“Running is alone time that lets my brain unspool the tangles that build up over days…I run, pound it out on the pavement, channel that energy into my legs, and when I’m done with my run, I’m done with it.” — Rob Haneisen
We all know exercise is good for us, but choosing the right exercise program can seem daunting. There’s the hassle of joining a gym, buying equipment, taking lessons, scheduling time with teammates… it can all seem very overwhelming. However, there is an easy solution. The easiest and most accessible method of exercising is running. It doesn’t require lessons, special equipment, or difficult to access locations. All you need are your legs, good running shoes, and a safe place to run. Be it at your local school track, in a park, or on the road near your home, you can start a running regimen right away. And you will quickly notice that regular running will improve your health and mood, and you will also be pleased to discover that the positive effects from running happen almost immediately.
I have been an avid runner since high school, and much of my good health and positivity over the past few decades can be attributed to running.
Many experts agree that running can do wonders to improve your health and your mood. Numerous studies have backed up the claims that running can benefit your health and well being in a number of different ways.
Here’s a benefit you shouldn’t forget. This study found that exercise protects the brain as it ages, and actually helps improve thinking skills. Studies suggest that the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex, which are segments of the brain that control thinking and memory, are actually larger in the brains of those who run than in those who do not participate in any aerobic exercise. In addition, running stimulates the release of growth factors such as chemicals that improve the health of brain cells, helps new blood vessels grow, and helps new brain cells survive.
Similarly, a study in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society reports that women who start running at a young age decrease their risk of dementia later in life.
Regular running is proven to help reduce heart attack risks as your arteries retain elasticity and the heart is strengthened. Running also helps alleviate high blood pressure, osteoporosis, it helps reduce resistance to insulin, reduces inflammation, increase your good cholesterol, and reduces the risk of a stroke. For women, running may also decrease your risk of breast cancer.
Regular exercise, including running, is helpful in improving sleep. Those who run are proven to sleep better at night due to regulated circadian rhythms, being able to fall asleep quicker, a deeper sleep, and reduced symptoms of insomnia and certain types of sleep apnea. Another positive side effect: sleeping better at night means heightened alertness during the day, as well as being generally less drowsy while going about your day.
Of course, all exercise is important when it comes to losing weight. However, running burns off more calories per minute than any other form of exercise with the exception of cross country skiing. Also, more exercise increases your metabolism, which is totally enough of an excuse to have an extra drink or dessert once in a while.
Decrease in Bad Habits
Not only does jogging help you lose weight, but it also has been proven to decrease interest in certain junk food. Also, marijuana users reduced their use after picking up jogging. Not surprisingly, jogging has benefits to users of other drugs. Meth users fund that running renews strength in the neurotransmitters that help you feel good, which is what attracts people to that drug. By re-normalizing the transmitters, users can experience the good feelings without the drug.
Studies show that high impact running improves the brain’s ability to learn. In fact, learning speed increases after only one week of working out as well as over time. After intense physical exercise like running, vocabulary learning is roughly 20 percent faster. So if you want to boost your vocabulary, or pick up a new language, lace up those sneakers.
Running and all exercise help to boost immunity, decrease the risk of respiratory infections, and a decrease in the severity of asthma side effects. While running doesn’t give anyone a perfect immune system, the benefit are strong enough to make a difference in the frequency of getting sick, as well as the severity.
Running does wonders to help your mood, and you can see the results in a variety of ways.
Running gives a boost to your emotional well being. Numerous studies, including this one show that even a single bout of exercise helps those suffering from depression. Results are immediate and consistent, and a decrease in depression can be noticed as quickly as five minutes following a run. The more frequently you run, the less depressed you might be as a result.
If you suffer from anxiety, running may help. Running (and all exercise) creates new brain cells, which has a calming effect. Similar to fighting depression, increased running reduces anxiety.
Same Effects as a Drug
Many different behavioral activities, such as eating, drinking and sex can activate reward pathways in your brain. Drugs are unfortunately a potent way to activate these pathways. However, running increases neurogenesis in the hippocampus. This is what we call “runners high.” And the science backs this up.
Increasing Self Esteem
Running has been proven to boost confidence, and raises your self-esteem. Outside of how exercise can raise your self-esteem, running allows you to set goals. How much farther today can you run than you did last time? Can you run a 5k race without stopping? Can you finish a 10k race? A half marathon? A marathon? People have been proven to be happier when they are working towards a goal, whether or not it is actually achieved. Setting a goal triggers happiness on its own. And we all should keep in mind that life is about the journey, not the destination.
Increase in Creativity
Amazingly, running increases creative thinking! This study shows that body movement helps overcome mental blocks and obstacles. For that matter, and this should come as no surprise, but the same study shows that watching TV or videos decreases creativity. So turn off the TV and go for a run.
Make New Friends
Running is a great activity to do with friends. Don’t have any friends interested? There are a wide variety of local running groups or websites where you can find others interested in joining you. Not interested in making new friends? Running is one of the only athletic activities that you can do on your own.
Discover Your Neighborhood
How often have you driven by side streets in your neighborhood but never explored them? Or that local park? Or the path by the river? There are no doubt a variety of parks and spaces near where you live that are runner friendly. Opening up your world is one of the greatest benefits of running.
There are no doubts that exercise is good for you, but running is one of the few that almost anyone can start right away. The benefits of exercise, both for the body and mind, are numerous and many benefits begin the first time you run. And many other benefits get banked to help out your body and mind in the decades to come. To be healthier, happier and more active, all you need to do is lace up your sneakers and put one foot in front of the other. And repeat. And keep repeating. And enjoy the journey.
This article was originally published in The Babble Out