These are the real benefits of running, according to the science (2023)

By Vicki-Marie Cossar

published

The benefits of running don’t just stop at improved fitness, lots of advantages can be gained from putting one foot in front of the other.

These are the real benefits of running, according to the science (1)

A runner’s body can come in all shapes and sizes, but the benefits of running remain the same for everyone. So, if you’re thinking about kicking your run to the curb side now the weather has turned…. don’t!

Whether you stick with your outdoor run and yield the extra benefits of training in colder temperatures, or start looking into the best treadmill (opens in new tab) you can buy, studies show that in the long-term, running can improve longevity of life by lowering your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and resting heart rate. But there’s more. For those who really want to deep-dive into the physiological technicalities, here’s why running really is one of the best forms of exercise.

1. It increases your lactate threshold

The term ‘feel the burn’ is generally associated with hard working muscles during a workout. You’ve probably felt it during a particularly gruelling session. Your body breaks down glucose to be used as energy and a by-product of this process is lactic acid. The harder you work, the more lactate accumulates until eventually you can’t get rid of it quick enough.

This is known as your lactate threshold and there have been lots of studies - such as this one, published in the Journal of Physiology (opens in new tab) - that show the importance and role of anaerobic threshold in endurance sports.

“A higher lactate threshold (aka anaerobic threshold) will allow for a faster, more sustainable running pace,” says Jim Pate, Senior Physiologist at Marylebone Health (opens in new tab).

Jim Pate

Jim Pate is the senior physiologist and lab manager at the Centre for Health and Human Performance (CHHP). He specializes in cardiopulmonary exercise testing and heads up all of CHHP’s exercise physiology services. He also lectures at UCL, as well as carrying out research at the university. Before joining CHHP, Jim not only worked in the NHS but also spent some time working at Everest Base Camp on the Extreme Everest Expedition, looking at how extreme conditions affect performance, survival and longevity.

(Video) ISU Research on the Benefits of Running

“When running at lower intensities, the primary component the body needs and uses to produce the energy is oxygen. This aerobic process is efficient but also relatively complex and can become overloaded or ‘backed up,’ as energy demand rises with exercise intensity.

“There will be a point where a second energy production system begins to make a contribution and this is the anaerobic system. This system produces energy rapidly without oxygen, but it is also inefficient, burning cellular fuel more quickly and producing the by-products: lactate and lactic acid.

“From a running performance point of view, the shift to inefficient energy production results in an unsustainable system that will ultimately lead to fatigue. However, a higher lactate threshold is trainable and the best way to improve it is to train at, or around, lactate threshold intensity with working intervals significantly longer than recovery intervals.”

These are the real benefits of running, according to the science (3)

2. It improves your VO₂ max

Put simply, VO₂ max is the maximum (max) rate (V) of oxygen (O₂) your body is able to consume and use during one minute of exercise. A higher VO₂ max means you’re in good shape physically and if you’re looking to improve yours, running can help.

“It has been shown that running at specific intensities for certain periods of time can actually improve your VO₂ max,” says Jonny Kibble, head of exercise and physical activity at Vitality (opens in new tab).

These are the real benefits of running, according to the science (4)

(Video) These Benefits of Running are Actually Backed by Science

Johnny Kibble

Johnny Kibble is an experienced health and well-being coach, with a background in sports science. He currently works with Vitality, a UK health insurance company, where he leads physical activity workshops. In his spare time, he competes in 5ks, 10ks, triathlons and half marathons.

“VO₂ max is measured in millilitres of oxygen per kilogram of bodyweight per minute – ml/kg/min. It is generally considered the gold standard measure of cardiovascular fitness – the higher it is, the longer you can potentially exercise for, at any given intensity.

“While it can be impacted by numerous genetic factors, such as age and sex (men will generally have a higher VO₂ max than women due to muscle mass and haemoglobin levels), the good news is, everyone can improve theirs.

“Research from the Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise Journal (opens in new tab) shows that running at 90-95% of maximum heart rate for four minutes followed by four minutes of resting at 70% max heart rate, four times round (for a specific time period) increased participants VO₂ max by an average of 7.2 per cent (2).”

According to Kibble, on top of improving your running performance, a high VO₂ max could also make everyday tasks easier to perform.

“Another study in the Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise Journal (opens in new tab) showed that climbing a set of stairs can cost around 33.5ml/kg/min of our VO₂ max, which could be a sedentary individual’s maximal capacity (27 - 40ml/kg/min),” he explains. “By improving this, it means we may find it easier to perform everyday tasks, which is particularly important as we grow older due to our VO₂ max levels declining with age.

