The Benefits of Running and How I Got The Most Out Of It
We all know that runners of any shape, form, age and skill enjoy many benefits of running. But what precisely are they?
I’m one of those people who swapped sedentary lifestyle and took up running in my fifties. I was told by my friendly doctor that I should ‘work on my cardio’ and pick a pastime that would help me improve it, like swimming or cycling – or, best of all, running.
At that time – after years of mostly no physical activity – I was in dire need of something that would help me move easier and breathe with less effort. I had seen people running but until then I hadn’t been paying much attention.
So what could running do to me to make me feel better? I started to run, dug deeper and got the answers.
Let’s start with the best quote I’ve ever read about running.
‘According to the NHS, running can improve heart and lung health, increase joint strength and stability, reduce risk of chronic illnesses, improve mental wellbeing, reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress, and simply improve your mood’.
Wow. Just…wow. Ok. Let’s see how that quote affected me personally.
Benefit of Running Number 1: Regular running improves heart health❤️
Let’s first compare running to some of the other popular fitness activities, for example cycling and swimming. When you cycle you can at times simply sit and relax on the bike and still move forward, especially when going downhill. When swimming you can turn on your back and float like a graceful water lily.
When you run though, if you stop – you stop. You only move when you move your legs, hence some call it The King of Cardio! Running will strengthen your heart in a way no other casual fitness activity will, and the resting heart rate will decrease which means that the heart won’t have to work as hard as before.
I don’t know what my resting heart rate was before I started running and how many beats it used to hit per minute, but I do feel changes. When I walk fast or walk fast upstairs my heart is not racing anymore, there is no shortness of breath. I feel much calmer.
During a routine check up a doctor told me that my heartbeat was solid and my resting heart rate was around 50, which is excellent for my age. I realised that I move with more ease, do not sweat easily and feel much better, less tired. If that was the only benefit I reap from running, I have done a very good job indeed.
Benefit of Running Number 2: Improved lung capacity🎷
When we run the lung capacity will increase, breathing will be fuller, deeper, more efficient. We will grow more capillaries and get more oxygen into the muscles and bloodstream.
Remember how hard the first running steps were? We were gasping for air. I had to stop my first 90 second run because I felt I didn’t have any air in my lungs, I felt discomfort and I was a sweaty mess. I also felt worried as much as I was embarrassed. But as I went on I was getting more oxygen in the system.
The more oxygen in the bloodstream and muscles,the easier and longer I could run.
I remembered that terrible first run of yore a few days ago as I completed a 10K run in (for me phenomenal) 51.00 minutes. When I finished the run I stretched, drank my top-up electrolyte drink and walked away as if that was just a stroll. No panting or gasping for air this time.
Because my lungs and my heart were more efficient. Talking of benefits, that was a real coup.
Benefit of Running Number 3: Gaining strength and stability🏋️♀️
Although running alone has NOT given me a Hulk-like physique, my biggest muscles, the ones in my legs, have indeed developed and bulked up. When I run I hit the ground and that creates multiple leg workouts. My inner and outer thighs, glutes/quads/hams as well as calves have all benefited. They have become harder, toned, more developed – stronger.
Some warned me when I started running that at my age I could damage my knees and joints. But at the same time I read that running is a weight bearing exercise which helps build strong bones. It turns out that every time I hit the pavement my bones and cartilage, just like my muscles, spring back stronger.
Have any of you heard creaky noises that your knees make when walking upstairs or when you just fold your legs? You have? Well, I don’t anymore. Not sure what happened there but the knees have got silent, pain-free and clearly quite effective.
Of course, you need to look after them through correct running techniques that work for you and proper running shoes where anything but a perfect fit is not suitable.
Get those basics right and your knees will respond in kind.
I used to run nearly 9 minutes per kilometre, hurting every second. Now I run an average 4.50 minutes per km, supported by those same knees, muscles and tendons.
But wait, there’s more, I also found this helpful quote: ‘’The lower body isn’t the only part of you that feels the benefits of running. It’s a core-carver, challenging not only your six-pack rectus abdominis, but also the deeper core muscles, including your obliques, erector spinae, and transverse abdominis. Those deep muscles play important roles stabilizing your spine, transferring power between your swinging arms and legs and sucking in your gut.’’
