthier life. A 2017 study published in Progress in Cardiovascular Disease observed that participants who ran lived about three years longer than non-runners. The study also stated that running could reduce your risk of premature death by 25 to 40 percent.

The good news is you don't need to spend long, monotonous hours running to reap these rewards. A 2014 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reports that the benefits of running daily for just five to 10 minutes can lower your risk of death from heart disease. Prepare to make the most out of your golden years by starting a healthy habit that can benefit you for a lifetime.

3. Running Boosts Brain Health

No, running won't make you a rocket scientist, but it can improve a number of cognitive functions. Jason Karp, PhD, author, coach and chief running officer at Run-Fit says that running leads to the formation of new neurons in the brain.

More neurons and increased interactions between those cells means better communication between parts of your brain, he says, which fosters what scientists call divergent thinking — and what we call thinking outside the box.

In addition to increasing neurons, running may also help improve memory and concentration. A 2013 review in Psychonomic Bulletin and Review found running helped improve focus and working memory in children and young adults. And a 2012 study published in the journal Neurology observed that individuals who participated in more physically engaging activities experienced less brain shrinkage over time.

4. Running Helps Prevent Depression

Make you mental health a priority by prioritizing exercise. A 2019 study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that physical activity (like running) boosts mental wellbeing and plays a role in helping prevent depression.

Even better, the researchers found that just 15 minutes a day of high-intensity activities like running is enough to lower your risk. While there are certainly benefits of long-distance running, it's nice to know a little can go a long way when it comes to exercise. Establish a regular running routine for a high-intensity workout that improves your health and your mood.

5. Running Never Closes

Unlike most gyms, which only stay open for a specific number of hours every day, or fitness classes that follow a set schedule, you can run any time motivation hits. If you work odd hours, are a night owl or early bird or have trouble making the times of workout classes, running is a convenient exercise that you can fit in whenever your hectic schedule allows.

6. Running Offers Healthy “Me” Time

Between work, driving the kids to all their extra-curricular activities, social obligations and the constant barrage of texts and social media, it can be hard to break away from the daily grind and have time for yourself. But running is a great outlet. "With the demands of work and family, running is sometimes the only time I have 100 percent to myself," Crossman says.

Science backs the importance of "me time" and self-care. An August 2018 study published in BMC Medical Education reported that medical students who regularly practiced self-care like exercise reported lower stress and a better quality of life. If you need to decompress and regroup, grab your sneakers and hit the open road.

7. Running Helps Lower Stress

If you have an approaching deadline, exercising may feel like the last activity you have time for, but it can actually lower stress and help you work more efficiently. A 2014 study published in Frontiers in Physiology concluded that people who exercise regularly handle stress better than sedentary people. They're also able to regulate emotions better and are less susceptible to illnesses tied to chronic stress.

Dr. Karp touts the stress-busting benefits in his book, The Inner Runner. "Running gives us the opportunity to seek out discomfort so that we may learn to deal with it, rise above it, and become hopeful about our future. And that's very much like life," he says.

8. Running Can Help Your Knees

It may seem counterintuitive, but running can actually help your knees. That's according to an eight-year study published in a 2016 issue of Arthritis Care and Research. Researchers followed 2,637 study participants, and the results suggest that the more they ran, the less likely they were to have osteoarthritis or knee pain.

This could be due to lower BMIs in regular runners, which puts less pressure on the knees. Running also benefits knee health by strengthening bones and leg muscles as well. Of course, this study doesn't extend to those with preexisting knee injuries, and you should always check with your doctor to get their blessing before taking up any high-impact exercise.

9. Running Is Right Outside Your Door

Running is one of the most accessible exercises out there. Marissa Gee, owner and head coach of CorporateActive and cross-country coach at Santa Monica College, praises running as one of the only exercises that requires no equipment, fields, courts or other people for your participation.

"Running can be the most freeing, honest sport. You can just head out the door anytime, anywhere," she says. "All you need are shoes." And buying the right kind of shoes before you take up running is important in injury prevention. The American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society recommends choosing a running shoe that has proper shock absorption and heel control.

10. Running Can Help You Lose Weight

You likely already know this, but running burns a ton of calories. According to Harvard Health Publications, a 155-pound person running a 12-minute mile burns approximately 298 calories every 30 minutes.

In comparison, walking a 17-minute mile, yoga or water aerobics burns 149 calories, while lifting weights burns 112 calories for the same amount of time. If you're trying to drop a few pounds, running may be the exercise for you (along with cleaning up your diet, of course).

11. Running Lets You Catch Up on Reading

What does running help with as far as time management? Quite a lot. For instance, if you have a book that you've been meaning to read, multitask while you run and exercise your brain along with your body.

Most books are available to download onto smartphones and other portable devices so that you can listen to them through your headphones. If the story is captivating enough, the miles will fly by. Or find your new favorite podcast to run to. And if music motivates you more than words, compile a playlist of your favorite tunes for inspiration.

