Why do people run? Almost 60 million Americans are doing some form of running, be it jogging or trail running, racing, or long distance running. For some, it’s simple to “get fit” or to “drop a few pounds” but for others, it is a way of life. And yes, it is one of the simplest forms of cardio that only requires shoes (well, not for everyone!), a surface, time, and some motivation. No membership required. No wonder so many people take it up.
Wait, what qualifies as “long distance” running?
Before we jump into you may be asking what qualifies as a long distance running and why it matters. It is generally accepted that five miles or more is considered endurance running. And the reason why it matters is that it gives a benchmark to, on average, where people are going to start to see the cardiovascular benefits.
Five Unexpected Health Benefits of Long Distance Running
Beyond the low barrier to entry, running has a lot of other health and wellness benefits. From stronger bones and joints to a more efficient digestive track, running is a whole body workout that’s good for the mind, body, and soul.
1. Stronger Bones & Joints
Muscles aren’t the only body system that benefits from running. Even your bones get stronger as you exercise. Weight-bearing activities, like jogging, running or hiking, are particularly effective because they force you to work against gravity to remain upright. Bones, like muscles, are living tissue. That means they react to the forces applied to them. The more force you exert on your bones, the more cells that develop in response. That means stronger and denser bones. Keep that in mind as you age.
RELATED: Diet & Bone Health
2. Healthier Heart
There’s a reason doctors recommend patients go running — especially for individuals with hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. Running increases blood flow, which also increases the elasticity of your blood vessels. The more elastic your vessels, the more likely your blood pressure will go down.
Running also decreases your risk of dying from heart disease. In fact, a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that runners have a 45% lower adjusted risk of cardiovascular mortality than non-runners. And you don’t even have to run that far or that fast. For those not into or capable of long distance running, even five to ten minutes a day at a speed less than six miles per hour is all you need to experience the cardiovascular benefits of running.
3. Decreased Risk for Cancer
Did you know up to one third of cancer-related deaths are caused by obesity and sedentary lifestyles? While running can’t cure cancer, it can decrease your risk for many different types of cancer, including endometrial cancer, colorectal (colon) cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, gastric cancer and certain forms of leukemia. Although there are many reasons why, and many of those reasons are specific to certain cancers, it is thought that physical activity decreases the production of insulin and estrogen, both of which are thought to contribute to cancer and tumor growth.
4. Clearer Mind
Do you need to go for a long run to clear your mind after a busy day at work? If not, you should consider adding it to your self-care routine.
Research shows a link between aerobic exercise and cognitive clarity. Contrary to what was once a popular belief, you can actually birth new neurons as an adult. The trigger? Vigorous physical exercise. These new neurons are produced in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with memory and learning. There is also a link to increased blood flow to the frontal lobe of the brain where executive functions like planning ahead, focus and concentration, goal setting and time management are controlled.
Bonus: for some, long distance running can produce a feeling of euphoria known as a “runners high” which can help reduce anxiety and lessen pain.
5. Better digestion
If you have a hard time with regularity, odds are, you’re not a runner. Running is one of the most effective treatments for constipation. It helps
Go! Sign up for that 10k, half marathon or marathon you’ve always wanted to run. Your body will thank you with more benefits than just weight loss.
Share your story
Now that you’ve heard from us, we want to hear from you. How has running made your life better? What benefits or changes have you seen that you want others to know about? Share your response in the comments section, or give us a shout out on Twitter (@LFISocial) or on our Facebook page. Tag your post with #LFIFitspo. Let’s get the conversation started!