“VO₂ max can also play a huge part in prevention and, according to research from Frontiers in Bioscience (opens in new tab), is the strongest independent predictor of future life expectancy in both healthy and cardio-respiratory diseased individuals.”

3. It boosts bone health

Lacing up and pounding the pavement can often be thought of as detrimental to joints and knees. However, research shows that running can in fact, be good for bone health.

“Running is often perceived as bad for joints, in particular the knees and hips, and too much high impact exercise can damage bone and may cause long-term problems such as stress fractures,” says Lindsy Kass, Principal Lecturer in Sport, Health and Exercise at the University of Hertfordshire (opens in new tab).

These are the real benefits of running, according to the science (5)

(Video) 7 Incredible Health Benefits Of Running - Benefits Of Running Everyday

Lindsy Kass

Kass is a Principal Lecturer on the BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Degree Programme at the University of Hertfordshire. She is a Registered Nutritionist and an Accredited Exercise Physiologist with the British Association of Sport and Exercise Science. Kass has worked at the University of Hertfordshire for over 15 years and is a Fellow of the Teaching and Learning Academy. Her work includes research into carbohydrate and protein sport drinks, looking at the effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure and exercise and, most recently, she was the lead investigator on a large study looking at the effect of the Covid lockdown on exercise and eating habits.

“However, there is much evidence (opens in new tab) to show that impact exercise – such as running – can actually help with bone formation and bone density, and reduce the effect of osteoporosis. In one study published in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation (opens in new tab), long-distance runners were evaluated to establish change in bone properties using ultrasound and biochemical markers, to determine bone strength and bone formation markers. The male and female runners, aged 30-49 years ran an average of 48.6km per week, with an average frequency of 4.4 times per week. No significant difference was found in bone strength for either the males or females across all age groups meaning there was no decrement in bone strength when running long distances.

“However, there was a significant improvement in blood serum markers of osteocalcin, which is a marker of bone formation, for both males and females across all age groups. This shows that bone formation may be improved with distance running, by stimulating osteoclasts. This supports the view that bone density is reliant on the forces acting on the bone – in this case, the impact to the legs from running.”

For those over 50, worried about osteoporosis, don’t even think about switching to a non-resistance training modality. Research in the journal Osteoporosis International (opens in new tab) found that older runners had higher bone mineral density than swimmers of the same age. This suggests that moderate impact activities are better for maintaining skeletal integrity with age.

These are the real benefits of running, according to the science (6)

4. It improves brain health

Struggling with that afternoon deadline? Can’t make an important life decision? The answer might lie in a quick run.

“A study by the University of Tsukuba in Japan (opens in new tab) last year showed that ten minutes of moderate-intensity running increases local blood flow to the parts of the brain that plays an important role in controlling mood and executive functions,” says Elisabeth Philipps, a Clinical Neuroscientist and spokesperson for supplement brand FourFive (opens in new tab).

Elisabeth Philipps

Elisabeth Philipps is a clinical neuroscientist specializing in the endocannabinoid system. She has authored many articles on CBD, clinical neuroscience and health. One of her main strengths is being able to translate complex and dense scientific research into accessible written and presented content.

(Video) 10 Scientific Benefits of Running - What are they?

“In such a short time, to see a mental improvement in brain function is really positive and should help spur people to enjoy daily exercise however long they have.”

In the study, researchers found that just a short session increased blood flow to the prefrontal cortex so it could benefit everything from focus, memory, planning, organization, and even impulse decision making.

So, what does this mean in real life? “Moderate intensity running can be worked out using fancy heart rate monitoring, but more simply you can do the talk test which for moderate intensity means you can comfortably talk whilst running at a pace for 10 minutes,” she adds.

“This might take a bit of training and working up to this level but even just getting moving and brisk walking, especially with some hills or inclines involved helps into improve brain blood flow and boost your happy hormones, as well as trigger endocannabinoid synthesis which releases bliss molecule anandamide to help you feel good. Running and walking outdoors is best - fresh air and nature really boosts mental health. In fact, the ‘runner's high’ is not an endorphins release, as previously thought but the body releasing anandamide, an endocannabinoid produced in the body, which makes us feel great.”

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Vicki-Marie Cossar

Vicki-MarieCossar is a Surrey-based freelance journalist who has more than 20 yearsexperience writing across the topics of health, fitness, fashion, beauty and wellbeing. Her content includes investigative news stories, feel-good features and trend reports/predictions.She was formerly responsible for the Life & Style section ofMetro newspaper’s features department (now called Trends) and currently writesthe paper's weekly Wellbeing supplement.

