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10 Best Benefits Of Running (As Well As Some Risks)

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These are the best benefits of running (and some risks)
Health And Wellness

It's one of the most popular ways to exercise.

Going for a run is a popular form of exercise, but it's also sort of like the cilantro of fitness: Everyone seems to love it or hate it, with few in between. Still, it's hard to deny that there are plenty of exciting benefits of running.

As a form of cardio exercise that's easily accessible, running is one of the most straightforward ways to get the important benefits of exercise. According to Tony Carvajal, a Certified CrossFit Trainer with RSP Nutrition“Running is strongly associated with a number of benefits for our bodies and brains."

Whether or not you're a runner, here are the upsides associated with running, as well as some risks.

1. It’s good for your lifestyle.

If you live in a city, odds are pretty high that there’s a running club you can join. Most are free, and all are a great way to meet people and see your city in a new light. “Most running groups are extremely social, usually capped off with post-run get-togethers at the local bar or coffee shop,” says Brian Van Cleave, body architect at Anatomy at 1 Hotel South Beach.

Running solo is great, but finding someone around your same pace is the single best way to make the miles go by like a breeze.

“Runners are also famously friendly, and eager to introduce themselves and bring you under their wing. Running is also a great way to get to know your hometown like you’ve never known it before. A path through the woods? Take it! A boardwalk along the water? Check it out! When your only mode of transportation is your own two feet, there’s no limit to where you can go,” Van Cleave suggests.

And the same is true for when you travel. A charming little cobbled alley in the heart of Paris? Sounds good!

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2. It’s good for your soul.

It sometimes takes a few “bad” runs for it to take its full effect, but have you ever heard someone talk about a “runner’s high”? “When we go for a run, the pleasure centers in our brain light up, as dopamine and serotonin flood our brain with all sorts of feel-good signals,” advises Van Cleave.

And if the head-rush isn’t enough to get you out the door, it’s also been proven to reduce stress and improve sleep quality. According to Van Cleave, “Try going for a run with no headphones and you’ll find that after just a few blocks you’re already entering an almost-meditative state. There will be hills that will make you want to walk, or rain that will make you want to turn back toward home, but overcoming these little obstacles makes life’s bigger obstacles a whole lot easier to manage."

But just like anything else, practice makes perfect. Stick with it and it’ll become easier. Next thing you know, you’ll be hooked.

3. Running significantly improves overall physical health.

Running is actually a great way to increase your overall level of health. “Research shows that running can raise your levels of good cholesterol while also helping you increase lung function and use,” says Carvajal.

The shape of our hips and feet, the length of our legs, our shock-absorbing spinal discs make it possible for us to run for miles. In other words, as healthy humans we were built to run. In addition, running can also boost your immune system and lower your risk of developing blood clots.

4. It can reduce stress and symptoms of depression.

A number of studies have shown that aerobic exercise can improve people's ability to cope with stress and many of those studies focus especially on runners.

“Endurance based training (i.e., running) builds resilience to stress and a higher ability to focus for longer periods of time. Spending 30 minutes on a treadmill is enough to lift the mood, helping the brain produce mood enhancing endorphins and raising serotonin levels,” Carvajal says.

5. It strengthens your knees, joints and bones.

Running has been scientifically proven to increase bone mass and even helps prevent age-related bone loss. Carvajal says, “Studies show that running improves knee health, directly related to blood flow to the knee capsule making the knee stronger and healthier.” How about that?

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6. Running helps you sleep better and longer.

There's a substantial body of scientific evidence that shows exercise helps improve sleep. And being physically active requires you to expend energy, and helps you feel more tired and ready to rest at the end of the day.

According to Carvajal, “Making exercises like running part of your regular routine can contribute to healthier, more restful sleep, and may help improve sleep issues such as insomnia. Long runs can give a boost to sleep in several ways. Physical activity increases time spent in deep sleep, the most physically restorative sleep phase. Deep sleep helps to boost immune function, support cardiac health, and control stress and anxiety.”

7. It can help you live longer.

Running and other forms of aerobic exercise significantly reduce your chances of death.

As Carvajal warns, “People who meet baseline exercise guidelines are significantly less likely to develop a number of forms of cancer. Many experts consider exercise to be the closest thing to a miracle drug. The more exercise, the lower the risk of death.

For example, taking a light jog for 10 minutes a day produces 33 percent lower risk of death than those who have no physical activity. As you might expect, higher-intensity exercise has even greater reductions in mortality risk than lower-intensity exercise.” So the longer and harder you run, the longer you live.

8. Running increases your metabolism and burns calories for hours after running.

While you don't have much control over your metabolic rate, running on a regular basis can temporarily increase your metabolism, which burns calories for energy.

“This can lead to a reduction in your body-fat percentage and and overall weight loss. Running at 70 percent output for 25-30 minutes will rev your body’s resting metabolic rate up for 8-10 hours prior to your run,” says Carvajal.

9. Sex is better if you run.

Running can be great for restoring strength and function in the pelvic floor (the Kegel muscles). Says Every Mother founder, Leah Keller, “Both engaging and releasing the pelvic floor muscles are important for balance and function. To coordinate these actions while running, lift your abs toward the spine and perform a Kegel with each exhalation to protect your back and stabilize your pelvis.”

With each inhalation, allow the abs to relax and the pelvic floor to lengthen. “This will happen naturally when you release the muscle. Breathing correctly is vital to prevent injury! If abs + Kegels = too much to think about, focus on drawing your navel up and in as you exhale (a Kegel usually happens automatically when you do that)," Keller advises.  While running, make each inhalation a full, diaphragmatic breath, allowing the entire torso to expand and relax.

10. But there is a downside.

“Running is great for cardiovascular health, but the downside is that it's terrible for the body,” says Michael Kuang, CEO of Syphon Fitness. “I discourage people from running and find something that's less damaging.”

Most people start running or sign up for a race because they want to become more healthy. So their first instinct is to start running more. But, says Kuang, “I'm all for people getting started in a healthy lifestyle, but the majority of the population has spent the majority of their life sitting. This causes imbalances in the body due to muscular tension and weakness that develops from a sedentary lifestyle.”

Running is a sport, and you have to train for it properly. “Everyone will have different movement patterns, so it's hard to give a blanket statement on how to train. But if you start feeling discomfort in those areas, it may be time to look at what's causing it,” advises Kuang.

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Aly Walansky is a NY-based lifestyles writer. Her work appears in dozens of digital and print publications regularly. Visit her on Twitter or email her at alywalansky@gmail.com.