What Does Running Do To Your Body? 16 Benefits Runners Will See

After reading through these amazing benefits, you'll be ready to start your running journey today!

According to Statista,1Running/jogging participants US 2006-2017. (n.d.). Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/190303/running-participants-in-the-us-since-2006/ in 2021, over 48 million adults participated in running, jogging, and trail running in the United States alone.

Indeed, running is one of the most popular forms of exercise due to its relative accessibility and the many physical and health benefits of running. But, what does running do to your body, and mind for that matter?

Let’s look at some of the changes to your body and mind you will experience once you start a running routine!

A person smiling and stretching. What does running do to your body?

What Does Running Do To Your Body?

Here are some of the great things that running does to your body:

#1: Running Increases Your Lifespan

Most people want to live long, healthy lives, and regular running may be a ticket for the longevity train.

Research2Pedisic, Z., Shrestha, N., Kovalchik, S., Stamatakis, E., Liangruenrom, N., Grgic, J., Titze, S., Biddle, S. J., Bauman, A. E., & Oja, P. (2019). Is running associated with a lower risk of all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality, and is the more the better? A systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine54(15), bjsports-2018-100493. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2018-100493 suggests that runners have about a 25-30% lower risk of all-cause mortality, and consistent running has been found3Lee, D.-C., Brellenthin, A. G., Thompson, P. D., Sui, X., Lee, I-Min., & Lavie, C. J. (2017). Running as a Key Lifestyle Medicine for Longevity. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases60(1), 45–55. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2017.03.005 to increase life expectancy by at least three years.

A study published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings looked at the disease and mortality risk of 13,000 runners over nearly 15 years.

It found that running as little as six miles per week—or roughly 52 minutes total—effectively reduced the risk of all-cause mortality and mortality due to cardiovascular disease by 30% and 45%, respectively, relative to non-runners. 

Moreover, runners with this low volume of training had an average increase in survival over non-runners of 3.0 and 4.1 years for all-cause and cardiovascular disease-related survival, respectively.

#2: Running Keeps Your Body Young

It’s well established that running can add years to your life, but it can also add life to your years, allowing you to live vibrantly and fully, pushing off the effects of aging as long as possible.

For example, a study out of Stanford4Chakravarty, E. F. (2008). Reduced Disability and Mortality Among Aging Runners. Archives of Internal Medicine168(15), 1638. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.168.15.1638 compared runners in their mid-50s with age-matched non-runners over the course of 20 years.

Although both groups had the same access to medical care, the runners had a 50% lower death rate than the non-runners.

Moreover, the habitual runners did not reach certain “disability scores” for another 11-16 years after the non-exercisers.

A group of people running.

#3: Running Improves Your Cardiovascular Health

Consistent running strengthens your heart and lungs, improves the efficiency of the cardiovascular system, and improves heart health.

Aerobic exercise also increases the elasticity of your blood vessels, which improves heart health because more patent and flexible blood vessels decrease peripheral resistance to blood flow.

This means your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to circulate blood around the body. 

Studies show5Lee, D., Pate, R. R., Lavie, C. J., Sui, X., Church, T. S., & Blair, S. N. (2014). Leisure-Time Running Reduces All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality Risk. Journal of the American College of Cardiology64(5), 472–481. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2014.04.058 that running as little as 5 to 10 min/day and as slow as 6 miles per hour (10 km/hr) or slower is associated with a significant reduction in the risk of death from cardiovascular disease or heart disease. 

#4: Running Lowers Your Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, known as hypertension, is one of the primary risk factors for cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke. High blood pressure is also an epidemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention6Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, February 5). Hypertension Prevalence in the U.S. | Million Hearts®. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://millionhearts.hhs.gov/data-reports/hypertension-prevalence.html (CDC), nearly half (47%) of all adults in the United States have hypertension or are taking medication to control blood pressure.

However, there’s evidence to suggest7Naci, H., Salcher-Konrad, M., Dias, S., Blum, M. R., Sahoo, S. A., Nunan, D., & Ioannidis, J. P. A. (2018). How does exercise treatment compare with antihypertensive medications? A network meta-analysis of 391 randomised controlled trials assessing exercise and medication effects on systolic blood pressure. British Journal of Sports Medicine53(14), 859–869. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2018-099921 that aerobic exercise, such as running, can be as effective at lowering blood pressure as anti-hypertensive medications.

Studies have found8Way, K. L., Sultana, R. N., Sabag, A., Baker, M. K., & Johnson, N. A. (2019). The effect of high Intensity interval training versus moderate intensity continuous training on arterial stiffness and 24 h blood pressure responses: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport22(4), 385–391. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2018.09.228 that high-intensity interval training is particularly effective at reducing blood pressure.

