Most of us hated running laps in gym class. So the idea that long-distance running is something you should do as an adult might not sound appealing. However, the health benefits of long-distance running are so huge, you should definitely consider it.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
The benefits of long-distance running include improved sleep, less risk of depression, weight loss, up to 50% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and increasing lifespan by an average of 3 years. But beyond that, the endorphins from the runner’s high and the vitamin D of being outside can boost your mood!
But that’s just the beginning of how running can help us! So let’s keep going!
In this article, we’re diving deep into the world of long-distance running. We’ll answer all the top questions and explore all the top benefits of taking up running.
So whether you’re just curious, or have already started a running practice, let’s dive in!
co-authored with running enthusiast Jane Grates who runs the running website runnerclick.com.
Distance running and health
A lot of parents will turn to some sort of exercise routine mid-life.
They do this as their children begin to age some. For some, it’s after they’ve undergone some sort of real-life health scare or health warning from their doctor. But others just want to maximize their health, drop a few pounds, and make sure they will be there to see their grandchildren.
Make sure whatever you do is really making a difference in your energy and calories burned. Check out the TDEE Calculator to learn more.
Many adults turn to running at mid-life because it’s fantastic. (and yes, I am biased!) And because it’s accessible and affordable compared to many other sports and recreational activities out there.
When adults begin running, they often do so with their eyes turned toward a completion goal: finishing a 5k, a 10k. Or for the more audacious (or more crazy, depending on whom you ask); finishing a half marathon or a marathon.
What is it about training for long-distance endurance events that make so many adults gravitate toward them? Simply stated: long-distance running is a game-changer, a life-changer. And again, a calculator can help you figure out your total daily energy expenditure.
So how does distance running improve your health exactly?
For starters, you’re outside, soaking in that Vitamin D.
According to a recent study, a “vitamin D deficiency may be a risk factor for late-life depression”. So just by getting outside, you can boost your mood and overall outlook on life.
That alone might be enough for some people. But there are a lot of other benefits too, such as:
- “Runner’s High” created by the endorphins rushing through your body when you run
- 25%–40% reduced risk of premature mortality. Runners live about 3 years longer than non-runners. (source)
- Between 29% and 50% lower risks of cardiovascular disease (source)
- A “large drop in body weight” (source)
- 40% improved bone density (source)
- 13% improvement in testosterone (source)
So those reasons pretty much speak for themselves.
Generally speaking, you may live longer, have fewer issues with things like osteoporosis, have less body fat, and men can get back some of that testosterone they lose as they age.
Do distance runners live longer?
A recent study by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that “Running, even 5 to 10 min/day and at slow speeds <6 miles/h, is associated with markedly reduced risks of death from all causes and cardiovascular disease.”
They found an up to 50% improvement in cardiovascular issues for runners compared to non-runners. They concluded that “nonrunners had 3 years’ lower life expectancy compared with runners”
So yes, scientifically speaking, runners may live, on average, at least 3 years longer than non-runners. (source)
What counts as long-distance running?
Simply put, long-distance running refers to running a distance of at least 5 miles.
In athletics, however, long-distance races can be as short as under 2 miles (they often go by kilometers). Long-distance tracks can be as much as 6 miles.
The Summer Olympics features 3 long-distance running events: a 5k, 10k and 42k marathon.
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What benefits does running have on the body?
Running far can be meditative. Many people say that running is a very cathartic activity for them.
Haters will say that running is boring. They will say that it’s literally just putting one foot in front of the other, hundreds of thousands of times.
But people who love running say that it’s this simplicity that makes the activity so enjoyable.
We are so hyper-connected all the time to each other, the world, and our device. Running can be one of the few times where we hit “pause” and disconnect from it all.
You can also think of it as a form of moving meditation.
Doing so allows us to actually connect with nature, and ourselves. Most people will say that they finish a run feeling profoundly better than they did when they started.
But to get specific aside from what I mentioned above, you’ll see below that the health benefits of long-distance running can include:
- Risk reductions for hypertension & diabetes (source)
- Better sleep (source)
- Overall improvement in metabolism (source)
11 Best Health Benefits of Long Distance Running You Must Know!
1. IT’S A GREAT LOW IMPACT WORKOUT
Running far, especially on trails, can be a gentle workout for your body as you age.
There are a lot of high-impact workouts out there that are really fun and energizing. Sometimes though, they are pretty rough on our bodies. They can be especially hard as we are aging and/or are postpartum.
Running isn’t a contact sport in the way that football is, but your body still absorbs a ton of force with each step you make.
