Wondering About the Health Benefits of Long Distance Running?By now, we all know how important having a good diet and exercise routine is for our health. Our parents told us this stuff when we were little. They forced us to eat our vegetables and not watch TV all the time. Now we, as parents, have to work to get our kids away from their beloved screens and outside in nature (and yes, they, too, still need to eat their spinach). Despite us knowing this common sense knowledge, many of us, especially when we become parents, let our own exercise routines fall to the wayside. We tell ourselves that we no longer have the time to do it. All our free time is taken up by our family, our career, and our kids’ ever-growing list of needs and priorities. In effect, however, we’re telling ourselves that our health is less important than that of our families. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. Not sure where to start? Let's talk about the health benefits of long distance running!
The proven power of putting our health higher on the priority list
A lot of parents will return to some sort of exercise routine mid-life. They do this as their children begin to age some. For many, it's after they’ve undergone some sort of real-life health scare or health warning from their doctor. 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 makes so many adults gravitate toward them? Simply stated: long distance running is a game changer, a life changer. You have no idea how profoundly running long can affect your life until you do it. Below, I’ll describe in detail some health benefits of long distance running. I’ve been running for nearly all my life. I’ve spent the past 11 years training for, and racing, anything from 5ks to 50ks. Most of my running volume has been focused on the marathon distance. It’s safe to say that I love this stuff and that I know what I’m talking about. My goal isn’t necessarily to recruit or evangelize about running. But I think parents stand greatly to benefit from learning about and implementing the health benefits of long distance running.
Pip Candrick was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2011. Despite two critical operations and a series of harrowing setbacks, the 53-year-old has reclaimed her life – and her memories – through long-distance running.https://t.co/FFUWWdelnP pic.twitter.com/4diCHtSA61— MiNDFOOD (@mindfood_mag) February 18, 2018
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.
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. 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, you'll see below that the health benefits of long distance running can include:
- Improved circulation
- Better heart health
- Improved sleep
- Overall improvement in gut bacteria & metabolism
11 Best Health Benefits of Long Distance Running You Must Know!
1. IT'S A GREAT LOW IMPACT WORKOUTRunning 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.
2. IMPROVES STAMINARunning 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 & HEALTHIERRunning 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 a 15 year period. 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." And to take the health benefits of long distance running even further with regards to cholesterol, check out the best Natural Cholesterol Lowering Foods & High Cholesterol Remedies.
4. BETTER GASTRO HEALTHRunning 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 have a need to poop mid-run. But for many runners, running long distance routinely helps to make their digestive system run pretty regularly, like clockwork.
5. BETTER SLEEPRunning can help you sleep better at night. As parents, many of us often don’t get the sleep that we need. We are often strapped with 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 a number of 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 FOODSRunning 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 a 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. Plus, when you’re eating healthy, you’ll be instilling Healthy Eating Habits for Your Children, so everyone wins!
7. MANAGE STRESSRunning 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 CANCERIn 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 HEALTHRunning 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 DENSITYCapillaries 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 WATERWater 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 ZIP Countertop Reverse Osmosis Water Filter 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.
These are just a handful of the numerous health benefits of long distance running. 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 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!