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Sep 10, 2021
9 min read

10 health benefits of running

Running is a popular type of cardiovascular exercise that provides many benefits to both your physical and mental health. Benefits include better heart health, better mood, higher quality sleep, increased memory, and lower risk for chronic disease. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of running, plus the answers to some frequently asked questions about running.

steve silvestro

Reviewed by Steve Silvestro, MD

Written by Ashley Braun, RD, MPH

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Whether you’re an experienced runner or a beginner, you may be wondering about the health benefits of one of the most popular forms of exercise. Running provides many benefits to your physical, mental, and cardiovascular health.

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Top 10 benefits of running

Running is one of the most convenient forms of exercise. Assuming you live in a safe neighborhood with sidewalks, you can just throw on a pair of running shoes and get on your way. When you compare that to getting in your car and sitting in traffic to get to the gym, running sounds pretty appealing to many people. 

But beyond convenience, running offers lots of other benefits. Here are 10 evidence-based benefits of running.

1. Lower heart disease risk

Running is one of the most popular types of cardio workouts. Cardiovascular exercise is any type of aerobic exercise, which increases your heart rate and breathing. These types of activities are called “cardio” exercises because they help strengthen your heart and prevent cardiovascular disease, which can result in a heart attack or stroke. 

Research suggests runners have stronger hearts that push more blood through the veins with each beat. This makes your heart more efficient and lowers your resting heart rate (Cantwell, 1985). 

Even just 5–10 minutes of jogging each day can reduce your cardiovascular disease risk (Lee, 2015). Running benefits more than just your heart rate. It also lowers triglyceride levels, improves high blood pressure, and increases the “good” cholesterol (HDL), which helps increase your heart health (Hespanhol, 2015). 

2. Helps with weight loss or healthy weight maintenance

Of course, your weight is affected by more factors than just physical activity. Still, if you’re looking to decrease your body fat, running combined with a healthy diet can be effective for that (Nielsen, 2016). 

Running is more effective than walking at burning calories and helps runners lose more weight than walking. While walking is still good for you and recommended if running is too intense for you, running allows you to burn more calories in the same amount of time. So running may be a more convenient option for people looking to burn more calories in shorter periods—assuming they have no injuries or other health conditions that make running a poor fit (Williams, 2014).  

3. Improves bone health

Weight-bearing exercises help build stronger bones in younger people and help prevent bone density loss in older adults. The human body responds to stress. It doesn’t put effort into growing or maintaining tissue if it doesn’t need to. That’s why exercise throughout your life is essential. 

During younger years, weight-bearing exercises (weight lifting, jogging, etc.) stress the body, and it responds by making bones denser and muscles stronger. As you get older, continuing to exercise tells your body to maintain bone and muscle tissue. This helps slow the process of age-related bone and muscle loss. 

Research shows that combining jogging with other low-impact exercises, like weight lifting, helps to reduce postmenopausal bone loss and osteoporosis (Benedetti, 2018). 

4. Relieves stress and anxiety

Running regularly may help reduce your stress and anxiety levels. Anxiety causes physical changes like an increased heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, and other symptoms

Some people are more sensitive to these symptoms, and at first, exercise may feel more uncomfortable. After all, the increased heart and breathing rate can feel similar to anxiety symptoms. 

Don’t worry, though. Research suggests that regular exercises can help teach you that it’s okay to experience these symptoms, especially in the context of exercise. Over time this may lower your sensitivity to the symptoms and help them to feel more tolerable and exercise more comfortable (Anderson, 2013). 

5. Improves sleep

Good quality sleep is important for both your physical and mental health. Still, far too many people report a lack of sleep. The good news is regular exercise helps improve sleep quality.  

One research study found that running for 30 minutes every weekday morning for three weeks helped participants sleep better. During lab sleep tests, the amount of time it took for people to fall asleep decreased and time spent in deep sleep increased. The participants also reported better quality sleep and better mood and focus throughout the day (Kalak, 2012).

6. Boosts your mood

Exercising is good for your mental health, and running may help reduce symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Even if you don’t experience a specific mental health condition, running can still provide a boost to your mood, concentration, and body image (Markotic, 2020).

Many people report a euphoric experience while running, often called a “runner’s high.” It’s believed that endorphins and neurotransmitters released during endurance exercise may be responsible for this feeling. 

7. Helps protect memory and brain health

Sticking to a regular running schedule may give a boost to your memory and keep your brain healthy as you get older. Research shows that regular running increases memory and improves the function of multiple areas of the brain (Vivar, 2017).

