The 13 Science-Backed Benefits Of Running You Need to Know About

Running is one of the best calorie-burning, ass-kicking cardio aerobic exercises out there. It can help you manage your weight, increase endurance, improve cardiovascular function, etc.

Logging the miles may also protect you against chronic diseases, such as obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, stroke, and a host of other health ailments.

But that’s not the whole story.

Exercise, especially running, may change the very structure and function of the brain, leading to long-term increases in both cerebral power and longevity.

But what does the research say? Are there any scientific papers that support these running benefits?

Of course, and plenty. You shouldn’t take work for it.

Looking for more benefits? Well, you’re in the right place. In today’s post, dear reader, I will delve into some of the most important health benefits of running that are supported by sound science.

Sounds great?

Let’s lace up and dig in.

Running Benefit No 1 – Your Heart Health

It’s been long established that exercise, mainly cardio training, does your heart good.

What’s the proof? Let’s check out some of the studies.

Study I

Running can lower your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol—the main risk factors for cardiovascular diseases and stroke—according to a study conducted at The Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, Life Science Division.

Study II

According to a report published in November 2013 in Circulation, aerobic exercises such as running, swimming and cycling have an enormous positive impact on blood pressure and hypertension in individuals suffering from this condition.

The same research has also tied up reductions in blood pressure to moderate to intense physical exercise of roughly three-month duration, on average, lasting for 40 to 50 minutes a session.

Study III

Another research of female runners published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that regular running could contribute to drastic increases in HDL levels—the good cholesterol—while lowering LDL levels, the bad kind.

How does exercise help prevent heart issues?

By accomplishing the following:

  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Strengthening of the heart muscles
  • Increase heart’s working capacity
  • Improving blood flow
  • Improving high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or good cholesterol
  • Decreasing unhealthy triglycerides
  • Lowering blood sugar levels

How much is enough?

The American Heart Association recommends shooting for at least 150-minute of medium-intensity physical exercise per week. This should be enough to keep your blood pressure within the healthy range.

Running Benefit No 2 –  Prevents Obesity

Obesity puts you at an increased risk for many health troubles, such as arthritis, diabetes, heart diseases, kidney failure, etc.

As a matter of fact, name a condition, and there’s a strong chance that being overweight has something to do with it.

Here’s the good news.

What works very well for managing obesity is exercise (along with a healthy diet, of course).

I got into running as a way to stay fit and manage my weight. Chances are you’re into it for similar reasons.

In fact, when I ask my friends and my blog readers about their motivation to take up running, 8 out of 10 express their desire to lose weight.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise as to why.

At about 100 calories per mile, running offers a fairly good bang for your buck.

That might not seem like much, but it adds up as you accumulate more miles.

Let me break down the benefits of running in terms of weight loss in simpler terms.

The Number’s Games

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decades, then you already know that weight loss is just a numbers game: Calories in vs. Calories Out.

The formula is simple: Run harder, cover more miles, shed more calories.

In theory, to lose one pound, you’ll have to burn the equivalent of 3500 calories. That’s the calorie deficit principle.

Don’t get me wrong.

Intense exercise is just one part. Diet also matters, and it matters a lot. Without a proper, you’re doomed to fail sooner than later.

In contrast to popular belief, runners cannot eat whatever they want—even the endurance freaks logging +100 miles a week. You cannot outrun a bad diet.

Burns More Calories  

According to research conducted at the Medical College of Wisconsin and VA Medical Center, running on the treadmill at a challenging level can burn 700 to 800 calories in one hour.

In contrast, other cardio machines such as the stationary bike, the stair climbers, and the rower all shed far fewer calories than running.

Keeps Belly Fat Away

Running is far more effective in both achieving weight loss and preventing weight gain afterward.

According to a Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise study of over 100,000 runners, those who logged in about 30 or more miles a week gained fewer pounds in their bellies all through their mid-life years than those who ran less than ten miles per week.

Better Than Walking For Weight Loss

Research published in the publication, titled “Greater Weight Loss From Running Than Walking,” and conducted at the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory in Berkley, California, compared weight loss and weight maintenance by analyzing survey data from 15,000 walkers and 32,000 runners who enrolled in the six-year study.

Both groups lost weight, but the Runner’s Group shed more pounds.

The Post-Run Calorie Burn Feast

You know that running sheds calories while you’re pounding the pavement.

But there is more to it. In fact, the calorie burn continues after you stop running—that’s what’s known as the “after-burn,” which refers to the number of calories you burn after a workout.

