I don’t even try to stop myself from convincing others that endurance running is not only a fun but an extremely healthy hobby if done the right way. Wait but why am I so hell-bent on this and what convinces me that I’m right?
It has a lot to do with my personal running story. I always liked endurance sports but suddenly needed to stop doing sports due to several illnesses. When after years I finally got treatment that worked I decided while lying on a hospital bed getting my bi-monthly infusion that from now on I’ll actively work on my health to be prepared for the next disease that might hit me.
So I just set myself the goal to run a half marathon within the next six months. Back then I had no plan to continue running after this whatsoever. It was, and still is, common sense that doing some sports is good for your health, but never did I imagine how great running can improve someones well-being.
In this article I’d like to share with you how running improved not only my physical but also my mental health in a big way. And there’s not a single reason you can’t make the same experiences yourself! Just be persistent and appreciate the results.
The changes that a runners body goes through is the obvious thing that happens when running regularly. It’s also the main reason why people start running, myself included.
I guess this is the number one reason why most start running or do another physical activity. I was lucky that I wasn’t ever overweight, I’m the skinny type of guy. However I love treating myself with chocolate and other sweets and with the years passing by the metabolism changed to my disadvantage.
Weight regulation is for me pure mathematics. If you burn more energy than you take in with food and drinks, then you’ll loose weight. The higher the difference the faster your weight changes. So in order to be able to keep up my chocolate intake and not gaining weight with doing so, running was perfect as it made me burn up to 800 calories (depending on training intensity) per hour.
Loosing some pounds also comes in handy when you wanna become a faster runner. It doesn’t make you faster wearing a backpack with some pounds of fat, does it?
When I found a new doctor a couple of years back, he measured my bone density. I got diagnosed with something called weak version of Osteoporosis, which is basically a lowered bone density. Of course the doctor gave me some medicine but I only took it for about a week. I struggle taking something that isn’t really necessary right now.
When my bone density got measured again a couple of weeks back I was a bit nervous. It turned out that despite my expectations my bone density improved even though I didn’t take my medicine for years. The only reason for that are the dozens of miles of running I do every week!
Of course running strengthens your bones also when you are completely healthy. Increasing bone density is a great thing to do to prepare for aging and increasing your robustness.
Before I started running I injured my left knee two times. I’ve torn my ACL one time and broke my patella a few years later. So I was a bit worried when starting my new hobby that it might be too much stress for my handicapped knee.
My joints in general but especially my left knee got special attention at the beginning of my running career. After every run I checked carefully if there is any pain or if my knee was swollen. It worked out well for some years but when training for my first marathon I started feeling a slight discomfort just beneath my left patella.
This is where I almost started to panic! Oh no, this is the runner’s knee everybody is talking about. What should I do now? After these first reactions I calmed down and started to make a plan as I always do. I researched my symptoms, paused running for some days and started doing specific exercises to strengthen my upper leg muscles to give my knee more stability.
After some days I started running and slowly increased my volume. I kept doing the strength exercises and after just some weeks the problem was gone. This was my only ever injury due to running and I plan to keep it that way. Focusing on weak spots and give them special attention can result in a lasting improvement.
Jep I know this is so obvious but still worth mentioning. When I decided to start with running almost a decade ago I did it mainly for health reasons and to become a fitter self. I wanted to be prepared for the next boost of my chronic illnesses that I knew could come every day. I wanted to have much more fitness and endurance than average and therefore the ability to recover from pain and inactiveness faster.
In my lowest days medically speaking I had troubles walking the 100 yards to the street car station every morning. My body was so worn out that I needed a break or two and had more than five minutes to get there. I was lucky that I didn’t need my extra endurance over the last couple of years as far as illness but it still is great to be fit.
Better endurance capabilities are great in everyday life also. You will recognize the difference after a couple of weeks of training. For example when you run to catch the bus, walk up some stairs or go hiking with your friends. Everything just seems easier and you feel fitter than ever.
If you stand upright and bend down to touch the ground without bending your knees, how close to your toes do you get? Some years ago I by far could not reach my feet. I was kind of rusty and stiff from not moving a lot and wasn’t flexible at all.