Vicki-Mariejuggles her passion for writing around after her 4-year-old twin girls and in her (very limited) downtime, she finds headspace walking her chocolate Labrador or running/strength training in her home gym.

FAQs

What is the scientific definition of running? ›

Running is a method of terrestrial locomotion allowing humans and other animals to move rapidly on foot. Running is a type of gait characterized by an aerial phase in which all feet are above the ground (though there are exceptions).

Is running related to science? ›

Science shows that the benefits of running far exceed just the pleasure of being outside engaged in physical activity. From a decreased risk of cancer to more and better sleep, running can help you make significant improvements in your life. That's not just our opinion, either.

What body parts benefit from running? ›

Running works your legs — quads, hamstrings, and calves — plus your hips and glutes. Your inner thighs, abs, and shoulders help, but the large muscles of your hips and legs do most of the work.

Why running is the best exercise? ›

Running for at least 10 minutes a day can significantly lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Runners lower their chances of dying from heart disease by half. It also lowers your resting heart rate, the number of times your heart beats per minute when you're at rest.

What is the science behind runners high? ›

As you hit your stride, your body releases hormones called endorphins. Popular culture identifies these as the chemicals behind “runner's high,” a short-lasting, deeply euphoric state following intense exercise.

What is the science behind getting faster? ›

When you run hard-faster than 10-K race pace-hydrogen ions accumulate in your muscle cells, which causes an increase in intracellular acidity. Since muscles don't function well in an acid state, muscle contraction becomes impaired and fatigue quickly follows.

Does running give you energy? ›

Exercising also boosts oxygen circulation inside your body. This increase in oxygen not only supports the mitochondria's energy production, it allows your body to function better and to use its energy more efficiently.

What are the 10 benefits of running? ›

Lessens the effects of asthma, helps strengthen lungs and bronchi.
  • Blood pressure. ...
  • Immune system. ...
  • Weight loss. ...
  • Physical strength. ...
  • Bone density. ...
  • Joint strength & stability. ...
  • Confidence. ...
  • Stress relief.

What are 5 benefits of running? ›

Health benefits of running and jogging
  • help to build strong bones, as it is a weight bearing exercise.
  • strengthen muscles.
  • improve cardiovascular fitness.
  • burn plenty of kilojoules.
  • help maintain a healthy weight.

What is the benefits of running in the morning? ›

A morning workout may promote better quality of sleep as compared to afternoon or evening workouts. In fact, the authors of a 2014 study published in Vascular Health and Risk Management concluded that early morning may be the most beneficial time to engage in aerobic exercise.

Is running good for face skin? ›

It's a well-known fact that exercise helps improve your blood circulation, and running is no exception. When you run, your blood pumps faster, which means your face gets a supply of fresh blood often. This helps heal damaged skin, giving it a glow from within.

Is running actually good for you? ›

Running is associated with many health benefits. Regular running can help you build strong bones, strengthen muscles, improve cardiovascular health, and maintain a healthy weight. Running also comes with mental health benefits. While running, your body releases hormones called endorphins.

Does running improve heart health? ›

Running reduces your risk for heart disease.

“Those who start running on a regular basis decrease their risk for heart disease by 35 to 55 percent,” says Dr. DeLucia. “Running helps prevent blood clots in the arteries and blood vessels. It also supports healthy blood flow, blood pressure and cholesterol.

Is running better than exercise? ›

Running is a great option, as it burns more calories than most other types of exercise because it requires many different muscles to work hard together ( 2 ). In particular, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) involving running burns the most calories per minute by using various muscles at their maximum power.

How much running is healthy? ›

Brellenthin's research suggests a running limit of 4.5 hours a week (as often as six days per week). This dovetails with other recent research that found between 40 and 60 minutes a day of vigorous exercise is probably a safe upper limit for people who want to maximize their health.

Why do you feel good after running? ›

Running and aerobic exercise release a flood of endorphins into your blood. Endorphins are often called the “feel-good” chemicals because they produce feelings of happiness and pleasure. They also help you feel less pain while you're running.

What are the benefits of walking and running activity? ›

Studies have shown that regular walking and running can help prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and some kinds of cancer. Below are just some of the numerous benefits of running and walking.

Why is running good for your mental health? ›

Running can control stress and boost the body's ability to deal with existing mental tension. Exercise also increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that helps moderate the brain's response to stress.

What happens when you start running? ›

When you start running regularly, your energy levels will quickly go up and you'll feel more alert for longer. When you run regularly, blood flow increases around the body and cardiovascular health and general fitness improves.