This is also known as excess post oxygen consumption (EPOC) in scientific circles. In laymen’s terms, EPOC is the number of calories spent above resting that your body is using up to revert itself to its pre-exercise levels after a workout.

In other words, this means that your body’s metabolism can continue to burn more calories even at complete rest.

Running Benefit No 3 –  Run away from Cancer

Cancer. The deadly disease. The curse of the modern age.

Recent statistics have put it as the third biggest killer in the world. Each year cancer claims the lives of over 500,000 people in the U.S. alone.

The most common cancers are breast cancer, lung and bronchus cancer, colon and rectum cancer, and prostate cancer.

Here’s the good news.

According to a review of 170 epidemiological experiments published in the Journal Nutrition, regular exercise may help drastically reduce the risks of many types of cancers.

Here are three more studies:

Study I

Research published in the British Journal of Cancer concluded that the most active individuals—those who walked briskly for up to 6 hours per week—were about 25 percent less likely to develop colon cancer than those who walked only 30 minutes per week.

Study II

Consistent, moderate-to-intense aerobic exercise can reduce markers of increased colon cancer risk in men, according to research conducted by the Public Health Sciences Division, and was published in an issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention.

More specifically, men who engage in regular cardio exercise of over one hour per day, six days a week, had a huge reduction in the cellular propagation patterns in the colon linked to polyps and—over time—cancer.

Study III

Regular exercise has been well documented to be effective at limiting the recurrence of cancer. Research reveals that those who kicked out the disease are less likely to have it return if they engage in plenty of physical exercise post-treatment.

According to an evidence-based meta-analysis of 67 articles that examined some of the lifestyle factors that influence breast cancer recurrence rates, including weight management, exercise, nutrition habits, smoking, etc.

The conclusion?

The researchers revealed that exercise and weight management are the most crucial lifestyle choices for cutting the risks of cancer recurrence and mortality of breast cancer.

This review was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Study IV

Exercising regularly helps soothe some of the side effects of cancer treatment, such as fatigue and nausea, for almost all cancer patients, according to a study.

It also helps with recurrence. According to research, regular exercise may cut the recurrence rate for those with breast cancer by a significant margin, in part by regulating hormone levels.

Running Benefit No 4 –  Improves Your Bone Health

You lose a lot of bone mass as you get older, which puts you at a higher risk for health issues, such as osteoporosis. This is a severe condition that afflicts about 200 million people worldwide—with about 40 million in the U.S. alone, according to the National Institute of Health.

Osteoporosis is characterized by feeble and easily broken bones, especially articulating bones,  such as the spine column, shoulders, hips, and wrists. The condition happens when your body produces more breaking down material (osteoclast) but less building material (osteoblast)

Once again, working out regularly is vital for maintaining—even improving—your bone health.

Research shows that weight-bearing exercise can help you slow this bone loss. Putting weight on your bones—whether by running, lifting weights, swimming, you name it—triggers and stimulates the growth of new bone.

Stay Happy, Get Happier

I love running because it’s one of the best things I do to reduce stress and elevate my mood. This is not a secret as a lot of people take up running for similar reasons.

Check out the following research papers.

Study I

Research reported in the Journal of Sports Medicine & Physical Fitness revealed that regular exercise helped to reduce patients’ scores on the Depression, Anxiety & Stress Scale, or DASS for short.

But that’s not the whole story.

Study II

A study published in Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise reported that runners enjoy high levels of tryptophan, a brain biochemical needed for the production of serotonin, a mood-elevating neurotransmitter.

People with low serotonin levels often experience anxiety, insomnia, depression, and the urge to overeat.

Classic antidepressant medication work by keeping mood-improving neurotransmitter such as norepinephrine and serotonin in the system longer.

And according to research, running does the same thing. In fact, research shows that pounding the pavement might be just as effective, or even more so, than SSRI drugs in treating depression and other “diseases of the mind.”

In other words, unlike other chemical shortcuts to happiness—AKA medication—running is far cheaper, healthier, and does not come with a comedown or withdrawal symptom.

Running Benefit No 5 –  Stress Relief

Stress has severe negative effects on your mental processes, emotional state, behavior, and body.

Common undesirable effects include (and not limited to) intense headaches, chest pain, muscle tension, accident, anger issues, weight gain, change in sex drive, sleep problems, Etc.

But here is the good

According to research, cardio exercise can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.

This is the conclusion of a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, titled “Physical Exercise Prevents Stress-Induced Activation of Granule Neurons and Enhances Local Inhibitory Mechanism in the Dentate Gyrus.”  Long title; simple conclusion.