In fact, some studies suggest that your body receives four times the amount of force of your body weight each time your foot hits the floor.
As we age, and in particular, postpartum, running long on trails can help to mitigate the pounding that we’d otherwise get from running long distances on roads. Plus, running trails is like playing in nature’s playground (such pretty views!) Constantly changing your pace to account for varying terrain and steep ascents or descents will help to minimize your injury risk, compared to the alternative of running on flat roads at a consistent pace.
Dealing with injuries or preventing them is one aspect of running. You have to wear the correct running shoes and understand biomechanics. You also have this guide covering injuries affecting runners, scenarios that may have caused the strain, and the appropriate first-aid treatment.
2. IMPROVES STAMINA
Running will greatly increase and enhance your endurance capacities.
This is a no-brainer, but one of the primary health benefits of long-distance running is that you can dramatically increase your endurance capacities.
Very few of us can simply go out and run for 20 miles at a time. With the proper training, however, we can teach our bodies how to do so efficiently and safely. You never know when you may need to be so aerobically fit, and plus, it’s a lot of fun!
Training to run long distances is an amazing opportunity to make new friends as adults and to explore new locations, both near and far to you. As adults, and especially as parents, life doesn’t afford us many opportunities like this.
3. LIVE LONGER & HEALTHIER
Running long distances can help alleviate some health ailments.
If you are suffering from conditions like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, training to run long distances can help manage those issues. Also, be sure to talk to your doctor first before starting any new exercise program.
A study by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology looked at over 55,000 people over 15 years. About 25% of the group were runners. They concluded that runners had a 45% reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality and added 3 years to their lifespan.
Another study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology found that “jogging was associated with significantly lower all-cause mortality and a substantial increase in survival for both men and women.”
They went on to say that “they had a lower systolic blood pressure, lower alcohol intake, lower cholesterol, and lower frequency of diabetes. This was true for both sexes.”
Struggling with high cholesterol?
Take the health benefits of long-distance running even further with regards to cholesterol. Check out a recent article about the best Natural Cholesterol Lowering Foods & High Cholesterol Remedies.
Just click that link to read it on my site.
4. BETTER GASTRO HEALTH
Running can improve your gastrointestinal system.
If you ever spend any amount of time around runners, you’ve probably heard us talk about poop; it’s basically a fact of life. Running long distances can do a wonder for your gastrointestinal system.
Sure, there will be times when you may experience a “code brown” — a nice way of saying that you need to poop mid-run. But for many runners, running long distances routinely helps to make their digestive system run pretty regularly, like clockwork.
5. BETTER SLEEP
Running can help you sleep better at night.
As parents, many of us often don’t get the sleep that we need. We often get too little sleep each night or not enough quality sleep each night.
Some of that is unavoidable, of course, thanks to the demands of children, but some of that may also be in our control.
When you train to run long distances, your body adapts to the ever-changing stressors that you throw at it. But you actually make all your fitness gains when you’re at rest. In other words, during your sleep.
A recent study by the National Institutes of Health found that “Aerobic physical activity (including running) . . . is an effective treatment approach to improve sleep quality, mood, and quality of life.”
Your body will begin to crave good, quality sleep in a way that you may not have experienced before. Better sleep is linked to several positive health outcomes, and as parents, we all know how important good sleep is to our health and livelihoods.
This is one of the best of the health benefits of long-distance running since improved sleep leads to many other benefits.
6. YOU’LL CRAVE BETTER FOODS
Running far can help you make better dietary choices.
Just as running will help your body to crave good, quality sleep, so, too, will it also help you make better dietary choices than what you were making before.
It’s not that once you become a runner that you’ll be magically inured to the temptations of sweet treats. It’s simply that you’ll likely want them less often. Runners will tell you that there’s a very clear cause-and-effect relationship between what they eat and the quality of their runs, likening it to simple garbage in, garbage out scenario.
When you consistently fuel your body with high-quality, nutrient-dense foods, you’ll run better and enjoy your runs more.
Just as is the case with sleep, there are tons of positive health outcomes related to consuming a high-quality, nutrient-dense diet. So one of the biggest health benefits of long-distance running is how running impacts our other habits.
If you have kids, help get them on the right path too!
In a recent article, I break down all my favorite foods that I feed my 3 kids. They are healthy, but my kids don’t pitch a fit either!
Just click that link to read it on my site.
7. MANAGE STRESS
Running far can be a huge stress relief.