A person in workout clothes smiling at the camera.

#5: Running Improves Your Cardiovascular Fitness

Beginners often feel winded after running just a block or two and may reach their maximum heart rate at a relatively slow jog.

However, if you stick with your running program, running is one of the best ways to build up your cardiovascular fitness level or aerobic capacity (VO2 max).

Plus, having a higher level of cardiovascular fitness has been linked to increasing the total volume and volume of gray matter in your brain.

#6: Running Can Improve Joint Health 

Many runners have heard concerned non-runners warn that running is bad for your knees, causes knee pain, or will lead to an eventual hip replacement because it is a high-impact activity.

However, one of the benefits of running is that it can decrease the risk of injury to the joints and the risk of osteoarthritis. 

For example, research9Ponzio, D. Y., Syed, U. A. M., Purcell, K., Cooper, A. M., Maltenfort, M., Shaner, J., & Chen, A. F. (2018). Low Prevalence of Hip and Knee Arthritis in Active Marathon Runners. Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery100(2), 131–137. https://doi.org/10.2106/jbjs.16.01071 has shown that marathoners and long-distance runners may have healthier knees than age-matched non-runners, and studies have found10Mitchell, U. H., Bowden, J. A., Larson, R. E., Belavy, D. L., & Owen, P. J. (2020). Long-term running in middle-aged men and intervertebral disc health, a cross-sectional pilot study. PLOS ONE15(2), e0229457. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229457 that running can improve the health of the spine.

A person smiling and running with headphones in.

#7: Running Increases Bone Density

Numerous studies11Sl, W., Bk, W., Lj, W., At, H., Sa, H., & Br, B. (2018, February 1). High-Intensity Resistance and Impact Training Improves Bone Mineral Density and Physical Function in Postmenopausal Women With Osteopenia and Osteoporosis: The LIFTMOR Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research : The Official Journal of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28975661/ have demonstrated that high-impact activities like running place stress on bones, stimulating them to adapt by laying down more minerals within the bony matrix to strengthen the structure. 

This increases your bone density, which may reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures. 

#8: Running Can Help You Lose Weight Or Maintain a Healthy Weight

Running is a high-intensity, full-body workout that increases your heart rate and engages most of your major muscle groups, helping you burn calories efficiently.

Therefore, when paired with a healthy, calorie-controlled diet, running can help support weight loss or help you maintain a healthy body weight.

#9: Running Can Reduce the Risk of Diabetes 

High-intensity exercise like running utilizes blood glucose and stored glycogen for energy and can reduce body fat, contributing to improved insulin sensitivity. 

For these reasons, studies looking specifically at the rates of diabetes in runners versus non-runners have found that running reduces the risk of developing diabetes.

For example, one massive study12Wang, Y., Lee, D., Brellenthin, A. G., Eijsvogels, T. M. H., Sui, X., Church, T. S., Lavie, C. J., & Blair, S. N. (2019). Leisure-Time Running Reduces the Risk of Incident Type 2 Diabetes. The American Journal of Medicine132(10), 1225–1232. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2019.04.035 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.

A person running on the road.

#10: Running Strengthens Your Immune System 

While overtraining and isolated hard workouts can depress your immune system, moderate-intensity exercise can strengthen the immune system, helping you fend off illnesses.

Studies show13Nieman, D. C., & Wentz, L. M. (2019). The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system. Journal of Sport and Health Science8(3), 201–217. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2018.09.009 that aerobic exercise can reduce inflammation, support the gut bacteria that fight pathogens, improve the activity of immune cells, and reduce the risk of infections.

#11: Running Builds Muscle in the Lower Body

Many want to know, “How does running change your body?” in terms of physical changes.

As long as you properly fuel your body with enough calories and protein to support your training, running can help build muscle and increase strength in your legs, core, and upper body.

Running primarily strengthens the glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, adductors, hip flexors, and abdominal muscles.

Sprints, hill running, and high-intensity interval training are the best running workouts to build muscle.

Pairing running with strength training exercises such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, step-ups, and plyometrics is the best way to strengthen your lower body and reduce the risk of injury.

A close up of two people's running legs.

#12: Running Can Keep Your Mind Sharp 

Lacing up your running shoes and getting in your run can be some of the best medicine for your brain.

Evidence suggests14Guiney, H., & Machado, L. (2012). Benefits of regular aerobic exercise for executive functioning in healthy populations. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review20(1), 73–86. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13423-012-0345-4 aerobic exercise can improve brain function and focus and slow dementia and age-related cognitive decline.

