If you’re a regular runner, you’ve probably heard it all before. Everywhere you turn, it seems there are people trying to advise you on how you should run, how much you should run, and indeed how much running is or isn’t beneficial at all.
99% of the time we brush these comments off, lace up, and head out. But, every once in a while, you’d be forgiven for questioning whether all this running is actually good for you at all?
As a keen bunch of runners and cyclists ourselves, we at Sports Tours International wanted to debunk some of the myths. We investigated the pros and cons, the health benefits and the risks. From weight management to well being and everything in between, our aim was to answer the two big questions….
“Any type of aerobic exercise has a positive effect on the heart,” says Dr. Dan Meyer, chief of cardiac transplantation at Baylor Scott & White Health in Dallas.
While there is still a lot of debate on how much running is too much, and the negative effects of over-training, there is very strong evidence to suggest that even a small amount of running can have a positive effect on your cardiovascular health.
A recent study in the American College of Cardiology Journal concluded that,
“Running, even 5 to 10 min/day and at slow speeds [slower than 10 kmh] is associated with markedly reduced risks of death from all causes and cardiovascular disease.”
Running just a few kilometres a couple of times, a week can reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as “bad” cholesterol. It also increases high density lipoprotein (HDL), “good” cholesterol.
Running lowers blood pressure by reducing blood vessel stiffness so blood can flow more easily. Therefore, the positive effects of exercise on blood pressure can be noticed almost instantly.
Running for 30 minutes is guaranteed to burn 200 – 500 calories. Now that might not sound like very much, and yes there is some truth in the adage ‘you can’t outrun a bad diet’. But exercise can play an important role both physically and psychologically when you’re trying to lose a few pounds. Benefits of a combined nutrition and exercise approach to health, aside from calorie burn, include,
Stress Reduction – which can prevent habits such as emotional eating.
Improved hormonal responses to food such as insulin sensitivity.
A sense of accomplishment which may increase motivation to improve other behaviours.
The heart is a muscular organ, and, like any other muscle in the body, responds to exercise.
Running strengthens the walls of the heart. Because of this, hearts of regular runners can pump a larger amount of blood per beat. Runners therefore tend to have lower resting pulse rates and intake a higher amount of oxygen, reducing the heart’s workload and increasing its overall efficiency.
People who run regularly reduce their overall risk of heart disease by up to 55%. Research conducted on 55,137 adults between the ages of 18 and 100 over a 15-year period found that runners had a 45% lower risk of death from heart disease or stroke than their non-running counterparts. Runners also lived three years longer, on average, compared to non-runners. The benefits of running were shown to be universal, regardless of other factors such as sex, age, body mass index, health conditions, smoking status, or alcohol use. Health benefits could even be seen in runners covering less than 6 miles a week at slower than 6/mph pace.
Well, we’ve all heard of the mythical runner’s high, but what if that myth was actually real? When we run, the brain releases two, powerful, mood boosting chemicals.
Endorphins interact with opiate receptors in the brain. They reduce the perception of pain and create positive feelings (similar to the body’s response to morphine) which overall results in feelings of well-being. That blissful post-run feeling, however, might be down to another chemical entirely.
Endocannabinoids are also released during endurance exercise. They are known to pass much more easily from the blood stream to the brain than endorphins and are thought to promote short-term psychoactive effects such as reduced anxiety and feelings of calm.
The mental health benefits of exercise also extend far beyond the end of your run. Regular exercise has been found to promote better quality and a longer duration of sleep. It may also help you get a good night’s sleep because of its stress-busting and mood boosting qualities
The memory and learning centre of the brain, the hippocampus, has been found to increase in volume in the brains people who exercise regularly. This may lead to many benefits such as
The other brilliant thing that running does for our brains is that it turns back time!
Ok, so, not literally, but research suggests that exercise may promote a process called neurogenesis. The process by which the brain produces new brain cells in certain locations. This might not only improve brain performance but may also prevent further cognitive decline.
Long term studies have now shown that, far from damaging your joints, running may be beneficial to the knees.
David Felston of the University of Boston states
“When we look at people with knee arthritis, we don’t find much of a previous history of running, and when we look at runners and follow them over time, we don’t find that their risk of developing osteoarthritis is any more than expected.”
There are, as with everything, some exceptions to the rule, Nancy Lane, a specialist in rheumatology and diseases related to aging, warns that if you have suffered severe knee injury, especially one requiring surgery running may increase your risk of knee arthritis. Running ‘fast’ regularly can also cause damage, with Lane suggesting a pace of around 8 – 10 minutes per mile and running faster in moderation.
Whether it’s boosting your mood or keeping you sharp while we get through lock-down and work from home, there is so much running does to keep us happy healthy, and indeed, injury free (most of the time). We can’t wait to see you on the start lines of the world’s biggest races soon, but until we can …
… Stay Happy, Stay Healthy, and Keep Running!
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