For the last 19 years, I have participated in the Bolder Boulder. This year will be extra special, as my two sons have agreed to start the race with me. I last ran with my older son, who will be 25, when he was 11 or 12, and I last ran with my younger son, who will be 20, when he was 13. My training this year started in March, so I spent some time researching the benefits of running on your body and health. Many of these benefits can be applied to walking or hiking, so don’t think you have to take up running to achieve these benefits. If you do, more power to you. So here you go…
Overall mental health.
Runners are happy people. They’ve got that runner high thing going for them. Running supports the release of endorphins. Nature’s home-brewed opiates, endorphins are chemicals that act a lot like their medically engineered counterpart, morphine. Runners have credited them for their feel-good effects for decades, but it wasn’t until 2008 that German researchers used brain scans on runners and were able to identify exactly where they originated. The scientists found that during two-hour-long runs, subjects’ pre-frontal and limbic regions (which light up in response to emotions like love) spewed out endorphins. The greater the endorphin surge in these brain areas, the more euphoric the runners reported feeling.
Strengthens your lungs.
Runners have increased lung capacity from logging mile after mile. Those strong lungs come in handy if you ever find yourself on the other side of race as a spectator. A runner’s WOOHOO! is loud and proud.
Helps prevent high blood pressure.
Your arteries expand and contract while running helping to keep your arteries fit which in turn keeps your blood pressure in a normal range. Just 30 to 40 minutes of running most days of the week can help prevent or reduce hypertension — a potentially deadly condition in which abnormally high blood pressure damages blood vessels and vital organs.
Strengthens immune system.
Regular running builds up your tolerance to germs which results in fewer minor illnesses. People who run (or exercise aerobically) at a moderate level experience fewer days of sickness from the common cold and other Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTI). What’s more, less competitive endurance athletes following lower key exercise regimens have enhanced immune reactions to infection. One study found that women who walked briskly for 35-45 minutes, 5 days a week, for 15 weeks, experienced half the incidence of colds as the sedentary control group. A Runner’s World survey showed that 61% of recreational runners reported fewer colds since taking up running, and only 4% had experienced more colds. Many studies indicate that exercising at a medium intensity level reduces our risk of infection over the long term. How does this happen?
Light or moderate running boosts our body’s natural immune system by circulating protective cells through the body faster, to attack and eliminate bacteria, viruses and fungi. Infection fighters, such as Natural Killer Cells, macrophages, immunoglobins, white blood cells, and other antibodies, are produced in the bone marrow, lungs, and spleen, and have a clean up effect on foreign invaders.
Running burns mega-calories. However, it makes you mega-hungry, especially if you are training for long distances. Your ability to lose weight while running will be measured by what you eat after you run. If your run ends at Sweet Cow every time out, you’ll probably find you’re gaining weight from running. Runs should be followed by a quality source protein, a vegetarian or whey based protein powder shake or a lean meat such as chicken. Protein helps rebuild muscle and will not add calories as carbohydrates do.
Physically strong legs.
Want the strong, lean look of runners’ leg muscles? Depending on whether you are jogging or sprinting you utilize one of two types of muscle fiber: slow-twitch or fast-twitch. Long-distance running uses slow-twitch fibers which are not as strong as fast-twitch but have a good oxygen supply and can work for long periods of time without tiring. By contrast, fast-twitch muscle is stronger but tires quickly, so it works when you are sprinting. The bulging leg muscles of sprinters are because they have more fast-twitch muscles, while the lean legs of distance runners are composed of slow-twitch.
Running boasts the brain’s serotonin levels which make you calmer and more relaxed. Aside from simply being happier because you’re in better shape and feeling good, endorphins play a big role in these results. You might know endorphins as the “feel-good” hormones of the body. It’s an opiod chemical that the body uses to help quell pain. They also help slow the aging process, relieve stress and anxiety, and enhance the immune system. And you guessed it — running can release a flood of these endorphins.
Increased bone density.
Running stresses your bones. Essential minerals are sent to the bones when under stress, which makes them stronger. Moderate amounts of running provide the most beneficial influence on your bone health, the U.S. Sports Academy reports. Runners who get 12 to 19 miles, or 20 to 30 km, of road work per week typically fall into this healthy category. However, runners who regularly exceed this amount of activity risk permanently elevating their blood levels of cortisol, a hormone produced in the adrenal glands that can degrade bone health. In fact, athletes who run roughly 56 miles, or 90 km, per week have shown levels of bone density that are lower than those found in physically inactive individuals.
Increased confidence. Once you start running, your confidence begins to grow. You’ll feel more in control of your life and your body. Endorphins, stronger legs and muscles, reduced weight, improved mental health, stronger immune system, what NOT to like? Improved self-confidence is just the natural byproduct of accomplishing all of the above.