Understanding the Benefits of Running

People often complain that running is not beneficial to them because it is tedious, exhausting, and hard on their bodies.

If that's the case, why are so many Americans regularly running and participating in races from the 5k to the marathon? The answer is simple: Regular running results in obvious health benefits, all of which are vital to longevity and an enjoyable life.

Perhaps the greatest effect that running has on health is the fact that it contributes to an overall improvement in heart health. In fact, a study done by Duke University found that regular running results in more gains in heart health than any other form of exercise (p. 46). Because running is better than any other exercise when it comes to improving heart health, it is a key part of heart disease prevention. Doctor John Elefteriades, who heads cardio-thoracic surgery at Yale University, recommends that patients do interval running to increase the efficiency of their hearts and thereby prevent heart disease (p. 80). High intensity running such as interval training clearly keeps the heart healthy and leads runners to live a longer life.

Regular running contributes to overall heart health because of the fact that it improves specific factors that affect heart health. Hypertension (high blood pressure), for example, can be treated by regular running. Take the actor and singing teacher John Keston, for instance. He was diagnosed with alarmingly high blood pressure, but after twenty five years of running, his blood pressure is considerably low (p. 46). Blood pressure is one of the main contributing factors to heart health, and because running can lower high blood pressure, it is a key part of maintaining a healthy heart.

In addition to lowering blood pressure, regular running also contributes to a healthy heart by lowering cholesterol levels. Wanda Estes, now a seventy-year-old marathon runner, experienced a reduction in her cholesterol levels after she took up running (para.2). Experiencing a drop in cholesterol after beginning a running program is common among those concerned about heart health. Paul Shiflett, currently a marathon runner, slacked off after running for most of his life. When he found himself overweight with high cholesterol, he turned to running to solve his problems. Now forty, Shiflett is as physically fit as someone who is only twenty (para. 1). It is apparent that running contributes to overall heart health by helping to reduce cholesterol levels.

Aside from an improvement in heart health, one of the most well-known benefits of regular running is the effect it has on weight control. Running is a high intensity exercise; therefore, it burns a significant amount of calories, ultimately leading to weight loss. In fact, running requires so much energy that a 150-pound woman who runs six miles in one hour will burn rightly 700 calories (para. 6). If she ran for an hour at this rate every day, a 150-pound woman would lose a pound in just 5 days! Other forms of exercise, such as walking or even biking, can't even compare to running when it comes to the overall calorie burn because running is essentially a calorie-incinerator.

Running obviously has positive effects on physical health, and it has also been proven to be beneficial to mental health. Distance runners are known to comment upon what they refer to as the "runner's high," which is in essence the good feeling that one enjoys after running, often the result of the endorphins created by the body during exercise. The impact of running doesn't just improve mood after working out, though. According to Greist, Klein, Eischens, Gurmam, and Morgan, the psychological impact of running is so considerable that it has been associated with curing depression much like clinical counseling does (as cited in Leedy, para.3). In this sense, people can actually consider running to be a natural anti-depressant.

With running acting as an anti-depressant, along with its numerous health benefits, it can only be assumed that distance running can have a place in anyone's life. Those who complain that running is monotonous would do well to realize that the benefits of running far outweigh the fact that it can be tedious.

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