First, a disclaimer: We love the gym. We love strength training with free weights and workout machines. There are tons of good reasons to lift, whether you’re looking to build muscle, shed fat and calories, or simply amp up your overall health. But the benefits of running make a pretty strong case for anyone to consider becoming a runner.
Running is hugely popular, and there are all kinds of ways to do it, from jogging around the neighborhood to trail running or signing up for a race. After a pause due to the pandemic, organized running events are once gain seeing lots of interest. According to the Strava Year in Sport report, the number of Strava users who ran a marathon almost doubled in 2022 compared to 2021. From the aesthetic benefits to the mental perks, there’s a reason why so many people are addicted to hitting the pavement.
While we’re not saying you should quit the gym (please don’t), we are saying you should consider taking up running, too. Here are 25 running benefits to consider.
25 Running Benefits You Need to Know
1. Running can help you live longer
Runners live longer than those who don’t. In one Archives of Internal Medicine study, researchers followed about 1,000 adults (ages 50 and older) for 21 years. At the end of the study, 85 percent of the runners were still kicking it, while only 66 percent of the non-runners were alive. Yikes.
2. Running can get you high
The runner’s high is real: Mounting research, including one study published in Experimental Technology, shows that when we run, our brains pump out endocannabinoids, cannabis-like molecules that keep runners happy—and hooked.
3. Running doesn’t require a commute
Getting to and from the gym might take 30 minutes out of your day, in addition to the time you actually spend working out. But the second you step out of your front door, you can be running, says Erik Moen, P.T., founder of Corpore Sano Physical Therapy in Washington. After all, you spend enough of your time in the car. What’s more: Running can be your commute!
4. Running fights off beer bellies
As you age, pounds just have a way of gluing themselves to your stomach. But in one Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise study of more than 100,000 runners, those who ran 35 or more miles per week gained less weight in their bellies throughout their mid-life years than those who ran less than nine.
5. Running can help score you vitamin D
The human body gets most of its vitamin D from sun exposure, but since people spend all of their time indoors, well, you know how it goes. That explains why 41.6 percent of Americans are deficient in the vitamin, according to research published in Nutrition Research. Taking your run outside can help boost your levels to ward off depression, prevent type 2 diabetes, and strengthen your bones.
6. Running burns crazy calories
“An average one-hour weight-training workout at the gym burns about 300 calories. The typical hour-long run burns about twice that,” explains American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer Tammie Dubberly, a running coach with Whole Body Fitness in Portland, OR.
Meanwhile, in one study from the Medical College of Wisconsin and the VA Medical Center, researchers found that the treadmill (used at a “hard” level) burned an average of 705 to 865 calories in an hour. The stair-climber, rower, and stationary bike all burned far fewer cals.
7. Running doesn’t require a ton of equipment
“If you’ve got shoes, shorts, and a shirt, you are good to go,” says Jason Fitzgerald, a USA Track & Field-certified coach and the founder of Strength Running. “You can’t say that about many other workouts.”
No machines, dumbbells, or even mats required.
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8. You can run anywhere
Running will take you a heck of a lot farther than the four walls of your gym.
“You can run anywhere in the world. There are literally races in Antarctica and the Sahara Desert,” Fitzgerald says.
OK, most runners won’t go that far. But it does mean that a weekend away won’t wreck your workout routine.
9. You can run at any time
The sidewalks are never closed. Whether you want to get in a workout at 2 p.m. or 2 a.m., you can go for it, says Moen.
10. Your dog can run with you
Dogs typically aren’t welcome in the gym. But they are right at home on the trail. They even get endocannabinoid-fueled runner’s highs similar to those of their two-legged friends, according to research from the University of Arizona.
11. Running turns you into the Energizer bunny
“Running is such a great cardiovascular workout that it makes it so you don’t get tired as easily from any given workload,” Fitzgerald says. “For example, if I’m helping a friend move, I can carry boxes all day long and it’s not a big deal.”