What that basically means in my case is very simple. I walk taller, I walk faster and my stomach is not sticking out. Three in one. Bingo! This is getting better and better.
Benefit of Running Number 4: Running reduces risk of chronic disease
Here I need to take my doc’s word for it, she calls the shots around those parts. In plain terms, my blood pressure in pre-running days was high. Now it’s normal.
She is happy with how my heart works and happy with the oxygen levels in my blood. She says I look younger than my age but that’s probably down to my rugged good looks and her being polite. My cholesterol level is low and she likes that too.
Very importantly, she says that I have reduced the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and by continuing to exercise I am very likely to increase my heart’s longevity and capability. I wanted to know if we could put that into some sort of numbers. She said I had half the chance of dying from heart disease compared to those who don’t run.
I also decreased the risks for stroke, arthritis, diabetes and some cancers.
Running also helps boost immunity against various ills, including the flu. You know what? That made me feel very good about myself.
Benefit of Running Number 5: Improved mental health and wellbeing🧘
We all stress at work, some more some less. Often we take it for granted, it’s simply part of modern lives, living with stress. People do various things to relieve it, from smoking to drinking, from reading books to listening to music, from walking to…….running.
But the more I ran the more I noticed that my work wasn’t bothering me as much as it did before. I was far less anxious. I resolved issues better and faster. I didn’t leave backlogs on my desk. My email inbox was largely empty when I left the office.
People started telling me that I looked younger than my age.
What’s going on?
I also realised that I slept better, resulting in being more relaxed during the day. My focus was sharper. I remembered better. That all contributed to my overall mood being much more lifted and stable.
Surely, it’s not because I ran often? Was it?
Well, I read that it was. It turns out that the mood boosting effect is one of the biggest benefits of running. During the run, the brain pumps out endorphins, a powerful feel-good chemical produced by the nervous system to cope with stress and pain. Not only can they act as a pain reliever, they are also a powerful happiness booster, hence ‘feel-good’ chemical.
No wonder I got more relaxed and my problem solving at work got so much better.
Now I fully understand why people go running after hard days at work, and why I get so many ideas when running long runs on my own. I’d heard vaguely about those things before I became the runner, but now it’s all crystal clear.
Benefit of Running Number 6: Losing excess weight & maintaining healthy weight⚖️
I am naturally slim but ageing and inactivity can help create the need to buy new jeans one size up on the ones before. I didn’t like that business. Size needed to stay the same. Well, that won’t happen whilst rocking in the chair and watching music videos.
Something else needed doing. Hence running.
Running can be a mighty weight-losing helper, providing we change our lifestyle and our habits, where physical activity and diet changes are top of that list.
Although weight loss in big numbers wasn’t what I needed, certain tweaks in terms of my jeans size had to be addressed. It meant that funny build up of fat around the waist had to go. It also meant my stomach had to be tucked in, and stay in. Torso and legs needed toning.
Not only have I managed all that, my jeans size scaled down by a notch and returned to what they used to be when I was 21. Now I am 56.
The main point here is that our targets, if realistic, are doable if we have determination, perseverance, stubbornness and self-belief to make it. Do you really want to lose weight by running? Yes? Then do it. Simply go and do it.
What I have written and described here was not copied from somebody’s book or medical leaflet advertising a healthier lifestyle. This has all happened to me and it’s still happening. For a while I stopped noticing it because I got used to it but every now and again I compare my ‘then and now’ and can see stark contrasts in terms of improvements.
Running was the main change which triggered the chain of events and processes that have helped create ‘a better me’.
Yes, it was hard in the beginning but once we reach a certain stage of physical strength and mental confidence all we need to do is relax, have fun and enjoy the benefits. You can see that as a smart lifelong investment that doesn’t rely on turbulent and uncertain markets. All it needs is you going out 3-4 times per week and doing what we are genetically designed for and as children used to do all the time. Run!
I hope that sharing my story, and what I have learned along this journey, will inspire you to get started and to keep going. To keep striving and being the best you can be. In running and in life.
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