We all know that running makes you fitter, is good for the heart, and can put you in a better mood. But you might not be aware of all of the physical and emotional advantages of heading out for a run. Even scientists don’t know it all: they’re discovering new benefits all the time that go far beyond improving stamina or burning calories. So if you’re looking for a little extra motivation to lace up your shoes and hit the pavement (or the treadmill), or you just want to pat yourself on the back for a job well done, here are seven pieces of research that prove it’s a good idea…
1. Running helps breast cancer recovery
Breast cancer patients who ran for more than two and a quarter miles per day reduced their risk of dying by 95%, according to a study published in the International Journal of Cancer by scientists from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the US. (Moderate exercise, including walking, had a negligible effect, although as we get older, a daily 30 minute stroll can cut the chances of developing breast cancer by 10%.)
2. Runners are less likely to catch flu
Doing ‘vigorous’ exercise, including running, for two and a half hours a week or more reduces the likelihood of catching flu, according to the results of an online flu survey from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. They asked 4800 people to log in on a weekly basis and provide information about their health. The participants also shared details of their fitness habits, which showed a clear correlation between an active lifestyle and a lowered flu risk.
3. Running could save your eyesight
Researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley Lab tracked 41,000 runners for over seven years and found that running and other high-intensity forms of exercise could help prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts, two leading causes of blindness. There’s no treatment for AMD, so prevention is especially important. People who ran between 1.2 and 2.4 miles per day reduced their risk of these diseases by 19%, and people who ran more than 2.4 miles every day reduced their risk by up to 54%.
4. Women are better at marathons
The best way to survive a marathon is to pace yourself, and according to researchers from Marquette University, Grand Valley State University, and the Mayo Clinic, women are better at this than men. The researchers analysed the times at the halfway point and at the end of the race for 91,929 marathon participants. Regardless of age, or running conditions, men slowed by 16%, women just 12%. This could be because men burn more carbs than women when exercising, so they run out of fuel more quickly, or it could be that men are driven (by nature or nurture) to over-exert themselves. Whatever the reason, the result is the same: we’re better at handling marathon conditions. Go, us!
5. Just seven minutes will extend your life
On the other end of the scale, while long runs have all kinds of disease-boosting properties, you don’t need to be a distance runner to benefit. The University of Iowa did a large-scale study of 55,137 people aged 18 to 100 (!), and found that the chances of runners dying from heart disease was 45% less than non-runners. People who ran for 51 minutes a week (so, just over seven minutes a day) benefited as much as people who ran for more than three hours. And slowpokes shouldn’t feel bad: this was true no matter how fast they went.
6. You’ll be less likely to get kidney stones
Kidney stones are excruciating, and the bad news is that women have been increasingly affected over the last decade. The good news is that a study from the University of Washington which looked at 84,225 women’s lifestyle habits over the last 20 years found that exercising reduced the chances of developing kidney stones by up to 31%. The researchers recommended an hour of jogging per week for best results.
7. Running makes you less anxious
In a 2009 study, Princeton researchers discovered that the physical stress of a good workout makes the brain better able to cope with psychological stress. This means that if you go for a run a few times a week, you’re not just releasing happy chemicals in the moment, but changing your whole physiology long-term, so you’re better able to cope with anxiety and depression in general. Just one of many aspects of running to give us a reason to smile.
Image by Jeff Drongowski via Wikimedia Commons.