Regular physical activity may help prevent age-related cognitive decline, like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Research suggests exercise helps maintain healthy levels of white and grey matter in the brain, which may help prevent memory loss (Vivar, 2017).

8. Improves knee and back health

This benefit may be more difficult to believe, but running may actually help protect your knees, hips, and back from joint pain. 

Yes, some people may develop joint pain while on a running program, causing them to switch from running to a lower impact exercise. However, research suggests those who run tend to have better joint health than the general population. 

A 2018 study compared the hip and knee health of marathon runners to the general population in the United States. Of the 675 marathoners, about 8.9% experienced arthritis, which is significantly lower than the 17.9% arthritis rate in the general U.S population (Ponzio, 2018). 

Another 2017 survey reported there was not an increased risk for developing osteoarthritis from high-impact exercise between runners and non-runners (Lo, 2017). 

9. Boosts immune health

Regular exercise may provide a boost to your immune system. Research suggests that moderate-intensity exercise helps reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system, allowing you to fight off colds (Scheffer, 2019). 

That said, there may be a fine line between exercise helping and hurting the immune system. Research suggests too much high-intensity exercise may strain the body and weaken your immune system (Simpson, 2015). So, it’s all about moderation. 

10. May help you live a longer and healthier life

Multiple research studies show that running may help increase longevity and quality of life. Runners live about three years longer on average than non-runners and experience a 25–40% lower risk for early death (Lee, 2017). 

But most people care about more than just the number of years. The quality of those years is also important. A 2020 study showed that running 1–4 times a week increased the quality of life among older adults when it comes to categories like physical health, mental health, environment, and social health (Nakano, 2020).  

The other benefits of running, like lowered risk for chronic diseases, more energy, better mood, and lower stress level, likely contribute to a better quality of life. With all areas of your physical and mental health impacted by exercise, it’s easy to see how it can increase your overall quality of life. 

Running vs. jogging

The terms running and jogging are often used interchangeably, so you may be wondering if there is actually a difference between the two. 

Typically, running is used to describe faster-paced exercise. Moving faster than 6 miles per hour (mph) usually refers to running, while jogging is anything slower than 6 mph.

Both running and jogging are good for your health. Running is a higher intensity workout and will help you burn more calories than jogging for the same amount of time. If you prefer a slower pace, jogging still provides the same health benefits. 

Frequently asked questions about running

While running is very popular, there are many ideas out there about how to do it. You may have some questions, so we’ve compiled some of the most common questions you might have before you get started. 

How long should I run for?

General recommendations for exercise are to aim for about 150 minutes of physical activity each week (about 2.5 hours). You could break this up into 30-minute runs five days a week, or depending on your schedule, you could choose to do longer runs less often or a daily shorter run. You could also pair running with other types of exercise to add up to that 150 minutes of exercise. 

Many of the research studies used different lengths of runs. One study showed benefits with even just 5–10 minute daily jogs (Lee, 2014).

How often should I run?

How often you run will depend on your schedule and goals. You can easily add a run to another type of exercise routine once a week to add variety, or you can run daily as the primary way you get physical activity. 

It may be helpful to take occasional days off from running to allow time for your muscles to rest and recover. 

What’s the best time of day to run?

The best time of day to run depends on your schedule. If it only works for you to run in the mornings, then stick to that schedule. 

If you have some flexibility in when you run and you’re running outside, you may want to consider the weather. For hot climates, you may want to run in the early mornings or evenings to prevent overheating. In a cold climate, running mid-day may be better since the temperature may be higher. 

Try to find a time that works best for your schedule. If you can, try to limit intense runs right before trying to go to sleep since this could potentially impact sleep quality (Markwald, 2018). 

What do I need to run safely?

You want to have the right equipment when planning for runs. If you’re running when the sun is out, be sure to apply sweat-resistant sunscreen before your runs to help protect your skin from sun damage. 

Wearing supportive running shoes may help to provide a cushion against impact and support the arch of your foot. 

You’ll always want to drink fluid and replace electrolytes during or after a run. If you’re going for a long run, especially in hot weather, make sure to drink extra fluids to prevent dehydration and muscle cramps. If you’re having pain while running, consider talking with a physical therapist. They can assess muscle strength, flexibility, and running form to create a personalized exercise routine to help.

References

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  2. Benedetti, M. G., Furlini, G., Zati, A., & Letizia Mauro, G. (2018). The effectiveness of physical exercise on bone density in osteoporotic patients. BioMed Research International, 2018, 4840531. doi: 10.1155/2018/4840531. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6323511/
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