7 Wonderful and Little-Known Benefits of Running

So you’ve made it to The SF Marathon blog page — a hearty congratulations to you! You must already know that running is a wonderful, magical, superhuman barrel of fun, right? You plan your weekends around going to bed early and racing the sunrise to the highest points within 20 miles of your house, right? At a moments notice, you can name your exact personal best time in every distance from a 5k to a 50-miler, right? Okay, okay, maybe you’ve only been running one time ever. Maybe your brother / sister / significant other / best friend / boss / mother-in-law is a runner and you’re pining to know the secrets of their emphatical joy. Well, you’re in luck; whether you’re an elite runner or a curious novice, this post is for you. I give to you: 7 Wonderful & Little-Known Benefits of Running.


1. Running Improves Joint Cartilage — For ALL Ages

Wait, isn’t running bad for “older” people? HA! The wives’ tale that running damages the knee / ankle / hip joints is about as accurate as saying that a woman’s body can’t handle running a marathon. And just as Katherine Switzer showed us in the 1967 Boston Marathon, sometimes conventional “knowledge” is far from true. According to a 2013 study of osteoarthritis and hip replacement risk, “long-distance running does not increase the risk of osteoarthritis of the knees and hips for healthy people,” and “might even have a protective effect against joint degeneration.” Whoa! The New York Times also covered this phenomenal phenomenon here.


2. Leaner Bodies Like To Workout

Leaner Bodies Like to WorkoutYou’re telling me that working out makes me want to work out? Mentally, by and large, yes. In a study published in The International Journal of Obesity, a direct correlation was found between positive and negative neurological responses in lean bodies versus obese bodies. Monitored by MRI machines, groups of designated lean and obese participants were shown a mix of photos and asked to visualize performing in the activities shown, such as sitting on a couch or pleasantly running. The brain scans revealed that emotionally, the obese participants expected to dislike physical activity much more than they anticipated disliking sitting. Leaner subject’s brain activity was the opposite, with the putamen – or pleasure center of the brain – lighting up when they watched others work out and envisaged doing the same themselves (NYT 1/8/14). So, the more you work out, the leaner you get; and the leaner you get, the more your brain associates working out with pleasure. In other words: a body in motion tends to stay in motion, if you catch my drift.


3. Runners Improve Their Spouse’s Heart Health

That’s right, long term relationships with runners create many reasons to make your heart throb — and can even boost your heart health, according to a study published in the BMJ by Dr. Beth Taylor of the University of Hartford. The study explores the connection between heart health and running, as well as the links between runners and non-runners spousal heart health. Dr. Taylor explains that “perhaps the more surprising takeaway of the study […] is that marathon training’s cardiac benefits may be transferable.” She reveals that the spouses of runners were very healthy. “More so than many people, they walked and moved around frequently, and had generally robust cardiac risk profiles. Dr. Taylor’s conclusion: if you want improved heart health but can’t be a runner, marry one.” You heard her, folks, your running significant-other is a keeper!


4. Fit Mamas-To-Be Make Smarter Babies

And by smarter, I mean, of course, increasing the activity and robustness of their baby’s perirhinal cortex — the memory and sensory center of the brain. And although early studies will need to be elaborated on more fully to understand how gestational exercise can remodel an unborn child’s brain, it is clear that “[i]f a woman can be physically active during her pregnancy, she may give her unborn child an advantage in terms of brain development” (NYT 11/20/13). And all this coming out of only 20 minutes of exercise per day, generally brisk walking or running, at a level 6 exertion level on a scale of 10. So marathon runner babies are basically geniuses, right?


5. High Impact Exercise Is Good for Your Bones

No, that can’t be right. High impact exercise can’t increase bone density…or can it? Another wives’ tale de-bunk! Wolff’s Law and a slew of high impact exercise studies have shown that individuals who perform activities generating 4.2 G’s or more of force on a regular basis have notably sturdier hipbones. So young people and healthy not-so-young people should pound the ground, on occasion. Run sprints. Jump up and back down from a 15” box. Get fancy with your hopping, like this. Train for a marathon. Whatever the method, your future self will thank you for applying more force than simply a Zumba class or step aerobics class, which only generate around 2 G’s throughout the duration of the course. High impact = denser bones, and that’s something to jump for joy about.


6. A Jog A Day Keeps Metabolism At Bay

A Jog A Day Keeps Metabolism At BayIt is common knowledge that daily exercise is recommended for a healthy lifestyle, but just how good is it, really? Short-term overeating and inactivity result in a “surplus” of energy — think post-Thanksgiving dinner or a week of vacation with zero exercise kind of lethargy — but how bad could that be for you? Researchers at the University of Bath in England rounded up a group of healthy young men, reduced the group’s daily step count to ~4,000, increased their caloric intake by 50% for the non-running half of the group and 75% for the half of the group asked to run for 45 minutes on a treadmill each day for a week, and waited. According to the New York Times recap of the study, the results were striking. “After only a week, the young men who had not exercised displayed a significant and unhealthy decline in their blood sugar control, and, equally worrying, their biopsied fat cells seemed to have developed a malicious streak. Those cells[…]were now overexpressing various genes that may contribute to unhealthy metabolic changes and underexpressing other genes potentially important for a well-functioning metabolism.” Conversely, “[…] volunteers who had exercised once a day, despite comparable energy surpluses, were not similarly afflicted. Their blood sugar control remained robust, and their fat cells exhibited far fewer of the potentially undesirable alterations in gene expression than among the sedentary men.” I’m not advocating exorbitant caloric surpluses, but if a jog a day has ever seemed like it wouldn’t matter because of your eating for the day, you might want to think again. Pre-Thanksgiving dinner jog, anyone?


7. Seeing The Benefit: Running For Healthier Eyes

I bet you didn’t see this one coming did you? (See what I did there?). Okay, aside from being able to read that corny joke as you age, running appears to do much more than tone your calves and increase your urges to wear spandex-based clothing. In a new study from Emory University, running has been shown to significantly increase the protective power of retinal neuron production. This is big news, of course, with millions of aging Americans battling eyesight loss each year. As it turns out, running is a more cost effective, safer, and smarter way to protect and preserve eye health. Holy unintended benefits, that’s neat!


And there you have it! I do hope you learned a thing or two about all the nearly-too-good-to-be-true features of running. Whether you conspicuously obsess over the next big century-run or jog around the block after work a few times a week, there are prolific and surprising benefits to keeping your body active. I’ll see you on the trails, right? Your bones, babies, eyes, spouse, metabolism, and mind will thank you.

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