As the inimitable Britney Spears has said, “You want a hot body? You better work, %*&@#.” Running is obviously a fantastic way to get in shape—the lithe limbs, tight abs, and tiny shorts all come with the territory. And beyond developing an impressive physique, many people start running to amp up their cardiovascular health. But if keeping your body trim and your heart ticking aren’t quite mustering enough motivation today, here are 13 other reasons running rocks for your health:
1. Running boosts brain power
As you age, your hippocampus (the part of your brain associated with memory) is constantly rewiring itself. This process is vital to memory formation and learning. What does that have to do with running?
Earlier this year, a group of Finnish and American psychologists found that rats who ran regularly grew more brain cells that played a role in this rewiring than rats who did interval training or nothing at all. While these studies are so far limited to rodents, their results suggest that running has positive impacts on brain development in general.
2. Running reduces risk and severity of chronic disease
Good news for beginner runners! Just getting out there, regardless of your pace, lets you reap these life-extending benefits; a Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal study comparing prognoses of respiratory disease and pneumonia in those that regularly ran, walked, or didn’t exercise. The risk of fatality decreased 7.9%-19.9% in the active folk, without a significant difference between walkers and runners.
There’s also a connection between regular exercise and reduced pain in diseases like osteoarthritis. Running helps prevent type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, obesity, prostate disease, and disability. If we’ve piqued your interest, check out Mayo Clinic’s comprehensive roundup of recent studies looking at the effects of running on chronic diseases.
3. Running helps kick addiction
What do rats on a treadmill have to do with treating addiction? Fabulous question. A 2008 study found that rats who ran on treadmills went for significantly less morphine than did rats who did not exercise. Physiologists think these results can be explained by the neurotransmitters released during workouts—that running can set off some of the same reward systems triggered by opiates.
Endorphins, natural mood-boosters and pain killers released during running, help ease cravings and withdrawal symptoms. And running can help ward off relapses in part by reducing stress (another benefit to look for later in the post!).
4. Running improves memory
Remember when we mentioned cardiovascular health earlier? If you’re struggling with that, then this health benefit of running will be especially relevant to you! See, several studies have revealed that poor cardiovascular health in middle age is linked to brain shrinkage and cognitive decline later on (and even mild cognitive decline increases your risk for developing dementia, like Alzheimer’s, in the future). So get running now to keep your mind running well into old age.
And while we’re on the topic of memory, running regular routes may be one of the few activities that trigger involuntary memories—memories that typically surface during routine tasks like driving a familiar road. Paul Bisceglio of The Atlantic suggests these moments present rare and essential opportunities to grapple with the past. At risk of getting too psychoanalytic, running could help you process memories and learn about yourself.
5. Running fights depression
That runner’s high you feel might probably isn’t in your imagination—the British Journal of Sports Medicine included depression in its list of chronic illnesses that could be aided by exercise. There’s a lot of evidence, both anecdotal (see this inspiring story from one our Runkeeper Ambassadors) and scientific that links consistent exercise with reduced symptoms of depression.
6. Running boosts the immune system
Running (and exercise in general) can impact your immune system in several ways. According to MedlinePlus, working out helps flush your body of illness causing bacteria and fight infection.
But we’ll also throw in a warning: running only helps with immunity on shorter runs (30-45 minutes). When you’re running for upwards of 90 minutes, your muscles start competing with your immune system for fuel, so Runner’s World recommends subbing out some of your middle distance runs with high intensity interval workouts.
7. Running elevates sexual function
Coming in at sexy #7 on our list, running also has some below the belt benefits. All that cardio work, for example, keeps more than your heart healthy: a 2013 study from the European Journal of Heart Failure linked heart failure with sexual dysfunction in men, Moreover, because running activates the sympathetic nervous system, several studies have suggested that it helps facilitate female sexual arousal.
8. Running increases confidence
Of course, accomplishing goals like losing weight and being able to run longer distances can make you feel good about yourself. But a study in the Journal of Health Psychology found that the simple act of exercising can increase self-confidence.
9. Running lowers risk of cancer
There have been over 170 studies assessing the preventative effects of running on cancer. And because those results have been pretty striking, a lot of recent research has focused on figuring out what lies behind this lifesaving link.
This mechanism could come from running’s regulatory effect on hormones. And to return briefly to rodents on a treadmill (everyone’s favorite topic), a Danish study from earlier this year injected groups of mice with cancer-causing cells, allowing only one group access to a running wheel. Mice that got moving saw their tumours reduce to 61% the size of those formed in the couch potato mice. This same study suggested that adrenaline is key to running’s seemingly magical tumor reducing powers. That could tie into earlier findings relating more intense workouts with significant reductions in cancer mortality—although even brisk walking can reduce your risk of cancer!
10. Running alleviates stress
Regular running reduces cortisol—the stress hormone—in the body. Your adrenal gland releases this hormone as part of the “fight or flight” response when it perceives stress, so exercise releases it naturally. But consistent running over time raises the threshold at which the body responds to stress, lowering the amount of cortisol released.
11. Running decreases risk of stroke
Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, and strokes can occur at any age. So it’s comforting to know that several risk factors are within your control, including physical activity! Weekly exercise lowers risk of stroke significantly for both men and women, and men who work out four or more times a week see even greater risk reductions.
12. Running improves sleep and alertness
A survey of over 2,600 people between 18-85 years old from the National Sleep Foundation discovered that just 150 minutes of moderate to intense exercise a week improved sleep quality by a whopping 65 percent. Because sleep and running have other interesting correlations, keep your eye out for a post on this subject soon!
13. Running lengthens life expectancy
The 2015 Copenhagen City Heart Study found that joggers had a 30% lower risk of death than non-joggers—which amounted to an additional 6.2 years of life in men and 5.6 in women! Surprisingly, moderate jogging exhibited greater life extending powers than intense running.
But because of the twelve health benefits that preceded this, it shouldn’t be too surprising that running at any intensity may just help you cheat death. So if you’re looking to live longer and live happier, taking just a bit of time out of your week for some moderate exercise could do the trick. And if you happen to score a six pack along the way, all the power to you. Now lace up those sneakers and download Runkeeper to track your progress and stay motivated — happy tracking!