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 24 answers to: "Why is running good for you?"
1. 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: An April 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. Helps Improve Heart Health
You likely already know that any form of cardio — like running — is good for your heart (just as the name implies). But research is helping to shed light on the full extent of its cardiac benefits.
A January 2020 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC) found that first-time marathon runners lowered their blood pressure and reduced aortic stiffening. These improvements reportedly took four years off their "vascular age," meaning they had the cardiovascular health of someone four years younger.
The good news is you don't need to spend long, monotonous hours running or training for a marathon to reap rewards. An August 2014 study also published in the JACC linked running daily for just five to 10 minutes to a lower risk of death from heart disease.
3. Just Might Help You Live Longer
Huzzah! Running could help you live a longer, healthier life. In addition to the above JACC study, a June 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. Prepare to make the most out of your golden years by starting a healthy habit that can benefit you for a lifetime.
4. Helps Boost 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 may mean 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 February 2013 review in Psychonomic Bulletin and Review found running helped improve focus and working memory in children and young adults. And an October 2012 study published in the journal Neurology observed that individuals who participated in more physically engaging activities experienced less brain shrinkage over time.
5. May Lower Risk of Depression
Make you mental health a priority by prioritizing exercise. A January 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.
6. Provides an Anytime Workout
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.
7. 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.
8. 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. Running — and other physical activity — causes the release of mood-lifting chemicals in your body that can help you feel more relaxed and deal with stress better, according to the National Library of Medicine.
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.
9. Can Help Your Knees
It may seem counterintuitive, but running can actually help knee pain. That's according to an eight-year study in a June 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 discomfort.
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, which leads to better support for the joints. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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, the same person would burn 149 calories walking a 17-minute mile or doing yoga or water aerobics 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).
12. Lets You Catch Up on Content
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.
13. Helps Ease Anxiety
If you find yourself high-strung or anxious a lot of the time, running may help, according to a July 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 an interval workout (some serene scenery can't hurt, either).
14. Supports Your Immune System
If you find yourself frequently contracting colds, running could help fend off some of those annoying bugs. Moderate levels of exercise aid in circulation, which may, in turn, help your immune system by circulating antibodies and white blood cells, according to the National Library of Medicine.
It may also lower your risk of developing non-communicable diseases like cancer, according to some newer research, including a July 2017 review in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. Even more reason to lace up your favorite pair of sneakers and hit the road.
15. Costs Nothing (or Very Little)
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.
16. Provides an Opportunity to Give Back
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.
17. Can Help 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.
18. Boosts Your Self-Esteem
An October 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?
19. 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.
20. Gives You an Opportunity to 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."
21. 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. 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."
An April 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 an October 2018 study published in Sexual Medicine Reviews.
23. 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." Start slow, check out running plans for beginners and ramp up your weekly mileage to keep your injury risk low.
- Neurology: Cardiorespiratory fitness and cognitive function in middle age The CARDIA Study
- Progress in Cardiovascular Disease:Running as a Key Lifestyle Medicine for Longevity.
- Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Leisure-Time Running Reduces All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality Risk
- Psychonomic Bulletin & Review: Benefits of regular aerobic exercise for executive functioning in healthy populations
- Neurology: Neuroprotective lifestyles and the aging brain: activity, atrophy, and white matter integrity.
- JAMA Psychiatry: Assessment of Bidirectional Relationships Between Physical Activity and Depression Among Adults
- BMC Medical Education: U.S. medical students who engage in self-care report less stress and higher quality of life
- American College of Rheumatology: Is There an Association Between a History of Running and Symptomatic Knee Osteoarthritis? A Cross‐Sectional Study From the Osteoarthritis Initiative
- American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society: How to Select the Right Shoes
- Harvard Health Publications: Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights
- BMC Health Services Research: Exercise in the treatment of clinical anxiety in general practice – a systematic review and meta-analysis
- Harvard Health: Running for health: Even a little bit is good, but a little more is probably better
- Harvard Health Publishing:Exercising to relax
- Harvard Health Publishing: Exercise and your arteries
- Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment: Physical activity and self-esteem: testing direct and indirect relationships associated with psychological and physical mechanisms
- Mayo Clinic Proceedings: Effects of Running on Chronic Diseases and Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality
- The Journal of Sexual Medicine: Physical Activity to Improve Erectile Function: A Systematic Review of Intervention Studies
- Sexual Medicine Reviews: The Effects of Exercise on Sexual Function in Women
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Benefits of Exercise"
- Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity: "Does Regular Exercise Counter T Cell Immunosenescence Reducing the Risk of Developing Cancer and Promoting Successful Treatment of Malignancies?"