So, why is exercise so helpful?

Running, and other forms of cardio exercises give your Endorphins a jolt.

But first things first, what are endorphins?

In essence, these are the good feel, natural hormones that promote a sense of well-being, lowering stress, and improving your mood levels.

Endorphins are secreted by the brain’s hypothalamus and pituitary gland, and the more endorphins your brain releases, the greater the effect. These are also structurally similar to their medically engineered counterpart, morphine.

Science backs this up.  According to German researchers from the fields of Nuclear Medicine, Neurology, and Anesthesia at the Technische Universität München (TUM) and the University of Bonn. The study was reported in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

More specifically, ten subjects’ brains were scanned both before and after a two-hour long-distance run using a positron emission tomography (PET), which is an advanced imaging technique.

At the end of the study, the researchers found that the athlete’s prefrontal and limbic regions (a set of brain structures located on both sides of the thalamus and appears to largely impact emotions) secreted high amounts of endorphins.

Furthermore, exercise can also work as an antidepressant by helping your brain hold on to mood-enhancing neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, according to research.

To make the most out of it, run in quiet, off the road and green spaces instead of the noisy, polluted, and crowded streets, what’s known as trail running. Running, especially in nature, promotes the release of these potent brain chemicals.

Running Benefit No 6 –  Sleep Better while Running

Suffering from insomnia? Look no further than running to cure your “Nuit Blanche.”

Sleep disorders affect millions of adults. Surveys report that about 50 percent of people aged 50 and older complain of symptoms of chronic insomnia and other serious sleep issues.

Again, you could improve sleep quality with regular aerobic exercise.

Who knew that!!

According to research conducted at Northwestern Medicine, Regular running can reduce, even completely cure, insomnia.

Participants in the research reported that their sleep quality improved tremendously while following a consistent exercise program.

The subjects also reported fewer gloomy and depressive symptoms as well as feeling better alerted and more productive.

Outdoor running may promote better sleep as it increases exposure to sunlight or bright light. This helps properly adjust your body temperature and shift your rhythmic pattern, which makes it easier to fall asleep and improves sleep quality at night and fresh by day.

Running Benefit No 7 –  Boost brainpower

Hitting the track won’t only make you physically fitter, it’ll bolster the structure and function of your brain as well.

Studies suggest that improvements in mental functioning among runners were connected with the short-lived endorphins rush from working out. In the research, the subjects were able to complete cognitive tests faster and better than they did before exercising.

But researchers from Finland have shown that these brain gains might be independent of recent physical activity.

The researchers found that rats with high aerobic capacity routinely excelled in learning tasks, even when they had done no recent exercise. The scientists are confident that it’s the same case with humans.

Running Benefit No 8 –  Prevent Head Pounders

If you suffer from migraines, consider taking up running instead of a pill.

According to a study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, regular cardio exercise can decrease the frequency and severity of head pounders by reducing tension.

Subjects who opted for a 10-week running program reported a decline of roughly 40 percent in the amount and intensity of migraines – as much as they’d get from medication.

The reason behind this steep drop is simple: exercise, as we have already seen, decreases the levels of stress hormones (one common culprit behind headaches).

Outdoor running also offers a mental escape like nothing else, especially if you work indoor for the long haul.

This might not solve all of your troubles but can grant you perspective.

And sometimes, all we need is a bit of perspective.

Running Benefit No 9 –  Running Makes you Smart

It’s been long known that exercise promotes the creation of new nerve cells and blood vessels within the brain, an organ that tends to shrink in both size and power as we age, research shows.

Here are a few studies for more details

Study I

Running and other forms of cardio exercise triggers the growth of new nerve cells—neurogenesis—and blood vessels, angiogenesis, which combines to increase brain tissue volume, according to research conducted at the University of Maryland.

This is critical as previous research has shown that brain tissue volume contracts as we age.  In fact, we begin to lose brain tissue as early as our late 20’s. Exercise helps maintain grey and white matter proportion, the width and depth of the sulcus gyrus, which correlates with memory.

Study II

A report coming out of the University of Georgia shows that running might lead to nerve function regeneration—an essential ingredient in optimal and healthy cerebral functioning.

This research was reported in the Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and showed that those who exercised regularly increased the volume of their hippocampus—the part of the brain associated with learning and memory—by up to two percent, compared to sedentary peers.

This might not sound like a big deal until you realize, once again, that this region of the brain isn’t known for increases in both size and power during adulthood.

