Run for your health
Regular exercise, including running, improves the health of people from young to old.
Early research into running focused on its obvious cardiovascular benefits. More recent research points to the role of running in reducing the rate of deaths from other causes, including diabetes, malignancies and neurological disorders. In addition, research suggests that running helps you sleep better and enhances mental health. In short, runners have a notable survival advantage. Here is a summary of some of the more significant health benefits associated with running (or other vigorous forms of exercise):
Running, even 5-10 minutes per day and slow speeds <6 mph, is associated with markedly reduced risks of death from all causes and cardiovascular disease (Journal of Amer. Coll. Cardiology, 2014: Leisure-Time Running Reduces All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality Risk).
Studied over a 21-year period, runners have fewer disabilities, a longer span of active life and are half as likely as aging non-runners to die early deaths (Archives of Internal Medicine, 2008: Reduced Disability and Mortality among Aging Runners: a 21-year Longitudinal Study).
That sense of well-being, freedom and extra energy that runners often experience (popularly known as “runners’ high”) is not just a matter of endorphins. Recent studies point to a complex interaction of neurotransmitters including dopamine and leptin (Cell Metabolism, 2015: 10.1016/j.cmet.2015.08.003).
Stanford researchers have also studied the mental health outcomes associated with just being out in nature, whether it be walking or running. A study found that nature-walkers not only self-reported decreased “rumination” (generally defined as an unrelenting cycle of negative thoughts and worry), but fMRI scans of their brains also showed decreased neural activity in an area of the brain associated with mental illness (the subgenual prefrontal cortex). Urban-walkers, however, experienced neither of these effects (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2015: Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenualprefrontal cortex activation).
It has been shown that even moderate exercise improves sleep quality (American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 2010: Exercise as a Treatment to Enhance Sleep). Even for people who suffer from pronounced insomnia symptoms, exercise interventions can lead to improvements in subjective sleep quality (Clinical Psychology Review, 2019: Does exercise improve sleep for adults with insomnia? A systematic review with quality appraisal).
Many people worry that running will ruin their knees or other parts of the body. However, studies reveal that the activity may in fact benefit the joint, changing the biochemical environment inside the knee in ways that could help keep it working smoothly (European Journal of Applied Physiology, 2016: Running decreases knee intra-articular cytokine and cartilage oligomeric matrix concentrations). Another study found no association between a history of running and higher risk of symptomatic knee osteoarthritis (Arthritis Care Research, 2017: History of Running is Not Associated with Higher Risk of Symptomatic Knee Osteoarthritis).
Only ultramarathoners tip the orthopedic health scale to the negative, in that they endure a much greater prevalence of stress fractures in the feet. However, by most other health measures, ultramarathoners are still healthier than the general population (PLOS ONE, 2014: Ultrarunners Longitudinal Tracking Study – baseline findings as reported in: Study provides glimpse into health of ultramarathon runners).
Interested in running on or near the Stanford campus?
Runners on running at Stanford
Concerned about running safety?
See these tips
Interested in exercise, but not sure you want to take up running?
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Tree Maps and Tree Walks
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Exercising with limitations
Working out in winter weather
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