Is Running Good For You? Here Are 14 Great Benefits (And Downsides)

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Running can be a somewhat divisive sport, with people either vehemently loving or hating it. 

Non-runners often scratch their heads at the sight of runners voluntarily trotting down the road at the crack of dawn with just the bouncing beam of a headlamp to illuminate the path through the darkness, while that very runner questions why anyone would want to start their day any other way than logging miles on the open road.

Most people have a general sense that running is good for you. But is running good for you? After all, there have been studies upon studies demonstrating various physical and mental health benefits of aerobic exercise, if not running specifically.

However, there are, of course, some potential downsides or risks associated with running, and they often seem to be conveniently available on the tip of every non-runner’s tongue.

So, where does the verdict land? Is running good for you? What are the benefits and downsides of running? Keep reading for our attempt to answer, “Is running good for you?” and weigh the evidence for yourself.

We will look at: 

  • Is Running Good For You?
  • 14 Reasons Running Is Good For You
  • 5 Reasons Running Is Bad For You

Let’s jump in!

A person running and smiling.

Is Running Good For You?

If you’re wondering if you want to take up running, you might find yourself thinking about your runner friends who’ve complained of various injuries from time to time or considering the claims you might have heard such as “running ruins your knees” or “running can cause your uterus to drop”. 

In these cases, even though you’ve also likely encountered plenty of research findings and medical professionals that tout the benefits of running, you still might be questioning, “Is running good for you?”

Though there are some potential risks associated with running for some people, most experts would agree that overall, yes, running is good for you.

14 Reasons Running Is Good For You 

The list of the evidence-backed reasons running is good for you is extensive, spanning the gamut from improving cardiovascular fitness to reducing stress. Here are some of the key ways in which running is good for you:

A person holding a red heart.

#1: Running Increases Longevity

We all want to live long and full lives, and running may be one means of helping achieve this goal. Research has found that runners have about a 25-30% lower risk of all-cause mortality, and consistent running has been found to increase life expectancy by about three years.

#2: Running Improves Cardiovascular Health

If you’ve ever run to catch a subway, child, or your dog, and felt breathless immediately afterward, it probably comes as no surprise that running works your cardiovascular system. Your heart rate increases as you run to pump more blood (and thus oxygen and nutrients) to your working muscles. 

Over time, with consistent running, your heart and lungs adapt. Your heart becomes stronger, enabling it to pump a greater volume of blood per beat, and lungs become more powerful and capable of taking in more air per breath. 

As your cardiovascular efficiency improves, you are able to run faster with less effort. Perhaps more importantly, your heart, lungs, and blood vessels become stronger, healthier, and more resistant to cardiovascular disease.

A person flexing their bicep.

#3: Running Increases Muscular Strength

Running is a total-body workout that strengthens your legs, core, and upper body.

As long as you are properly fueling your body with enough calories and protein to support your training, running can help build muscle and increase strength. 

When coupled with fat loss, running can increase your muscle definition and physique.

#4: Running Can Reduce the Risk of Arthritis 

One of the most common concerns about long-term running is that it can damage your joints and increase the risk of arthritis. However, the research has been inconclusive, and some studies suggest that habitual running may actually decrease the risk of arthritis and promote the health of your joints. 

For example, some studies have found that marathoners and long-distance runners may have healthier knees than sedentary age-matched peers, while others have found that running can improve the health of the spine.

A close-up of a person sweating with headphones.

#5: Running Increases Bone Density

Strong bones are more resilient and less likely to fracture, which is especially important as you age and bone mineral density decreases. 

Numerous studies have demonstrated that the impact stresses from high-impact activities like running stimulate the bones to lay down more minerals within the bony matrix to strengthen the structure. 

The bones also strengthen and adapt to running by increasing the production of bone-building hormones in the body. This stimulates the body to make more bone cells and inhibits the activity of cells that break down bone cells.

#6: Running Can Lower Your Blood Pressure

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is an epidemic. For example, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half (47%) of all adults in the United States have hypertension or are taking medication to control blood pressure. 

The good news is that running can lower your blood pressure. In fact, some studies have found that running can be just as effective—if not more so—than common anti-hypertensive medications. 

A person taking out their headphone and smiling.

#7: Running Reduces Stress

Many of us deal with chronic or acute stress and anxiety, whether due to work, finances, illness, relationships, change, world or national news, safety, or any number of other challenges.

Getting outside and pounding the pavement or trail is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety. Running can lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, helping you feel more relaxed.