Study III

Sustained aerobic exercise appears to increase these reserves in adult animals far more than high-intensity training and resistance training.

These findings were reached by scientists at the Department of Psychology and Department of Biology of Physical Activity at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland after assessing the effects of sustained cardio, high-intensity training, and resistance training on adult brain cell neurogenesis in male rats.

Running Benefit No 10 –  Think different

According to a study published in the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), running boosts the growth of new nerve cells, called neurogenesis, and new blood vessels, called angiogenesis.

These two processes are key for increasing brain tissue volume, which otherwise contracts as we get older.

In addition, degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s can take their toll on brain structure, losing many vital brain functions.

Of course, running—or any other form of exercise— can’t “cure” Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, but it’s the best way to potentially help you ward off age-related brain troubles and live a healthier and longer life.

Running Benefit No 11 –  Quick Recall

Running regularly improves memory and learning.

A study of subjects suffering from early stages of Alzheimer’s disease revealed that those who followed an aerobic training program had better memory capabilities than sedentary peers.

In another study published in Perceptual and Motor Skills, subjects scored 20 percent better on memory tests following a running session than they did before working out.

Running Benefit No 12 –  Get Productive

If you’re looking to get more productive on your job, then running can provide you with an edge. Research shows that employees who follow an exercise program regularly are more productive and enjoy higher energy levels than their sedentary colleagues.

More specifically, a study from the International Journal of Workplace Health Management revealed that subjects who hit the gym during their workday were 23 percent more productive than they had no workout.

To get the best out of your running session, do it first thing in the morning or at midday. Starting the day with a workout will get your mental engines firing high for the rest of the day.

Running Benefit No 13 –  Runners Suffer From Fewer Disabilities/ And Live Longer

If you’re looking to live a long and healthy life, get up and running, according to research.

Study I

Running slows the aging clock, according to research conducted at the Stanford University School of Medicine and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The researchers tracked 538 runners and 423 healthy non-runners for a 21-year period, from 1984 until 2005.

All the participants were over 50 and were asked to take a health and disability assessment each year measuring mundane tasks like walking,  opening a milk carton, getting out of a chair, gripping objects, cutting meat, etc.

The conclusion? Older runners suffered from fewer disabilities, led a long active life, and were as half as likely as non-runners to die prematurely, the researchers revealed.

In fact, the running group was leaner, younger, had better balance control and were less likely to develop unhealthy habits, like smoking, compared with the control, nonactive group. At the end of the study, 85 percent were still kicking, with only 66 of the non-runners.

In other words, running (and other forms of vigorous exercise) is associated with pain-free and productive aging.

Study II

According to a 13-year prospective cohort study of over 370 members of a sports club for runners aged 50 or older and 249 control subjects with an average age of 59, with an annual analysis of the Health Assessment Questionnaire disability score, keeping track of any deaths and their causes.

The researchers concluded that running and other forms of aerobic exercise in elderly individuals could help prevent disability and early mortality, resulting in the prolongation of disability-free life.

Here are a few reasons the researchers believe why running is so helpful:

  • Improved cardio fitness
  • Improved aerobic capacity
  • Improved organ reserve
  • Boosts and increase skeletal mass
  • Reduced levels of circulating inflammatory

In a nutshell, all the benefits that running brings to the table.

How to Run The Smart Way

Although running is good for your brain health, doing too much of it can spell disaster on your mental functioning and health status.

Overtraining may lead to burnout, chronic fatigue, mental decline, insomnia, and other health troubles, thus compromising the quality of your life.

For starters, follow a healthy diet that’s high in complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats—with an emphasis on pre-and post-workout eating.

Make sure also to get at least seven to eight hours of high quality, uninterrupted sleep during the night’s time, take naps if you’ve to. Ample rest between hard workouts—at least for a couple of days—is vital.

For more on this, check some of these posts.

  • Post 1
  • Post 2
  • Post 3
  • Post 4

Conclusion

There you have it!

As you can see from the list of benefits as well as the research papers mentioned above, exercise isn’t limited to losing weight or getting in shape. Its actual impact goes beyond aesthetics and straight to increasing your lifespan—as well as improving your health and well-being on all levels. What’s not to like!

Now it’s up to you. It will be a crying shame if, after learning about some of the science behind exercise and disease prevention, you decide to lead a sedentary lifestyle. And you don’t have to spend endless hours in the gym. Only three to four 30 to 45-minute sessions a week will drastically improve your health and cut your disease risk.

So what are you waiting for? Start now and never deviate. The rest is just detail.