Studies have shown15Dinoff, A., Herrmann, N., Swardfager, W., & Lanctôt, K. L. (2017). The effect of acute exercise on blood concentrations of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in healthy adults: a meta-analysis. European Journal of Neuroscience46(1), 1635–1646. https://doi.org/10.1111/ejn.13603 that the increased blood circulation to the brain during cardio exercise stimulates the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factors. This protein increases the proliferation and longevity of neurons in the brain.

#13: Running Can Lead to Better Sleep

Although too much running, or overtraining, can potentially interfere with good sleep, research has found16Kalak, N., Gerber, M., Kirov, R., Mikoteit, T., Yordanova, J., Pühse, U., Holsboer-Trachsler, E., & Brand, S. (2012). Daily Morning Running for 3 Weeks Improved Sleep and Psychological Functioning in Healthy Adolescents Compared With Controls. Journal of Adolescent Health51(6), 615–622. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.02.020 that running for 30 minutes in the morning can promote more restful sleep at night.

#14: Running Can Reduce the Risk of Certain Cancers

There are many risk factors for cancer, and while not all of the risk factors are modifiable, a regular running routine might help protect you from certain cancers. 

According to research,17Moore, S. C., Lee, I-Min., Weiderpass, E., Campbell, P. T., Sampson, J. N., Kitahara, C. M., Keadle, S. K., Arem, H., Berrington de Gonzalez, A., Hartge, P., Adami, H.-O., Blair, C. K., Borch, K. B., Boyd, E., Check, D. P., Fournier, A., Freedman, N. D., Gunter, M., Johannson, M., & Khaw, K.-T. (2016). Association of Leisure-Time Physical Activity With Risk of 26 Types of Cancer in 1.44 Million Adults. JAMA Internal Medicine176(6), 816–825. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.1548 running has been shown to help reduce the risk of 26 different cancers, independent of other risk factors.

Moreover, evidence suggests18Validate User. (n.d.). Academic.oup.com. https://academic.oup.com/epirev/article/39/1/71/3760392 that runners fighting cancer have higher survival rates and better manage treatments than non-runner peers.

What Does Running Do To Your Body? 16 Benefits Runners Will See 1

#15: Running Can Make You Happier 

In addition to the physical health benefits of running, there are many mental health benefits, especially if you run outdoors19Lahart, I., Darcy, P., Gidlow, C., & Calogiuri, G. (2019). The Effects of Green Exercise on Physical and Mental Wellbeing: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health16(8), 1352. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16081352 in the fresh air and feel the sunshine on your skin.

Running can alleviate symptoms of depression20Kvam, S., Kleppe, C. L., Nordhus, I. H., & Hovland, A. (2016). Exercise as a treatment for depression: A meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders202(202), 67–86. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2016.03.063 and can boost your mood, helping you feel happy and content.

Beginners often get hooked on their new running routine once they experience the mood-boosting effects of endorphins and endocannabinoids (natural painkillers) after a good run.

Daily physical activity can also increase your self-confidence and self-efficacy.

#16: Running Can Reduce Stress

Stress can feel inescapable between work, family life, finances, health and wellness optimization, and world news.

The good news is that exercise is one of the best natural ways to combat stress, decrease levels of cortisol, and reduce anxiety. 

According to research,21Arida, R. M., & Teixeira-Machado, L. (2021). The Contribution of Physical Exercise to Brain Resilience. App.dimensions.ai14. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2020.626769 running may also help you deal with future stressful events and be more resilient to stressors you experience.

Convinced? Get started running today with our free Couch to 5K training plan and guide:

References

  • 1
    Running/jogging participants US 2006-2017. (n.d.). Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/190303/running-participants-in-the-us-since-2006/
  • 2
    Pedisic, Z., Shrestha, N., Kovalchik, S., Stamatakis, E., Liangruenrom, N., Grgic, J., Titze, S., Biddle, S. J., Bauman, A. E., & Oja, P. (2019). Is running associated with a lower risk of all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality, and is the more the better? A systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine54(15), bjsports-2018-100493. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2018-100493
  • 3
    Lee, D.-C., Brellenthin, A. G., Thompson, P. D., Sui, X., Lee, I-Min., & Lavie, C. J. (2017). Running as a Key Lifestyle Medicine for Longevity. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases60(1), 45–55. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2017.03.005
  • 4
    Chakravarty, E. F. (2008). Reduced Disability and Mortality Among Aging Runners. Archives of Internal Medicine168(15), 1638. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.168.15.1638
  • 5
    Lee, D., Pate, R. R., Lavie, C. J., Sui, X., Church, T. S., & Blair, S. N. (2014). Leisure-Time Running Reduces All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality Risk. Journal of the American College of Cardiology64(5), 472–481. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2014.04.058
  • 6
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, February 5). Hypertension Prevalence in the U.S. | Million Hearts®. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://millionhearts.hhs.gov/data-reports/hypertension-prevalence.html
  • 7
    Naci, H., Salcher-Konrad, M., Dias, S., Blum, M. R., Sahoo, S. A., Nunan, D., & Ioannidis, J. P. A. (2018). How does exercise treatment compare with antihypertensive medications? A network meta-analysis of 391 randomised controlled trials assessing exercise and medication effects on systolic blood pressure. British Journal of Sports Medicine53(14), 859–869. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2018-099921
  • 8
    Way, K. L., Sultana, R. N., Sabag, A., Baker, M. K., & Johnson, N. A. (2019). The effect of high Intensity interval training versus moderate intensity continuous training on arterial stiffness and 24 h blood pressure responses: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport22(4), 385–391. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2018.09.228
  • 9
    Ponzio, D. Y., Syed, U. A. M., Purcell, K., Cooper, A. M., Maltenfort, M., Shaner, J., & Chen, A. F. (2018). Low Prevalence of Hip and Knee Arthritis in Active Marathon Runners. Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery100(2), 131–137. https://doi.org/10.2106/jbjs.16.01071
  • 10
    Mitchell, U. H., Bowden, J. A., Larson, R. E., Belavy, D. L., & Owen, P. J. (2020). Long-term running in middle-aged men and intervertebral disc health, a cross-sectional pilot study. PLOS ONE15(2), e0229457. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229457
  • 11
    Sl, W., Bk, W., Lj, W., At, H., Sa, H., & Br, B. (2018, February 1). High-Intensity Resistance and Impact Training Improves Bone Mineral Density and Physical Function in Postmenopausal Women With Osteopenia and Osteoporosis: The LIFTMOR Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research : The Official Journal of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28975661/
  • 12
    Wang, Y., Lee, D., Brellenthin, A. G., Eijsvogels, T. M. H., Sui, X., Church, T. S., Lavie, C. J., & Blair, S. N. (2019). Leisure-Time Running Reduces the Risk of Incident Type 2 Diabetes. The American Journal of Medicine132(10), 1225–1232. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2019.04.035
  • 13
    Nieman, D. C., & Wentz, L. M. (2019). The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system. Journal of Sport and Health Science8(3), 201–217. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2018.09.009
  • 14
    Guiney, H., & Machado, L. (2012). Benefits of regular aerobic exercise for executive functioning in healthy populations. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review20(1), 73–86. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13423-012-0345-4
  • 15
    Dinoff, A., Herrmann, N., Swardfager, W., & Lanctôt, K. L. (2017). The effect of acute exercise on blood concentrations of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in healthy adults: a meta-analysis. European Journal of Neuroscience46(1), 1635–1646. https://doi.org/10.1111/ejn.13603
  • 16
    Kalak, N., Gerber, M., Kirov, R., Mikoteit, T., Yordanova, J., Pühse, U., Holsboer-Trachsler, E., & Brand, S. (2012). Daily Morning Running for 3 Weeks Improved Sleep and Psychological Functioning in Healthy Adolescents Compared With Controls. Journal of Adolescent Health51(6), 615–622. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.02.020
  • 17
    Moore, S. C., Lee, I-Min., Weiderpass, E., Campbell, P. T., Sampson, J. N., Kitahara, C. M., Keadle, S. K., Arem, H., Berrington de Gonzalez, A., Hartge, P., Adami, H.-O., Blair, C. K., Borch, K. B., Boyd, E., Check, D. P., Fournier, A., Freedman, N. D., Gunter, M., Johannson, M., & Khaw, K.-T. (2016). Association of Leisure-Time Physical Activity With Risk of 26 Types of Cancer in 1.44 Million Adults. JAMA Internal Medicine176(6), 816–825. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.1548
  • 18
    Validate User. (n.d.). Academic.oup.com. https://academic.oup.com/epirev/article/39/1/71/3760392
  • 19
    Lahart, I., Darcy, P., Gidlow, C., & Calogiuri, G. (2019). The Effects of Green Exercise on Physical and Mental Wellbeing: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health16(8), 1352. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16081352
  • 20
    Kvam, S., Kleppe, C. L., Nordhus, I. H., & Hovland, A. (2016). Exercise as a treatment for depression: A meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders202(202), 67–86. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2016.03.063
  • 21
    Arida, R. M., & Teixeira-Machado, L. (2021). The Contribution of Physical Exercise to Brain Resilience. App.dimensions.ai14. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2020.626769
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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