12. Running strengthens your bones
Unlike every other aerobic workout you can crank out in the gym, running is high-impact, meaning it loads and remakes your bones along with your muscles.
“Swimming, cycling, and working on the elliptical don’t train your bones,” says Fitzgerald. “If those are the only things you do, you’re at risk for weak bones and osteoporosis.”
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13. Running helps you reach your goals
“Running makes you very goal-oriented. You’re always trying to achieve new PRs, and you know that you can’t just beat your goal in a day. It takes time, work, and consistency,” Fitzgerald says.
That mindset, and practice working toward running goals, can pay off in helping you reach other career, financial, and personal goals.
14. Running makes you tenacious
“Running builds a tenacity and mental toughness that translates into every area of your life,” Fitzgerald says. If you can handle getting through 26.2 miles in a marathon or sticking to a weekly running routine, you’ll be better equipped to power through challenges that come your way.
15. Running fights off the common cold
“If you’re starting to feel sick, an easy 30-minute run can stimulate the immune system to help fight off a cold before it has a chance to take hold,” Fitzgerald says.
In one British Journal of Sports Medicine Study, people who performed aerobic activity at least five days a week suffered from upper respiratory tract infections 43 percent less often than those who got in less aerobic activity. Plus, when runners did catch colds, their symptoms were much less severe.
16. Running’s perfect for any fitness level
You might not be able to just jump into Olympic weightlifting. But you can wake up one morning and decide to go on your first run, says Janet Hamilton, C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist with Running Strong in Atlanta. Plus, even decades later, you won’t outgrow it. You can customize every running workout so that you never plateau.
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17. Running’s social
“These days it seems that gyms are quieter than libraries,” Dubberly says. But on the trail, everyone’s chatting. Whether you run with one buddy or join a running club, the sport is all about community. And post-run happy hours.
18. Running’s meditative
More of a solo exerciser? That’s cool. “Running can be a time to zen out to your own thoughts,” says ultrarunner Sarah Evans, C.P.T., a personal trainer and running coach in San Francisco.
19. Running is never the same
Contrary to what non-runners might think, every run is different, and it doesn’t have to be boring. You can mix it up in so many ways, from running hills, going on tempo runs, performing intervals, or mixing it up between the road and the trail.
20. You’re made to run
“Running is the best workout because it’s the most basic human form of exercise, using your own body, weight, and two legs to propel yourself forward,” Evans says. It’s as functional as workouts get.
21. Running boosts your mood
Runner’s highs aside, running can help your disposition all day long. For instance, a 2012 study out of Switzerland found that running for just 30 minutes every morning for three weeks significantly improved the subjects’ sleep quality as well as mood and concentration levels throughout the day.
22. Running is an excuse to eat carbs
And not just whole grain “healthy” carbs. We are talking about refined pasta, white bread, and cookies. Simple, fast-acting carbohydrates are a runner’s best fuel, and upping your intake—strategically—can help you run better, and recover faster, per research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. Some runners even eat Skittles on their long runs to stay energized, Hamilton says.
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23. It strengthens your knees
No, running doesn’t wreck your knees. It does the exact opposite. Research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory shows that running (even marathoning!) decreases the risk of knee osteoarthritis. That may be because running increases the flow of nutrients to the cartilage in your knee while also strengthening the ligaments around the joint.
24. Running can make over your heart
“First and foremost, running is an aerobic sport,” Fitzgerald says. By training your body’s aerobic (oxygen-sucking) metabolism, it strengthens your heart while lowering your resting heart rate, blood pressure, and cholesterol. And guess what? Aerobic exercise is, by far, the most time-efficient form of exercise for improving your heart health, according to research published in The American Journal of Cardiology.
25. It keeps your eyes healthy
When most guys think about exercise benefits, they probably don’t think about their vision. But 2013 research published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise shows that people who run an average of five miles or more a day have a 41 percent lower risk of developing cataracts, the leading cause of age-related vision loss and blindness. The exact reason for this is yet to be discovered, but it could have to do with the fact that running reduces your chance of developing high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes, both of which can contribute to cataracts.