When we think about the benefits of running (or any exercise) we tend to fixate on the results that show within the first few weeks and months of committing to our routine. We think about weight loss, increased energy, and an overall good feeling. Regular exercise makes us feel more alert, sleep better at night, and increases mental health almost immediately.
However, the benefits of running and regular exercise go far, far beyond how great it makes us feel and look. The most significant positive effects are those we don’t see—but arguably make the biggest impact on our lives and the trajectory of our future.
So, when you dedicate yourself to a running routine, what can you expect?
5 Benefits from Running That Will Change Your Life
A study by the BMJ documented over twelve years of progress for individuals who either began a regular exercise routine for the first time or increased their current level of exercise. Inactive individuals would eventually meet the minimum standards for physical activity set down by the World Health Organization—150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise. Those already meeting this standard would gradually increase to 300 minutes per week.
1) You'll Live Longer
Overwhelmingly, the biggest conclusion within the BMJ study is this: even if you have no previous history of regular exercise, adopting a routine, even in mid-life and beyond, has a dramatically positive impact on your lifespan. Both meeting the baseline minimum for activity as stated by WHO and increasing activity over time were preventative against mortality. Even more stunning, this was independent of one's blood pressure, cholesterol, diet, body mass, medical history, and more.
Overall, the increase in activity over time, both over five years (at 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week), then ten years (at 300 minutes of moderate exercise per week, demonstrated a 24 percent reduction in mortality risk across all causes for those who were originally inactive. For those already exercising but increasing their efforts, mortality risk saw between a 28 and 33 percent reduction. The percentage is compared to a baseline of inactive individuals.
That's incredible! If you feel discouraged because you have been inactive for years, this should be a beacon of hope. No matter your history with exercise or even your health history stops you from reaping the benefits of a regular exercise routine.
2) You'll Stop Cardiovascular Disease in Its Tracks
Do you have a history of cardiovascular disease? This can cause a lot of stress, worry, and medical expense. For some of us, history or experience with cardiovascular disease can be a deterrent to exercise. This isn't because it is harmful—quite the contrary—but we become fearful of the idea of straining or overdoing our hearts.
The good news? That fear is unfounded when it comes to the recommended moderate-intensity exercise throughout the week. In fact, regular exercise, like running, tends to target those common risks for cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure, weight, and blood sugar.
3) You'll Reduce Risk of Cancer
The National Cancer Institute published an overview of how physical activity impacts cancer risk. According to their research, three types of cancer have been specifically linked to risk reduction through physical activity. These include colon cancer, breast cancer, and endometrial cancer.
According to a 2009 study, the risk of colon cancer in active individuals decreases by 24 percent compared to inactive peers. For breast cancer, 12 percent, and endometrial, 20 percent.
How does this work, exactly? As with cardiovascular disease, regular exercise targets and improves factors that contribute to cancer risk, including but not limited to hormone levels, immune system function, obesity, digestion, metabolism of bile, and inflammation.
Combined, regular exercise targets cancer risk on many fronts.
4) You'll Improve Your Memory
I’ve talked about it before, but exercise—and running in particular—has a profoundly positive effect on long-term memory and the prevention of Alzheimer’s. In a study performed in British Columbia, performing aerobic exercise demonstrated growth in the hippocampus. This is the part of the brain associated with verbal memory. It’s important to note that other types of exercise: balance, resistance training, and weight training, did not have the same results.
Aerobic exercise impacts memory and brain health down two avenues, both directly and indirectly. On a direct level, exercise reduces insulin resistance, inflammation, and promotes the healthy growth of cells. Namely, brain cells. By growing new blood vessels in the brain and helping ensure the survival of new brain cells, the brain is healthy for longer.
Indirectly, aerobic exercise improves sleep patterns, stress levels, and overall mental health. This leads to a healthier brain.
5) You'll Maintain Your Mobility
Lastly, running impacts mobility. In the long-term, being more healthy and active allows you to stay healthy and active longer. Exercise keeps you moving, and this promotes bone and joint health. A study put forth by University of Missouri researchers found that high-impact sports, like running, have a better impact on bone mineral density than previous thought.
While runners are at risk for stress fractures and other types of bone injuries, overall, bone strength and density are improved.
Study after study demonstrates both the short and long-term health benefits of running and aerobic exercise. What are you waiting for? Slip on those running shoes and get moving!
Have you experienced noticeable health benefits from your exercise routine? Share with me in the comments.