13 Benefits of Running That Make You Healthier and Happier

Wondering if running is good for you? There's no doubt about it. Find out all the perks the cardio activity has to offer.

Given the blood, sweat, and tears (well, mainly sweat) involved in the workout, it's totally understandable if you've never been a fan of running. But given the go-to cardio activity's laundry list of benefits, you may want to give it another chance.

Benefits of Running

Ahead, find out all the physical and mental health benefits of running. Trust, you might just be convinced to lace up your sneakers.

01 of 13

Improves Heart Health

Woman checking heart rate after running

So, why exactly is running good for you? For starters, running is the king of cardio. Running even five to 10 minutes a day at a slow speed is associated with a drastically reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease, according to a landmark study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Regular runners have half the chance of dying from heart disease compared to those who never run. Every time you run, you decrease your resting heart rate, so your heart doesn't need to work as hard, says Greg Justice, an AFAA-certified personal trainer, exercise physiologist, and founder of AYC Health & Fitness in Kansas.

02 of 13

Gives You a Runner's High

Woman resting and drinking water after running
The Good Brigade/Getty

One of the biggest benefits of running is its mood-boosting effects. When you run, your brain pumps out two powerful feel-good chemicals — endorphins and endocannabinoids — explains Justice. The latter sounds a lot like cannabis, right? That's for a reason. Chemically, the endocannabinoids your body produces during a run aren't all that different from marijuana's mood-altering chemical, THC. The most studied mid-run endocannabinoid, called anandamide, was actually discovered when scientists were trying to figure out how weed gets people high.

03 of 13

Strengthens Your Joints

woman running outside to benefit joint health
William Perugini / Shutterstock

A Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise study of nearly 75,000 runners and walkers found that, nope, running doesn't up the risk of osteoarthritis — even people who cover 26.2 miles (aka a full marathon distance) on the regular. In fact, runners were half as likely to suffer from knee osteoarthritis compared with walkers, according to the study results.

Every time you pound the pavement, you stress your bones and cartilage, just like you do your muscles, causing them to spring back stronger, explains Janet Hamilton, C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist with Running Strong in Atlanta. Low-impact exercises such as walking, biking, or swimming don't have the same bone-building benefits as running.

04 of 13

Provides an Intense Leg Workout

Woman stretching leg on a wood fence after running outside

You've probably caught on to this benefit of running when you found your legs to be sore AF the day after a distance run, but here's a little background on why. Your body's biggest muscles are all in your legs, and running is advantageous to all of them: your inner and outer thighs, gluteus maximus, quads, hamstrings, and calves, says Justice. That makes hitting the pavement like a dozen leg workouts in one.

05 of 13

Works Your Core

Group of women running outside together

The lower body isn't the only part of you that feels the benefits of running. The exercise works many of your core muscles, challenging not only your rectus abdominis, but also the deeper core muscles including your obliques, erector spinae, and transverse abdominis. Those deep muscles play important roles in stabilizing your spine by transferring power between your swinging arms and legs and sucking in your gut, says Justice.

06 of 13

Doesn't Require a Hefty Time Commitment

woman running while crossing street at pedestrian crossing
Philippa Langley/Getty

Traveling for work? Don't belong to a gym? Have only 10 minutes to work out? Whatever your workout constraints, you can still run, explains Hamilton. "That's an extra advantage for busy people who can't seem to make other workouts or classes fit their lifestyle," she adds. And remember: The best workout is the one you'll actually do, regardless of length.

07 of 13

Helps You Build a Community

group of women chatting outside after a run
Thomas Barwick/Getty

The running community is a strong one, and the community benefits of running are often immeasurable. "I can't think of a better place to find wellness-focused people than a running group," says Debora Warner, RRCA-certified running coach and founder of Mile High Run Club, a running-only fitness studio in New York City. Whether you sign up for a running club, join a charity's running team, or just take a look around during your first half marathon, you'll be amazed at all the support and good vibes you get.

08 of 13

Counts As Meditation

woman running in field at sunset
  Stanislaw Pytel / Getty Images

If you haven't noticed yet, the benefits of running go way beyond the physical. "Many runners find that the time alone allows them to think and problem solve," says Hamilton. "Taking a run-break from a stressful project can help you return feeling refreshed and insightful." Research shows that meditation can boost your gray matter plasticity, which can improve focus and fight depression and anxiety.

And while running is no substitute for the help of a trained human professional, an ACSM's Health and Fitness Journal study showed that physical activity acts as an effective alternative to treating depression. Combine your miles with a pre- or post-workout meditation session and the benefits are substantial, according to research published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

09 of 13

Might Improve Your Memory

Woman tying shoe laces before outdoor run

Lace up and hit the road, because one of the surprising benefits of running is that it can directly affect your brain in the short and long term. A 2014 study at the University of British Columbia revealed that regular aerobic exercise — the kind that gets your heart rate up and makes you sweat, à la spinning or running — can boost the size of your hippocampus. And that's a good thing: The hippocampus is the area of the brain involved in verbal memory and learning.

10 of 13

Doesn't Take A Lot of Practice

group of women jogging or walking outside

"With running, there's not much of a learning curve like there might be for other fitness activities [such as] group dance classes, Olympic lifting, CrossFit, or yoga," says Hamilton. "Running's also not as form-dependent as swimming — and because running is a such a natural motion, if you don't overthink it, your reflexes will just kick in." And away you go!

11 of 13

A Little Goes a Long Way

person tying shoes to go on a run benefits
Dusan Petkovic / Shutterstock

You don't need to be a marathon runner to reap all the benefits of running. Instead, running just 50 minutes per week — the equivalent of one six-mile run or two 5Ks — can protect the body from risk of stroke, arthritis, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and some cancers, according to a meta-analysis published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings .

12 of 13

Burns Calories Efficiently

Woman running outside in the city
Guido Mieth/Getty

Running requires a lot of fuel. In fact, the average 150-pound person will burn about 12.2 calories per minute running a 10-minute mile, says Hamilton. Not too shabby, eh? And that's just on flat terrain — head outside where wind and hills up your effort, and you can expect to burn even more. (PSA: Burning calories doesn't have to be a focus or goal of your run. If having this info on hand isn't your jam, power off your fitness tracker and go for a tech-free jog.)

13 of 13

Could Help You Live Longer

two women running on outdoor trail
Blend Images - Erik Isakson/Getty

When taken together, all the health benefits of running could actually help you live longer. In fact, runners have a 25 to 40 percent reduced risk of premature mortality and live about three years longer than non-runners, according to a 2017 study published in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases.

What's more, runners who also regularly took up other aerobic physical activities, such as cycling, swimming, walking, basketball, and racquet sports, had the greatest benefit. These runners had a 43 percent lower risk of death, according to the study. So if you've been itching to skip your morning run and try an indoor cycling class, take this research as a reason to give it a go.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles