The benefits of running are numerous; free travel, being close to nature, the freedom to get off the beaten track, time to yourself, time with others and the chance to work out stress or aggression in a healthy way, not to mention improving your physical health.
You can develop speed, power, endurance, strength, threshold, muscle tone and lose unhealthy body fat. You can improve lung capacity, bone health, blood pressure and mental health, while decreasing risk of injury, illness and life altering (or even ending) diseases such as stroke, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers.
In short, running is pretty good. But how does the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other change how our body functions in so many positive ways?
How does running change our body?
Regular running stimulates the heart to become larger and stronger because of the need to send more blood around the body to the working muscles. Indeed, running has been shown to halt or even reverse some of the age-associated decreases in a number of measures of heart function – keeping your heart younger for longer. Blood volume also changes meaning blood can reach extremities more effectively.
The lungs adapt by growing more air sacks (alveoli) and associated capillaries to transport oxygen more effectively into the body – this means you can move more without getting so out of breath.
On a cellular level, slower running develops the ability of mitochondria in the cells to produce energy – this means you can do more exercise for longer.
Muscle fibre size increases – helping you to be stronger. Stiffness in tendons and joints reduce injury risk such a sprains or strains.
Running (along with other exercise) is not only seen to elicit hormonal changes that can help regulate and improve mood and mental health, but it has also been shown to directly support the structural health of our brains by encouraging the formation of neurons, blood vessels and the improving the ability of the brain to adapt and change through life. These changes are key to reducing the effects of mental decline in later life.
All in all. Running is really (REALLY) good for you. However, if you haven’t run for a while, ease in and take the time you need to develop fitness at your own pace. Start with walking and running gradually building the time of each running phase as well as the total time of your ‘session’.
If you’re tight for time, you can also keep the session structure the same but increase the intensity at which you run. You shouldn’t be looking to increase either by more than 5-10% each week though, so don’t feel the need to be too ambitious. However, do this consistently and you’ll improve quickly and reap all the health benefits that running can bring.
Joel Enoch is a is an award-winning coach with the Edinburgh Triathletes Squad and has competed for the GB AG team at world and Euro champs.