What does running do to your body? There are always debates and questions around running.
Does running improve your health?
Is running actually good for you?
Is running hard on the body?
What happens to my body while I run?
For beginner runners, it can be hard to get into the groove of running. You might even be trying to talk yourself out of it before you grow to love it!
This article answers your questions about running, explores what running does to your body (scientifically), and how to optimize your runs for the best results and avoid injury.
Is Running Good for You?
You may have heard of all the injuries people can develop while running. You might have heard that running is hard on your knees or joints. Like any form of exercise, running has to be done the right way to avoid injury and negative long-term consequences.
But once you’ve got down the proper form and understand the way running affects your body, you’ll be able to enjoy the many short-term and long-term benefits of running.
6 Benefits of Running
1. Running Causes Increased Maximum Oxygen Uptake
What does that mean?
Oxygen needs to be transported efficiently through your body. This means that your heart pumps a certain amount of blood per beat.
When your resting heart rate is lower, your maximum heart rate (during intense exercise) is lower too. That allows your heart to pump more blood, which in turn increases your lung capacity for oxygen.
2. Running Helps Lower Anxiety and Depression
When you experience stress, your mind bears the brunt of that pressure. Running helps relieve some of that stress.
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “Go for a run to clear your head.” The reason this works for so many people is that running improves your concentration and focus, which enhances your overall cognitive function and pushes away that anxiety and depression.
Unfortunately, running can’t completely eliminate anxiety or depression, especially if your doctor recommends medication to stabilize you. But it has been shown to significantly decrease many of the symptoms of these mental disorders.
3. Running Improves Sleep
Daily running increases slow wave sleep while you rest. Slow wave sleep is a deeper sleep, where your brain and body get the chance to rejuvenate for the next day.
Because of the improved cognitive functions of running, the exercise can also help your mind calm down when it’s time to rest. When your mind is able to stop racing, your body can sink into sleep.
4. Running Builds Bone Health
What’s known as Wolfe’s Law states that, in healthy people, bones respond to stress by reforming to better handle that stress. For runners, that means the weight-bearing bones of the legs, pelvis, and spine tend to be stronger than the same bones in inactive people.
The earlier in life you get started running, the better equipped your bones will be to strengthen and adapt while you run.
- Related: Is Running Bad For Your Knees?
5. Running Lowers Your Risk of Heart Disease
The American College of Cardiology released evidence that runners have a longer life expectancy than non-runners.
The findings from this study showed runners have a 30% lower risk of death from all causes and 45% lower risk of death from heart disease or a stroke.
6. Running Builds Confidence
Not only does running lower your stress levels, it makes you feel more confident in general. Setting goals for your training plan (whether they’re for distance, speed, weight loss, or strength) gives you achievable benchmarks you can accomplish on a regular basis.
Reaching these goals, watching your body change, and feeling the positive effects of running can renew your confidence and enthusiasm for many areas of your life.
What Does Running Do to Your Body?
Here’s how running changes your body:
He offers up two major changes that happen in the body through running.
- “Physically, running can change your skin by making it healthier. You’re eating better, drinking more water, and your blood is circulating better than ever before.
- Your muscles will get more defined (with a proper diet). You will see a change in your butt muscles and leg muscles. And also your back and arms. Running burns a lot of calories and that’s why you’ll see your upper body slimming as well.”
Shab, owner of Recycle Studio and a “fitness geek and instructor,” points some other changes for the body through running.
“One way that running changes your body is by building up lean muscle. Losing fat and gaining muscle is one of the many benefits of running.
By changing the intensity of your runs and incorporating interval training, you will begin building muscle in your legs.
The best way to achieve this is to switch between jogs and sprints, run shorter routes when increasing the intensity of your run, and run at an incline. Generally combining running with weightlifting and a protein diet will aid in building lean muscle.”
Depending on the running intensity, running has different effects on your body.
High-intensity short-distance running builds leg muscles, while low-intensity long-distance running causes muscle damage, which prevents muscle growth. That’s why sprinters tend to have a ‘bigger’ body than long-distance runners.
As I mentioned in the previous section, running doesn’t break down your joints (as many people wrongly assume).
Running helps keep those joints lubricated and stimulates your body to build new cartilage.
Researchers have also found that running conditions your cartilage to become more resilient as it adapts to the demands of running.
Should You Run Every Day?
Running definitely has multiple positive benefits for your mental and physical health. Many runners assume that means they should run every day to get the best benefits possible.
But running every day actually involves some risk, which can end up counteracting the physical benefits.
It can be tempting to start working on a running streak – but here are the top 3 risks involved with running every day.
1. More Chance of Injuries
Without giving your body the chance to recover in between runs, you put yourself at risk of overdoing and overstressing your body, which makes you prone to injuries.
- Stress fractures
- Extreme muscle cramps
2. Running Every Day Can Cause Premature Aging
While regular running can improve the skin, overdoing it can deter the skin.
That stress of overly straining your physical body causes highlighted fine lines, wrinkles, sagging skin, and even breakouts due to sweat-clogged pores.
3. Daily Running Takes Away from Much-Needed Rest Days
Our bodies are not a machine. The muscles and other organs we use every day to function and perform daily tasks need time to recover and heal so you can come back the next day, even stronger than before.
You might think that taking rest days means you’re losing opportunities to build strength and endurance. But when you run, your muscles experience microscopic tears that need the chance to heal in order to get stronger. If you’re consistently overtraining, you deny them the opportunity for recovery.
And rest days don’t have to be all about the sofa. An active rest day is one in which you do some form of cross-training that supports your run training – here are my recommendations for having a productive active rest day!.
When you give them that chance, you’ll find that getting back to your run a day or two later will be much easier and more productive.
How to Get the Best Results from Running
If you want to take advantage of all the physical benefits running has to offer, be sure to incorporate these running variations and best practices into your running schedule.
These are very short, all-out efforts that increase your VO2 max quickly. They only need to be done once or twice a week since they break down the body, and you’ll need time to recover.
In this workout, you find a pace that is faster than your easy running pace – something you can hold for 30-60 minutes. Work on increasing speed as you do it more. This type of workout increases your stamina strength, which ultimately helps you run faster.
Aim to sit at around 6 out of 10 for Rate of Perceived Exertion.
In this workout, you focus on either time (1-7 minutes) or distance (200-1600 feet). For intervals, you don’t have to run at a full sprint but it should be a faster pace than your casual jogging or long-distance speed. Intervals are another great way to boost VO2 max.
Run at a relaxed pace for long periods of time. Start with 30 minutes and work your way up depending on the length of the race you’re training for. Ultimately, you’ll increase your endurance.
Set a goal and train for it.
Training for a race is one of the best ways to stay dedicated to running.
Running the race is a fun and exciting experience that will encourage you to sign up for more races in the future.
If you’re just starting to get into running, our Couch to Half Marathon training plan provides you with a running schedule that includes cross-training days to incorporate the above tips. Download it for free and get to work!
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