According to research, running may also help you deal with future stressful events and be more resilient to life’s stressors.

#8: Running Burns Calories

Running is a metabolically-demanding exercise and burns a lot of calories. In fact, running is one of the most efficient types of exercise when it comes to the number of calories burned per minute, so if fat loss or weight loss is your goal, running can contribute to creating the calorie deficit you need to burn fat.

Of course, overall weight loss is highly dependent on your diet and caloric intake, but running can be a path towards achieving an ideal body weight.

Two people running and smiling. Is running good for you?

#9: Running Improves Your Mood

We might all chase what can feel like an elusive “runner’s high”, but this feel-good feeling after finishing a long run or hard workout isn’t all in your head.

Running, and endurance exercise, can activate the body’s natural endocannabinoid system, which can reduce pain and elevate your mood.

If you suffer from depression, running can alleviate symptoms and elevate your mood.

#10: Running Boosts Confidence

One of the best things about running is that it builds self-efficacy and confidence. You can set and achieve goals, and conquer things you never thought possible.

Finishing a good run can leave you feeling proud, capable, powerful, and even elated, ready to conquer anything that comes your way with a good attitude.

A person asleep in bed.

#11: Running Can Help You Sleep Better

Many people struggle to fall and stay asleep at night, but consistent running may improve quality of sleep and reduce the symptoms of insomnia.

For example, research has found that running for 30 minutes in the morning can promote better sleep at night.

#12: Running Can Reduce the Risk of Certain Cancers

The health benefits of running have been shown to help reduce the risk of 26 different cancers, independent of other risk factors, according to research

Furthermore, evidence suggests that runners who do find themselves fighting cancer have higher survival rates and manage treatments better than non-exercising peers.

#13: Running Can Attenuate Age-Related Cognitive Decline

Evidence suggests that aerobic exercise such as running can improve cognitive function, mental focus, and slow the progression of age-related cognitive decline.

A person running and smiling.

#14: Running Can Improve Insulin Sensitivity 

If you suffer from type two diabetes, pre-diabetes, or insulin resistance, running regularly may help reverse or manage your condition.

Running has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, potentially because it reduces body fat and oxidizes blood glucose and stored glycogen.

Moreover, running can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 72%.

So, is running good for you? What do you think so far?

5 Reasons Running Is Bad For You 

In much the same way that there are many people asking the question, “Is running good for you?”, plenty of people ask, “Is running bad for you?”

The reasons why running is good for you typically outweighs the reasons running can be bad for you both in terms of number of and significance, but any fair argument should present both sides.

It’s worth noting that moderation can be key: some of the reasons running is good for you can become reasons running is bad for you if you run too much or don’t give your body adequate rest.

A person holding their knee in pain.

#1: Running Can Cause Musculoskeletal Injuries

Running is a high-impact activity and places a lot of stress and strain on muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bones. 

Overuse injuries, such as stress fractures and tendinitis, are particularly common, especially amongst high mileage runners, runners who fail to consume an adequate number of calories to support their training, and runners who increase their training volume or intensity too quickly.

For example, studies show that the risk of running-related injuries increase significantly when runners increase their training volume or intensity more than 10% per week.

#2: Running Can Suppress Your Immune System

Although a moderate amount of running can boost your immune system, excessive exercise or high volume training can depress your immune system and increase your risk of illnesses.

#3: Running Can Increase Your Risk of Urinary Incontinence

There is some evidence to suggest that high-impact exercise such as running can increase the risk of urinary incontinence, particularly among women.

Running may weaken your pelvic floor muscles, making it more difficult to maintain control of the sphincters that ensure you retain urine without leakage.

A person holding their ankle in pain.

#4: Running May Reduce Your Sex Drive

Running may alter your hormonal profile when done in high intensities, especially on a chronic basis.

For example, running can lower testosterone in men, which can reduce libido and sexual performance, and excessive running can also increase cortisol, which can lead to weight gain and trouble sleeping.

#5: Running May Increase the Risk Of Osteoarthritis 

The research seems too equivocal to make a definitive call either way here, but there is some evidence to suggest that long-distance running may increase the risk of osteoarthritis, particularly in the knees and hips.

When we look at the reasons running is good for you and weigh the pros of running against the reasons running can potentially be bad for you, we think the good far outweighs the possible cons, especially considering these risks can be mostly mitigated with a sensible approach to training. Which side of the argument are you on?

If we have convinced you to start your running career, let us help you get started with our: How To Become A Runner Guide.

A person running and smiling down the coast.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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