In my running training I also started stretching after almost every run. That not only helped me to balance my muscles out and prevent injuries but also increased my agility. Though I could still do more in that regard it’s already great to see this positive side effect of my running habit.
The physical benefits of running are the obvious ones and also the ones that give most runners a reason to start running in the first place. However I hoped that running will also bring some improvements to the psychological side and it did for me in a big way as well.
I’m not mentally ill (some maybe would say the opposite 🙂 but I well know heavy workload in my job and stress in general. So let me show you what running did for me in that regard.
This is probably the first thing you’ll notice when you start running. As many studies proofed and hundreds of thousands of runners observed, running is a great way to decrease stress in your everyday life. Going for a run after a hard day at work can have a great impact.
I think there are multiple reasons for this. The most important is the act of movement and bringing your heart rate up. A slow jog is already effective but if you’re angry that high intensity training works like a valve where you can get rid of excess pressure and bad feelings.
Depending where you run the fresh air and being in nature is an additional stress-reducing factor. I love running up a hill and enjoying the view down to my home town. Any problems are pretty small and far away at that point.
Earlier I used to play guitar to reduce my stress level. Running has taken that part and seems to be far more effective.
Another thing I usually struggle with a bit is sleep. I have a hard time switching off my brain at night when it’s time to sleep and keep thinking about anything that comes to my mind. Often I guess I’m just not tired enough. This seems pretty reasonable when I think about my life style. I have an office job where I sit all day and on the way to work I sit as well. So how can a body be tired and in need of recovery and sleep if it isn’t used that much?
The answer for me was running. Not only do I fall asleep faster on the days I run, running seems to have a positive effect throughout the whole week. It’s also easier to get a deep and recovering sleep the whole night.
Try to go run early enough and not right before you go to sleep. Your body needs some time for the first recovery to bring your heart rate down.
Of course you can go running without any goal whatsoever. I started with a specific goal to increase the possibility that I stick to a regular running routine. Something that wasn’t in my focus too much was striving for a sense of achievement when meeting a goal I set myself. I guess each and every one of us has a decent amount of ambition and feels great achieving something when working hard for it over a longer period of time.
Finishing that first half marathon in 2008 just felt amazing. That last turn, the finish line in sight and finally crossing it, is something that keeps most first time finishers striving for even more afterwards. It did exactly that for me. I kept running for almost a decade and I have no plan at all to stop participating in running events. Fun and training runs are the main part of my running but finishing an event with hundreds or thousands of other runners gives you a great feeling of achievement.
This one is probably the cumulation of everything I talked about so far in this article. Being fitter and see all those improvements just makes me happy. But it’s more than that. The pure joy of running that is still increasing after all these years has a great effect on my happiness. Doing something you love is the best investment in your psychological well-being.
And then there’s the runner’s high. This is like the „drug“ aspect of running. Scientists still haven’t fully understood the phenomenon a lot of runners know so good and fell in love with. In a new study by German scientists from 2015 the general assumption that the runner’s high is an effect based solely on endorphins has been disproved. It’s rather an effect of endocannabinoids that cause the effect. Endocannabinoids are similar to substances found in marijuana and so endurance running might be just like smoking pot without the negative side effects and problems with the law.
This is another great benefit you will profit from in your everyday life. I started noticing this when I began running marathons and later ultra marathons. Already in training you have to do regular runs over 20 miles. This not only challenges your body but also your mind. Battling through these first couple of long runs and find a way to deal with it, toughens your body as well your mental abilities.
Even more you observe this effect is when you actually run (ultra-)marathons. These races are not easy and you will struggle towards the end of it or multiple times during a race. Fighting through these struggles makes you tougher and prepare you for many other aspects and situations in your life. Most of all you’ll learn to not give up when something is uncomfortable. You’ll learn to see and work towards the greater goal when you can overcome the hard times.
Now I mentioned quite some things running had a great positive effect on in my well-being. As always I’m interested what running does for you or which of these points is your favorite. Leave a comment below to let us all know.
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