When I changed my lifestyle and decided to start exercising, running seemed like the best idea. What could be a more natural way to improve your fitness levels? We’ve been running away from wild beasts and running to hunt the mammoth for millions of years after all.
But like everything – modern man has to make things complicated. The internet is bursting with articles about “dangers of running”. It turns out running can damage your heart, ruin your knees and shorten your life! Not to mention it won’t help you lose weight. Honestly, in the face of obesity epidemic telling people that too much running is dangerous for their health is probably not the best idea!
There are a few simple rules to remember if you’re running or if you would like to start – read more about it in my post “how to run safely”. For now, I want to leave the scare stories behind and focus on the reasons why you SHOULD start running.
1. It’s FREE.
I don’t even have to explain this one I hope. And it’s funny how many articles about dangers or ineffectiveness of running have been written by people who have something to sell – usually a gym membership or a strength training programme. Strength training is excellent; a gym membership is too. So is running. AND it’s free!
2. It’s flexible
My favourite aspect of running is how flexible it is – you only need a few minutes to prepare for it, it can be done anytime and anywhere. You can choose the “settings” as you go along (how long, how fast, how far) depending on how you feel and how much time you have. You can have a good, intense, beneficial exercise in as little as 30 minutes (5 mins to get dressed, 20 mins run, 5 mins to shower). There is no commute, and you can even take your dog with you!
3. Fresh air, sunlight, nature
We spend most of our time indoors, in our homes, our cars, our offices. It’s great to have a cosy shelter from the cold and the heat, but we’ve gone too far in the wrong direction. There is something to be said about the pleasure of feeling the sun on your face, listening to the wind in the trees, enjoying the smell of the grass and the leaves.
The science strongly supports the idea that we would all benefit from more time in fresh air and connection with nature. It increases our vitamin D levels, reduces stress and depression, calms our mind and is even said to boost our immunity. Treadmill in the living room? No thanks!
4. It boosts your energy
It sounds strange, how a vigorous exercise can increase your energy? It should make you feel tired and sore, isn’t? Maybe in the very beginning, when your body is getting used to the increased level of activity, yes. But after a week or two, the tables turn around. I have noticed a visible pattern in my life – on the days I go for a run, I have better focus, I accomplish more. The days I skip my morning run often feel like they lack the “oomph” a little, everything is just a little slower.
5. Physical health
Running (and other forms of exercise) can dramatically improve your physical health and life expectancy. In fact, the research shows that people who run regularly live on average three years longer, even compared to people who walk or cycle on a regular basis. After obesity and smoking, a sedentary lifestyle is the biggest cause of preventable disease and mortality. Our lifestyle no longer includes physical movement, we no longer work in the fields or go hunting to get food, ride a horse to go town or walk a few miles to get to work or school. We, humans, are great at making our lives as comfortable, convenient and pleasurable as possible. To our detriment.
So get those running shoes on and expect these health benefits when you start running:
• stronger bones and joints
• improved heart health
• lower blood pressure
• reduced blood sugar levels
• improved cholesterol
• stronger immune system
• protection from certain cancers
6. Mental Health
With 1 in 4 people experiencing mental health problems at some point in their lives and 1 in 6 taking psychiatric medication, it’s time to look for alternative ways to improve mental health. The benefits of running for various mental health disorders are proven both through research and experience. It is particularly beneficial for people with depression, anxiety and ADHD. Milder forms of depression can be treated by exercise alone. Regular exercise also reduces daily stress, improves sleep and is proven to protect people from developing depression in the first place. It also reduces the risk of dying from Alzheimer’s by a whopping 40%!
7. Weight loss
A lot of people start running in the hope of losing weight. If you’re one of them, I have some bad news – you can’t outrun a bad diet. Weight loss is very strongly associated with nutrition. Exercise only plays a minor role. Depending on the source you read, exercise is responsible for about 10%-30% of your weight loss (the percentages are higher for men, and lower for women). A 30-minute run burns about 270 calories (if you believe the “calories in – calories out” theory). That’s one Mars bar. Disappointing, I know. You can lose a lot of weight by changing your diet alone without exercise, but doing it through exercise only is close to impossible.
There is some good news too – exercise improves your mood and self-esteem, so you’re less likely to succumb to the temptations of emotional eating. It can give you confidence in yourself and your abilities to achieve goals. It will provide you with more energy, better health, improved sleep, which can all help your weight loss efforts. It is also proven to regulate your blood sugar levels, which helps if you suffer from energy swings and cravings. It does burn calories, and help tone up your body, but for best weight loss results focus more on nutrition and use running (or other forms of exercise) as a way to improve your general health and well-being.
8. Alone time
Yes, I’m looking at you, busy mamas. Raising children is such a demanding job! You’re “on duty” all day every day and then all night. A lot of times it feels like you have no privacy even in the shower or on the toilet! I know, I’ve been there. When I started running, I was surprised just how good and free it felt to be on my own, in nature, with my thoughts. Some runners also incorporate meditation or mindfulness into their running practice, which can further reduce stress and anxiety. Running is a perfect and guilt-free “me” time.
Whatever reasons you have to put your running shoes on – there is no better time than now. In fact – now is the only time we have. So don’t wait until 1st of January, or next Monday, or tomorrow. I challenge you to get up right now, put your shoes on and RUN.
Unless, of course, you don’t even have a pair of good running shoes. In that case, and let’s go shopping! Woo-hoo!
Good luck and good health!