For many people running is the ultimate “zen” activity. People who run often talk about the ways that their minds drift — allowing them to “de-clutter” thoughts while honing in on the things that really matter. Almost every runner will say they “just feel better” after a run compared to how they felt going in, and “sleep like a baby” at night on the days they run. Here are five beneficial reasons why running might help you out.
1. Running boosts thinking skills, reduces stress, and helps you sleep.
When asked in a recent survey about happiness and productivity, only 10% of employees say they do their best thinking while at work — the rest happens when they’re doing something else. Maybe the best way to do “out of the box” thinking is by taking a run outside the office. There could be some science to back this up. Studies show that running helps curb anxiety, enhances “feel good” hormones, and brings oxygen into key areas of the brain for regulating emotions and solving problems.
Comparing the pre-run and post-run scans of runners, neurologists at the University of Bonn, Germany, found increased opiate binding of the happy hormone endorphin in the frontal and limbic regions of the brain, areas known to be involved in processing emotions and stress.
Also, researchers from the University of Illinois found that an improvement of only 5% in cardio-respiratory fitness from running led to an improvement of up to 15% on mental tests (1). And, Stanford University School of Medicine researchers asked sedentary insomnia sufferers to jog for 20-30 minutes every other day. The time required to fall asleep was reduced by half, and sleep time increased by almost one hour (2).
So next time your stuck on a problem, instead of getting another cup of coffee, try lacing up the kicks and going for a quick jaunt instead.
2. A run a day keeps the doctor away.
US Surgeon General Guidelines urge Americans to get regular cardiovascular exercise as prevention against heart disease and other illnesses. In fact, studies show regular running can cut your risk of heart disease by 50%. But did you know that running can be even more effective than some medications in treating certain conditions? For instance, people with high blood pressure can decrease both systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings by 10-12 mgs by running for 45-60 minutes.
3. Running builds stronger bones, too.
All it takes is 15 minutes of light jogging three times a week to reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis later in life by up to 40%, according to the National Osteoporosis Society. (3)
4. Running strengthens relationships as well.
A short, regular run is a great way to bond with friends, family and loved ones. And, it’s a great way to meet new people. In addition to forming groups on Fitbit, apps like Facebook, Eventbrite, and Meetup make it even easier than ever to find people to run with. Boutique running stores like Lululemon and Fleet Feet also host weekly run clubs, frequently followed by post-run libations at local watering holes.
5. Plus, running is a great way to get outside — every day.
As we’ve posted before, spending time outside can help you feel more calm, happy, energized. Plus, running can help you experience your city in a completely different way. Our brains are wired to crave novel experiences — we get a boost of dopamine every time we experience something new. So in addition to receiving a healthy dose of vitamin D, you may also get a warm, fuzzy hit of delight.
Notes 1-3: Runner’s World, “The Complete Guide to Running, 2013.” David Rock, “Your Brain at Work.”
Jenn Pattee is a competitive ultrarunner, outdoor fitness maven and relentless pursuer of playtime. She founded San Francisco’s Basic Training in 2008. Every morning and evening, she and her team of instructors take groups of dedicated amateur athletes through scenic trail runs and innovative cross-training routines designed to increase endurance, flexibility, core strength and speed. She recently wrote about a tennis-court HIIIT workout.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.