Closely related to my above point, if you’re stressed out, instead of self-medicating with pills, alcohol, or drugs, do yourself a huge favor: go for a run.
You’ll likely find peace and solace in the sounds of your own footfall. Walking (or running, as it were) away from the noise of the world can be life-changing.
Some people, myself included, refer to running as “moving meditation.” Once you start doing it, you’ll see why; I have no doubt.
Being a parent is hugely stressful. We often feel as though we’re being pulled in a hundred different directions at any given time. Giving yourself the chance to run will make you feel like you’ve filled up your cup.
And it’ll be from this full cup that you’ll be better able to help and serve others around you.
8. REDUCED RISK OF CANCER
In the British Journal of Sports Medicine, they conducted a study that looked at over 2,500 men over more than 15 years.
Not only did they find that physical activity did reduce the risk of getting cancer, specifically they found that those who ran for 30 minutes (or more) per day saw “a 50 percent reduction in the risk of dying prematurely from cancer.”
That alone might be the most important of the health benefits of long-distance running.
9. IMPROVED MENTAL HEALTH
Running far can make you happier.
Last but not least, running long distances can make you happier and profoundly change your mental health.
There’s a saying in the running community that “running is cheaper than therapy,” and once you start running long, you’ll understand what it means.
The researchers at Karolinska Institute in Sweden looked at how jogging can positively impact stress-induced depression. They found that a “well-trained muscle produces an enzyme that purges the body of harmful substances”, specifically the enzyme called KAT.
A substance called kynurenine is produced in the body under stress. KATs convert this substance so it can pass through the body instead of being stored. High levels of kynurenine are found in patients with mental illness.
The researchers went on to say that this “appears to have a detoxification effect that, when activated, can protect the brain from insults and related mental illness.”
10. INCREASE IN CAPILLARY DENSITY
Capillaries send essential nutrients & waste to and from our body’s tissues, affecting fatigue and endurance. Thus they play a hugely important role in our overall health.
A recent study by the Journal of Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis found that consistent aerobic exercise, such as long-distance running, can increase capillary density by over 25 percent.
Increased capillary density improves oxygen flow to muscles and improves the body’s ability to remove damaging waste.
11. YOU’LL DRINK MORE WATER
Water and breath are the 2 most important cornerstones of life.
One of the health benefits of long-distance running is that you will naturally drink more water. Your body will crave water after a run and you’ll get used to drinking more even in between runs.
According to the Mayo Clinic, men need about 1 gallon of water daily and women need slightly less. But temperatures, how much time you spend outside and how much exercise you do can affect those numbers.
One of the best ways to consume water is having a high-quality water filter at home where you can have an endless supply of water, refilling your water bottle and not contributing to the overproduction of plastic water bottles.
The RKIN Zero Installation Purifier Countertop Reverse Osmosis Water Filter (click to see it on their site) is one of the best units on the market.
It not only purifies tap water, but it also removes up to 99% of not only chlorine, heavy metals, and other contaminants but also fluoride as well, which most water filters don’t remove. It also alkalizes the water increasing the health benefits for your body.
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In this post, we looked into the world of long-distance running.
We defined exactly what long-distance running is but we also explored how many years longer, on average, runners live compared to non-runners.
Specifically, though, we looked at the top health benefits of long-distance running so you can decide if running makes sense for you.
Take the first step and go lace up right now and see where your feet take you. It probably won’t be too far, and it likely won’t be too fast, but we all started somewhere.
Be patient and flexible in your journey, and I can guarantee you that you’ll blow your own expectations and goals out of the water; just give yourself a chance to change your life.
After all, what have you got to lose?
The co-author of this post, Jane Grates, is a runner and a mother of two gorgeous kids and runs the site runnerclick.com. Acting at the sweet spot between simplicity and sustainability to craft an inspiring, compelling and authentic narrative.
Want to write for Middle Class Dad? Get all the info you need here: Guest Blog for Middle Class Dad!
I also have to add that neither Jane nor I am doctors, health practitioners, scientists or any other position related to health, wellness or medicine. Thus the opinions expressed here are simply our thoughts and views based on our experience and research and they should not be construed as medical advice. If you need medical advice, please consult a doctor or health practitioner. Any exercise, medication or symptom reducing device can have risks. Talk to your doctor about these risks and before taking on any action mentioned in this post.
Some of the images used in this post were acquired from the web and are considered “fair use” under US Copyright law given this post is to review these products. That being said if the original photographer prefers us to not use their photo, we will happily swap them out upon being contacted.