12. Running Helps Ease Anxiety

If you find yourself high-strung or anxious a lot of the time, running may help, according to a 2018 review published in BMC Health Services Research. The study looked at people with anxiety who participated in low-intensity or high-intensity exercise for at least two weeks.

Researchers determined that high-intensity exercise can be part of an effective treatment intervention for lowering anxiety. Slow that hamster wheel of worries in your mind with a jog through some serene scenery.

13. Running Supports Your Immune System

If you find yourself frequently contracting colds, running could help fend off some of those annoying bugs. Exercise aids in circulation, which may, in turn, help your immune system by circulating antibodies and white blood cells. It may also lower your risk of developing non-communicable diseases like cancer, according to a 2018 review published in Frontiers in Immunology. Even more reason to lace up your favorite pair of sneakers and hit the road.

14. Running Is Free

Not only is running great for your body and mind, it's good for your wallet. "Run in a park, on the beach, on a public track, in the mountains or down the street," Gee says. "It's all free. And free is good!" Save money on gym memberships or exercise equipment by simply lacing up your running shoes and heading out the door for some exercise.

15. Running Can Help Others

Running give you opportunity to help yourself while you help others. There are a number of running-related fundraising opportunities available, allowing you to give back while getting fit.

The app Charity Miles turns your running mileage into donations to your favorite charity. And websites such as Run for Charity are useful sources for finding running groups and races that offer a chance to raise money for a cause close to your heart. Plus, registering for a race will give you a deadline to make you more motivated to meet your goal.

16. Running Can Helps Improve Your Skin

Is running good for your skin? Sonya Kenkare, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, says it can be! "Exercise can increase circulation and endorphins. This can give skin a bit of a glow and tighten the skin's appearance," she says. And that just might mean you also experience a reduction in the appearance of wrinkles, too.

Running can also help keep acne at bay. According to Harvard Health Publishing, moderately intense exercise can decrease cortisol — a stress hormone that can lead to oily skin, breakouts, eczema and other skin conditions. Exercise opens your pores, and sweat pushes out dirt and oil. Just make sure to rinse your skin after a workout to lower the risk of acne from bacteria buildup, says Dr. Kenkare.

17. Running Boosts Your Self-Esteem

A 2016 study published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment journal found that physical activity was both directly and indirectly tied to self-esteem. Body mass index (BMI), perceived physical fitness and body image can play a large role in how you feel about yourself — so much so that researchers suggest mental health professionals emphasize fitness when treating clients with low self-esteem. So why not run your way to a little more self-confidence?

18. Running Gets You Somewhere

Running can get you from point A to point B faster if you live in big, crowded cities with lots of traffic. If you find it hard to fit exercise into your schedule, run errands by jogging to the pharmacy, a friend's house, work (if your workplace has showers) or other locations. A variety of running gear is available that allows you to carry lightweight items as you run. However, if your errands involve a grocery store or trip to the library, you may want to opt for the car.

19. Running Helps You Meet People

Running doesn't have to be a solo sport. A multitude of running clubs and groups exist around the country. Training for or participating in races can be very social. "Running is a great way to meet like-minded people," Crossman says. "I've met so many people through running — including my husband — and cherish the friendships I've made from races or running groups."

20. Running Is Beginner-Friendly

Unlike swimming, skiing, biking or playing tennis and other sports, which have a long learning curve, running is an inherent skill. "Running has a very quick learning curve," Gee says. "If we could do it at age one, it's really not that hard at any age." Make sure to learn about proper running form and guidelines for starters, then lace up and give it a try.

21. Running Lets You Be a Tourist

Running is a great way to explore a new place, since you can sightsee on vacation while burning calories. "Wherever I travel, I bring my running shoes and go for a run as soon as I arrive," Gee says. "I find restaurants, shops and sites I would never discover speeding by in a car."

She also suggests playing tourist in your own neighborhood. Instead of running your regular route, pick a new direction and run down streets you've never seen before. You may find some new favorite places.

22. Running Can Help Improve Your Sex Life

Put some more sizzle in your sex life with a healthy running routine. "Exercise can increase libido and response to sexual stimulation," says Dr. Karp. "It also increases fitness and enhances body image, which improve performance in the bedroom."

A 2018 study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that moderate to vigorous physical activity like running may help decrease erectile dysfunction symptoms. Plus, regular exercise can help make women more easily aroused and increase their enjoyment of sex, according to a 2018 study published in Sexual Medicine Reviews.

23. Running Tones Your Abs

You might think of running primarily as a leg workout, but it actually works a number of muscles throughout the body, including your abs. Running contributes to your six-pack efforts in a couple of ways.

When you run, the way your arms and legs move activates the muscles in your core (including your abs) that help propel you forward and keep your spine aligned. Using these muscles helps tone them. To get an even better ab workout when you run, contract your stomach muscles (but don't hold your breath!).

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