There are generally two types of fitness enthusiasts: the ones who love running and the ones who, well, aren’t so crazy about it. It’s pretty easy to spot the diehard runners. They’re the ones who race to claim “their” treadmill as soon as the gym doors open, and they love to out-run each other (hello, 12.0 mph sprints!).
Love it or hate it, running is one of the best cardio workouts on the block. In addition to giving you a killer bod, hitting up the treadmill offers a raft of tremendous mind-body benefits, from lengthening your life to staving off depression. Whether you are a seasoned marathoner or just breaking into the running world, here are seven awesome reasons to hit the ground running.
Running Is Free
The beauty of running is that you can do it virtually anywhere — on the beach, around your neighborhood, through wooded trails, wherever your journey takes you. So, on days you can’t make it to class, you can still squeeze in an awesome workout — without spending a dime.
Anybody Can Do It
Maybe you’re still haunted by memories of struggling to run the mile in high school gym class. But take heart: despite popular misconception, anybody can become a runner — it doesn’t require special athletic prowess or innate talent. To avoid injury or burnout, beginners should take care to ease their way into running. Start off by alternating brief bursts of running with periods of walking, then gradually introducing longer and longer running distances. Also, as a general rule of thumb, never increase your mileage by more than 10 percent a week, and always allow for ample recovery time — this means scheduling in rest days and cross-training sessions.
It Burns Major Calories
From a calorie-burn perspective, running trumps nearly every other cardiovascular exercise, including cycling, swimming, and using the elliptical machine. Jogging at a 5 mph pace torches 600 calories per hour, compared to 400 calories for swimming and 300 for the elliptical.
Running Makes You Happy
You know the so-called “runner’s high?” Yeah, that’s an actual thing. Although all forms of exercise trigger a surge of feel-good endorphins in the brain, there is nothing quite as powerful as that post-run euphoria. It’s so effective, in fact, that many mental health experts are recommending running as a viable treatment for stress-induced depression and anxiety. In a September 2014 animal study published in the journal Cell, Swedish researchers showed how physical exercise protects the brain from stress-induced depression. According to the study, high-intensity activity, such as running, has a “detoxifying” effect that purges the brain of harmful stress chemicals that can lead to mental illness. Consider that a reason to jog it out after a long and chaotic day at the office!
Running Protects Your Brain
Want to be smarter? Run more. Studies have found that running beefs up the brain and keeps it sharper over time. In a 2014 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.
Running Strengthens Your Joints and Bones
“Running is bad for your knees,” you’ve been cautioned time and time again. But this old wisdom doesn’t hold true. A weight-bearing exercise, running paradoxically strengthens the bones and joints. Running is directly correlated with increases in bone mineral density and may help to reduce age-related bone loss, studies show. Additionally, a large cross-sectional study of almost 75,000 runners published in July 2013 found “no evidence that running increases the risk of osteoarthritis, including participation in marathons.”
Running Extends Your Life
Running, no matter the duration or speed, is a powerful elixir against mortality. According to a study published in the July issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, runners had a 30% lower risk of death overall and a 45% lower risk of death from heart disease or stroke than non-runners. On average, runners lived three years longer than non-runners. The most surprising finding? You don’t need to run marathons in order to reap the life-extending benefits of running. In the study, participants who jogged for only ten minutes a day or at leisurely paces saw marked health advantages, too. “Fitness may be the strongest predictor of survival,” says Carl Lavie, a cardiologist and co-author of the study.