For starters, it’s actually good for your joints.
Running is one of the most popular exercises in the world, not surprising given that it is the easiest to pick up and requires minimum gear.
You don’t need a gym membership or own any specialised equipment. All you need is a pair of shoes that you can run comfortably in, and you are literally good to go; one foot in front of the other. You can start at your own pace, set your preferred duration or distance and run, anytime and anywhere. Solo runs are great for clearing the mind, while group runs can be really motivating and push you out of your comfort zone.
Whether your idea of exercise is doing housework or hitting the gym, there are good reasons to fit running into your plan, if you haven’t already.
Running is effective for weight loss or maintenance
Cardio is one of the most popular words you’ll hear in a weight loss programme. Short for cardiovascular, which refers to the circulatory system that comprises the heart and blood vessels, cardio exercises such as running, rowing, cycling and swimming will raise your heart rate into a zone that’s optimal for burning fat and calories.
Generally and conservatively speaking, a woman weighing 55kg can burn an average of 50 calories for every kilometre she runs. The more you weigh, the more you’ll burn, and vice versa. Running will give you a calorie deficit if you do not offset it by overeating. Besides running regularly, adopting a balanced diet and healthy eating habits are key for long-term weight management.
It really is the king of cardio
We know the importance of building strong muscles, but do you know that the heart is the most hard-working muscle in the body? An average adult’s heart beats 72 times a minute, which makes it 100,000 times a day and 3.6 million times a year. As you get fitter through running regularly, your resting heart rate will gradually lower as your heart gets stronger. That simply means your heart has to work less hard to pump oxygen into your blood, and running after the bus will not make you feel so out of breath.
Many studies have shown that running can significantly reduce a person’s risk of death from cardiovascular disease. According to a study published by the American College of Cardiology, runners have a 30 per cent lower risk of death from all causes and a 45 per cent lower risk of mortality from heart disease or stroke, as compared to those who do not run. The researchers studied over 55,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 100 for a 15-year period to determine if there is a relationship between running and longevity. Based on the study, runners lived three years longer on average, compared to non-runners, regardless of the distance, duration or frequency that a person ran.
When reports of seemingly fit and young runners collapsing from a cardiac arrest while running make the news, it may strike fear and deter some from running. The truth is, such cases are rare and are usually attributed to undetected genetic heart abnormalities or acquired heart conditions such as clogged arteries from an unhealthy diet. Therefore, it is important to go for a general medical check-up before you embark on any fitness regime, especially if you are experiencing chest pains to begin with; and to start slow and increase the distance and intensity gradually.
It’s actually good for your bones and joints
Have you ever had someone tell you running is bad for your knees and joints? This is the biggest misconception because running itself does not increase the risk of wearing out joints. In fact, it helps to prevent osteoarthritis. The bone is a living tissue; like muscle, it will actually get stronger as a response to exercise. It is imperative for women over the age of 20 to exercise regularly to prevent bone mass loss and osteoporosis.
According to Gino Ng, physiotherapist from Sports Solutions, numerous studies found no evidence that runners were more likely to develop knee osteoarthritis when compared to non-runners. In fact, he affirms that the weight loss and strengthening of articular cartilage from running will even help in preventing knee problems. However, he added that most runners injure themselves when they try to run too much, too soon. He has seen many new runners sustain injuries in their first year, with heel and knee pain as the common complaints.
Like any sport, it is normal to experience muscle aches when you first start running. If you feel sharp pains; particularly in joints or ligaments, a visit to a physiotherapist is recommended to determine if there are any muscle imbalances or postural alignments to be corrected. Don’t try to outrun pain, as you can cause damage to your muscles or joints.
It boosts your immune system and well-being
As we age, our immune system weakens, making us more prone to infections and diseases. Running regularly is a good way to give it a boost, as it helps to circulate protective cells though the body faster to attack and eliminate bacteria and viruses.
There is a correlation between running intensity and duration with immune functions. While light and moderate running boosts the immune system, fast and furious running to exhaustion has the opposite effect and weakens the immune system, as the body produces high levels of stress hormones called cortisol. That explains why runners are prone to falling sick during their peak training period and after a race. A good way to prevent that is simply to ensure proper recovery through sufficient rest and a healthy diet.
When we run, our body produces endorphins and endocannabinoids. The former acts as a painkiller like morphine, while the latter acts as a feel-good drug like cannabis. Endo comes from the word “endogenous”, which means from the body. Both endorphins and endocannabinoids work together to let you run longer and farther, to achieve the euphoric feeling known as “runner’s high”. Many studies have shown that running regularly can improve your mood and self-esteem, and lower rates of depression.
If you are familiar with shinrinyoku, the Japanese term for forest bathing, you will know the benefits of being in nature. Lots of research has shown that running outdoors offers the added benefits of lowering your stress hormone production, blood pressure and heart rate, while increasing your level of white blood cells in the immune system.
Scientists attribute this to phytoncides, the antimicrobial chemical produced by plants to protect themselves from rotting and being eaten by insects and animals. It seems that natural scents of phytoncides also confer health benefits to humans, making us yearn to run outdoors instead of on a treadmill indoors.
With these amazing benefits, It is never too late to give running a go and reap the benefits. You will discover how running can change your life and empower you in the process.