RUNNING – The Benefits

Running – Yes, yes, you either love it or hate it! And we all know about how much we should be exercising, right?! I thought I’d summarise the benefits of running.   Of course, many of these would apply to other sport & exercises too. And as with any sport, there is potential for injury but if you take care to wear appropriate runners, have adequate rest days  and address any concerns as they arise by seeking appropriate help (e.g. physio, podiatry), then the benefits will far outweigh the risks.

Below is a simple diagram illustrating the benefits of running, followed by further information. (Yes, it was fun playing around with the shapes on the Powerpoint  slide … and yes, I do get out!)


WEIGHT LOSS – A great way to lose weight. A 60kg woman can burn approx. 260 calories running 7.5km/hour for 30 minutes.

HEART DISEASE, STROKE AND BLOOD PRESSURECholesterol is reduced , HDL-cholesterol is increased (the “good” one), elasticity of the arteries is increased and CRP levels (C-reactive  protein, an inflammatory marker) are reduced. When you run, the arteries expand and contract three times as much as normal. A Harvard study published in 2002 found that people who ran at least 1 hour per week had a 42% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease than those who did not run.  The incidence of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts has also been shown to be reduced.

DIABETESInsulin sensitivity is improved. The US Nurses Health Study found that 3h of vigorous exercise per week reduced their risk of Type 2 Diabetes by 46%.  Briefly, regular exercise induces the production of anti-inflammatory chemicals (particularly, cytokine IL-6). This enhances lipolysis (fat breakdown) and also leads to more anti-inflammatory factors being produced (IL- 1ra and IL- 10) and the inhibition of another chemical (TNF alpha) which then leads to protection against insulin resistance.

CANCER– Risk is reduced for various cancers. The Journal of Nutrition published a review (2002) of 170 studies that looked at the link between physical activity and cancer. Risk reduction for colon cancer was 40-70% and that of breast, lung and prostate was 30-40%.

IMMUNITY– Studies have shown that the risk of common cold and flu is reduced by approx. 20% when people exercised moderately. A Swedish study found that people who exercised for one hour daily had an 18% reduced incidence of upper respiratory tract infections compared to those who were inactive. The white cell count has been shown to increase with regular exercise.  However, over-training can reduce immunity, so a balance is required here!

MOOD– Several studies have shown the correlation between running and mood elevation and reduced depressive symptoms. This is due to the production of endorphins (body’s natural pain killers) and other neuro-transmitters like serotonin (which some modern anti-depressants enhance the production of).  Hence , exercise is recommended as first line treatment for mild depression. Further, running gives a sense of accomplishment, overcoming obstacles, freedom and confidence which all promotes good positive emotions.

LONGEVITY– Regular jogging increases longevity. A Danish study that surveyed 20,000 people who ran 1.5-2 hours/week, ( over a period of 36 years) found that it increased the life-span in men and women by 6.2 and 5.6 years respectively.  A study presented earlier this year at the American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting showed that Running is associated with a 19% lower risk of death for all-cause mortality, compared to those who didn’t run. However, benefits are greatest when the total weekly distance is less than 20 miles per week. Long term endurance athletes may have an increased risk of cardiomyopathy and arrhythmias (heart muscle damage, abnormal heart beats) and coronary artery calcification, but there is still much more research to be done in these areas and other factors like nutrition and genetics would also be relevant. If exercise is likened to a drug, then it is fair to say that any excess is also damaging. A balance, like everything in life, is the key.

MEMORY AND COGNITIVE FUNCTIONA recent study by University of New South Wales, presented at the Annual Neuroscience Symposium, showed a link between running and neurogenesis (new nerve cell production) – and this is throughout most of our lives, not just a benefit when we are young. A previous study published in the American Journal of Geriatrics showed that women who had been active as teenagers had a lower incidence of dementia later in life.

MUSCLE STRENGTHAfter the age of 30, we lose 1% of muscle mass annually. Running can help to strengthen the legs, back and abdominal muscles (especially hills and speed). Although regular resistance exercise (3 times per week) is the key to maintaining muscle as the years pass.

BONE STRENGTH– Running can increase bone density and reduce osteoporosis risk. This is because the extra load on as you run (as opposed to walk) stimulates the bones to become stronger so as to withhold this additional stress.

SLEEP– Studies have shown that running 30min, 5 times per week improved sleep quality by 65% and also less likely to feel sleepy during the day.

CHEAP! – Last but not least! You don’t need any expensive equipment- just a good pair of runners and, of course supportive garments!

Lee DC, Pate RR, Lavie CJ, et al. Running and all-cause mortality risk—is more better? American College of Sports Medicine 2012 Annual Meeting; June 2, 2012; San Francisco, CA. Presentation 3471.

O’Keefe JH, Patil HR, Lavie CJ, et al. Potential adverse cardiovascular effects from excessive endurance exercise. Mayo Clin Proc 2012; 87:587-595

Bruunsgaard H. Physical activity and modulation of systemic low-level inflammation. J Leukoc Biol. 2005 Oct;78(4):819-35.,7120,s6-241-285–12232-0,00.html