What happens to your body after a long run? ›

Your heart will get stronger. Your muscular endurance will improve as mitochondria (the 'powerhouse' of your cells) increase in size and number, and the capillaries that deliver blood to your muscles grow. Your very ability to breath – or your 'ventilatory capacity' – will improve as you work your respiratory muscles.

Is running natural for humans? ›

There is a growing consensus among the scientific community – evolutionary biologists, paleoanthropologists, neuroscientists and other dilettantes – that our bodies and brains evolved to run long distances so we could slowly hunt down animals on the African savannahs.

How does running reduce stress? ›

It turns out, running relieves stress by stimulating the production of feel-good chemicals in the brain. When you run, your body releases endorphins, the chemicals that make you feel happy. Endorphins are like natural painkillers, so when you exercise and experience the runner's high, it's not just a good feeling.

Do tight hips make you slower? ›

Tight hips will reduce your stride length leading to slower running and sprinting speeds. You won't be able to draw your leg back or swing it as far forward to generate kicking force, and you won't be able to step out to the side as far when lunging.

Can a slow person become fast? ›

There are ways to train specific muscle types: sprints, weight training and high intensity interval training will help develop fast-twitch fibers and cardio (especially long distance runs) will help develop slow-twitch muscle fibers. But anyone can increase their speed, no matter what their genetics.

How can I get faster at running? ›

How to Run Faster
  1. Test Out a Quicker Pace. martin-dm / Getty Images. ...
  2. Run More Often. Tony Anderson / Getty Images. ...
  3. Work on Your Form. ...
  4. Count Your Strides. ...
  5. Develop Your Anaerobic Threshold. ...
  6. Do Speed Work. ...
  7. Practice Fartleks. ...
  8. Incorporate Hill Training.
10 Aug 2022

How running can change your life? ›

Running can significantly improve physical and mental health. As a form of aerobic exercise, running can reduce stress, improve heart health, and even help alleviate symptoms of depression. Some researchers think running may be so good for us because it's something we evolved to do.

Why do my legs get tired when I run? ›

It can be normal for the legs to feel tired after vigorous exercise, especially when a person works out more than they would usually. Without proper rest, muscles, including those in the lower body, are unable to recover properly. Working out too hard or without proper rest may lead to a feeling of tired, heavy legs.

Does running give abs? ›

And, will running give you abs? “Yes, running can help give you defined abs,” said Todd Buckingham, Ph. D., exercise physiologist. But before you get too excited, it's important to note that running alone isn't enough to improve muscular definition in your midsection.

What type of force is running? ›

When you are running the main types of forces that you deal with are friction and air resistance. Two other forces that can be seen in running are spring force and gravitational force. Forces like friction and air resistance can have a positive and a negative effect on your running, it all depends on how you use them.

What describes running as a movement technique? ›

Running mainly uses sagittal movements as the arms and legs move forwards. However, there is also a rotational component as the joints of the leg lock to support the body weight on each side. There is also an element of counter pelvic rotation as the chest moves forward on the opposite side.

What is running in physical fitness? ›

Both running and jogging are forms of aerobic exercise. Aerobic means 'with oxygen' – the term 'aerobic exercise' means any physical activity that produces energy by combining oxygen with blood glucose or body fat.

How can I run faster according to science? ›

  1. Add tempo runs. Tempo runs are 10 to 45 minute runs at a steady pace, according to Corkum. ...
  2. Start weight training. Weight lifting, or strength training, can help you run faster, improve your form, and avoid injuries. ...
  3. Introduce interval training. ...
  4. Practice fartleks. ...
  5. Run hills. ...
  6. Don't forget to take breaks. ...
  7. Stay consistent.
28 Aug 2020

What does slow running do? ›

Running slow builds endurance without putting too much strain on your muscles. A gentle run can also help you recover faster the day after a challenging workout. Plus, pacing is an essential skill for any long-distance runner—and what better way to practice than to run at a slow, steady pace?

Does running improve posture? ›

We know running is beneficial for your core and spine, in addition to weight loss – all of which can contribute to better posture. This is why some regular runners might appear leaner and longer. If you're looking to seem taller by getting slimmer and improving your posture, running is a great exercise for it.

Is running cardiovascular endurance? ›

Cardiovascular endurance is the ability to exercise without becoming overly tired because your heart, lungs and blood vessels are healthy. Exercise examples include walking, jogging, cycling, dancing, running and bike riding. Distance swimming is also a good cardiovascular endurance exercise.

What health related fitness you have to develop when playing running events? ›

You'll see improvements in your daily life by improving your cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility. You may also lose some weight and gain muscle, which will improve your body composition.

Is running fast good for you? ›

Sprinting is better at fat burning, helps to build more muscle mass, increases heart health, and increases metabolism better than distance running.”

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