5 benefits of running that will convince you to start

If you’re considering taking up running, here are the top reasons to lace up.

Millions of people across the UK are enjoying the benefits of running.

It’s one of the most popular forms of exercise, with a recent report from Sport England finding that 5.9 million adults lace up their running shoes and head out for a run at least twice a month.

The positive effects of running on your overall health are hard to deny. They include improvements in physical and mental health, as well as social benefits to boot. As such, it’s a form of exercise that ticks all the boxes for a balanced life.

An older man running outside.Credit: Shutterstock/PeopleImages.com – Yuri A

Below we explore the health benefits of running in more detail with the help of Danny Buckley, a senior lecturer from the University of Hertfordshire who researches physical activity in older adults.

1. Running is good for your mental health

The link between exercise and mental health is growing. Many studies are showing the positive effects working out can have on our mood.  

“Having a regular routine and something to look forward to can positively impact our mental wellbeing,” says Buckley. 

When it comes to running specifically, ‘runner’s high’ is a term you might have heard of. It’s used to describe the feeling of euphoria you can get after a run, and is also associated with reduced anxiety.

There’s some debate around exactly what causes the “high”, with research highlighting the role of endorphins (feel-good chemicals) and endocannabinoids (chemicals that occur naturally in our bodies and send signals to nerve cells), both of which are released during exercise.

Either way, many people say their mental clarity improves and they feel happier after a run. But, there’s really only one way to find out if you’d experience a ‘runners high’ and that’s by going for a run. 

2. Running builds bone strength

When we run, it places stress on our bones – but our bodies actually respond by getting stronger.

This fact, known as Wolff’s law, was first discovered in the 19th century. Our bones adapt to heavy loads that are repeatedly placed upon them, enabling them to cope.  

Scientists looking at the connection between exercise and bone health have discovered that new bone cells can form from the forces created from running 

Keeping our bones healthy is a priority as we get older to improve bone density and decrease our chances of osteoporosis. 

Woman one one knee stretching in a park during a runCredit: Shutterstock / voronaman

3. Running could help you eat more healthily

An unexpected benefit of running could be that it helps you to make more healthy eating choices.

A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition called the phenomenon the ‘transfer effect’. The study of young adults found that people who started exercising more tended to start eating more fruit and vegetables too.  

“If you’re not exercising, you tend to crave things that aren’t good for you,” says Buckley. “When we do [exercise] we tend to not want to eat rubbish before or after, so I think there’s a science behind that” – though he highlights that more research needs to be done for this to be conclusive.  

You could also find yourself cutting down your alcohol intake if you’ve planned exercise into your week. Doing anything with a hangover is a struggle, so if you know you’ve got a run planned, you might opt for an orange juice rather than a pint.   

4. Running can help you be more social

Loneliness is a growing problem that is often experienced by older people, and one that is known to result in worse health outcomes. These include a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety and premature death.

Joining a community of other runners and forming friendship bonds can encourage us to be more sociable, which could help us live longer.

There are various organisations that promote the social aspect of running. One example if Parkrun, a free 5km (three-mile) run or walk that takes place on Saturday mornings in locations around the UK (and beyond).  

A group of four older people running in a parkCredit: Shutterstock / LightField Studios

The National Trust also holds a 10km (six-mile) trail run across some of its sites in England on the fourth Sunday of every month. Alternatively, Meetup is an online platform which can help you find local running groups. 

Why not tell your friends you’re going to start running and ask if anyone fancies joining you? Even if you do more chatting than running, you’ll get the benefits if you give it a go. 

5. Running is easy to start

Getting started with running can be as simple as putting on some trainers and giving it a go (although you may want to consult our list of running gear essentials if you decide it’s the activity for you).

If you have a health condition, it’s a good idea to get some advice from a medical professional before your start. It might take a bit more planning and patience, but there could still be a way to incorporate running into your life.

People sometimes tell themselves that they can’t run when they can. Understanding that running doesn’t mean you have to run as fast as you can could help break down a mental blocker that may be stopping you from starting. Beginners programmes such as Couch to 5k can be helpful, as can the run-walk-run method known as Jeffing.  

Try not to give yourself unhelpful labels, advises Buckley. “As we get older, we think our bodies won’t allow us to do things and we say we can’t do these activities anymore. We put barriers on ourselves.”

It can also help to ask someone to be your “accountability buddy”. Tell them when you plan to go on a run and ask them to check in with you to see how you got on. Having some support can be a great boost and help you stick with running.  

Rebecca Frew

Written by Rebecca Frew she/her

Updated:

Becky Frew has written various articles for newspapers and magazines focusing on fitness, is a qualified run leader, and a certified sleep talker trainer who loves to help advise people how they can nod off easier. When she is not writing or reading about fitness, she is at hot pod yoga, bounce class, training for an ultra-marathon or booking anything with a medal and free food at the end.

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