What Is A Runner’s Body? + 6 Health Benefits Running Has On Your Body

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Running has endless benefits and does amazing things for your physical health, physique, mental health, and the list goes on.

But what does running do for your body, exactly? Does running tone your body, and what do running legs before and after look like? How do you get a runner’s physique?

In this article, we will discuss what running can do to your body, what a runner’s body may entail, and the benefits of running on your body.

We will discuss: 

  • Is Running Good For You?
  • What Is a Runner’s Body?
  • What Does Running Do For Your Body?
  • Does Running Tone Your Body?

Let’s get started!

Two runners smiling and giving each other a high-five.

Is Running Good For You?

By and large, running is great for your body and mind.

There are, of course, instances where running too much can increase your risk of injury or otherwise be damaging to your body or your health, and running may not be the best form of exercise for people with certain pre-existing medical conditions. 

For example, if you have severe osteoarthritis in your knees, running may further exacerbate your joint pain, and a low-impact exercise may be preferable.

By the same token, running too much or increasing your training volume too quickly can potentially cause significant injuries, such as tendinitis, shin splints, stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, and runner‘s knee.

However, overall, there is an abundance of evidence supporting numerous mental and physical health benefits of running.

A diverse group of runners.

What Is a Runner’s Body?

Although people may use the term “runner’s body” or “runner’s physique” as if referring to one specific physique, it’s first and foremost important to establish that runners come in all shapes, sizes, skin tones, gender identities, and body weights.

If you run, you have a runner’s body. Your body allows you to run, and you should feel comfortable and confident calling yourself a runner even if you do not have a “typical“ runner’s physique that might be seen among elite marathon runners or sprinters.

Herein lies another important point: when most people think of a runner’s body, they are picturing a long, lean, sinewy, toned marathon runner. 

While it is true that many distance runners at the elite and professional level have a lean build, low body fat percentage, and toned legs, there are plenty of successful and highly competitive marathon runners with more of a mesomorph or muscular build, and age groupers who carry quite a bit of excess body weight but are still competitive runners in their own right.

A strong, muscualar sprinter.

Furthermore, running is a very diverse sport encompassing all sorts of race distances, from something as short as 50 to 100 meters all the way up to the marathon and beyond.

A sprinter’s body or a middle-distance runner‘s body actually looks quite a bit different from a marathon runner’s body at the elite level.

Sprinters tend to have a very muscular build, and although they are lean in terms of their body fat percentage, their total muscle mass and build are usually bigger than a distance runner.

Ultimately, getting a runner’s body is a matter of consistent training, though some amount of your own physique is dependent upon your genetics.

For example, if you have a naturally short, stocky build, no amount of training and dieting will make you tall and lean. 

However, no matter where you start your running journey in terms of your physique, you can improve your runner’s body through running, following a healthy diet, and supplementing with strength training workouts.

A thin muscular runner running on a cobblestone path.

What Does Running Do For Your Body?

Here are some of the top things that running does for your body:

#1: Running Strengthens Your Heart and Lungs

Running is one of the best forms of aerobic exercise because it is a total-body, high-impact activity. As such, it increases your heart rate and respiration rate.

Consistent running strengthens the heart and lungs and causes other beneficial adaptations to the cardiovascular system, such as increasing the elasticity of the blood vessels and forming new capillaries in the skeletal muscles.

These adaptations help increase your stamina or aerobic endurance, decrease blood pressure, and improve the efficiency of your cardiovascular system as a whole, decreasing the relative workload on the heart. 

Additionally, because your heart muscle becomes stronger, your blood plasma volume increases, and your muscles become more efficient at extracting and using oxygen for energy.

As a result, running can decrease your resting heart rate. Again, this favorable adaptation decreases the amount of work that your heart has to do over the course of a day, day in and day out.

In this way, because running improves the health of your cardiovascular system, running can increase your lifespan

A trail runner running in the woods.

#2: Running Can Support Eye Health

We don’t often think about the health benefits of running in terms of our eyes, but studies suggest that running may help reduce the risk of cataracts, which cloud your vision.

Moreover, because running can decrease your risk of other conditions that affect your vision—such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity—it may also help protect your vision in other ways as well. 

#3: Running Reduces the Risk of Chronic Diseases

In addition to the well-known reduction in cardiovascular disease attributable to consistent running, running has also been shown to decrease the risk of other common chronic diseases such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and even certain cancers.

For example, there is evidence to suggest that aerobic exercise, such as running, can be as effective at reducing blood pressure as anti-hypertensive medications.

Moreover, one massive study that followed 19,000 adults over the course of six years found that runners had a 72% lower rate of developing diabetes compared to non-runners.

Lastly, according to research, even when adjusted for other confounding risk factors, running has been shown to help decrease the risk of 26 different cancers.

A person jogging on the beach with his shirt off.

#4: Running Improves the Health of Your Joints

Many people expressed concern about the potential risk of experiencing joint problems due to running. For example, there is a common misconception that “running will ruin your knees.“

However, although some runners do suffer from knee injuries and knee pain, research actually suggests that running can improve the health of your joints and decrease the risk of arthritis.

For example, research has shown that marathoners and long-distance runners may have healthier knees than sedentary age-matched peers rather than worse knees.

Additionally, studies have found that running can improve the spine’s health, which is a wonderful benefit of running since low-back pain is one of the most common chronic causes of pain and debility in adults.

#5: Running Strengthens Your Legs

Running can strengthen the muscles in your legs, particularly if you do hill training and speed workouts. Running primarily strengthens the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves, but you will also work your core, hip flexors, adductors, shoulders, and arms. Having stronger legs has numerous benefits.

Not only will it help you improve your running directly, but also other athletic activities such as cycling, hiking, rowing, squats, lunges, or any other type of physical activity that uses your legs.

Stronger legs also facilitate improved function during everyday activities like climbing the stairs, getting into and out of a car, walking, etc.

A person running on the road about to heel strike.

#6: Running Strengthens Your Bones

When you run, your body is subjected to forces that are equivalent to approximately 2 to 3 times your body weight with each step.

Although the high-impact nature of running can make it a poor choice for people with osteoporosis or severe joint pain, or arthritis, if your body is strong and hale enough to tolerate the impact stress, running is one of the most effective forms of exercise for increasing bone density.

This is due to the fact that bones are adaptive tissues. They respond to the stresses that are placed upon them in a dynamic relationship.

With disuse, bone density can decrease, but with regular high-impact exercise such as running, bones are stimulated to increase mineralization and density.

Stronger bones are more resilient, and a higher bone density decreases your risk of osteoporosis and fractures later in life.

A person running hard on the road.

Does Running Tone Your Body?

Many new runners are keen to know what running legs before and after look like. Does running tone your body? Does running tone your legs?

Running can definitely tone your legs because it can build muscle mass while simultaneously decreasing body fat percentage.

Muscle “tone” generally refers to the amount of visible muscle definition you have and the firmness and feel of your muscles.

The degree of muscle tone or muscle definition you will get from running depends mostly on your body fat percentage, which is influenced not only by how much you run and what types of workouts you do but also by your diet.

If you have a high body fat percentage, your muscles will get stronger and more developed, but it may be difficult to see striations because you will have a thick layer of subcutaneous fat on top of the muscle. 

Overall, it can be seen that a runner’s body can be healthy, strong, and fit as long as you take good care of it.

In addition to running, to have a healthy and fit body, there are other components to consider, such as a healthy diet. For some of the most popular and healthy diets for runners, check out our guide: The Best Popular Diets For Runners, 3 Healthy Choices, to see if one is right for you!

A variety of healthy food including vegetables, meats grains, and fruits.
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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