Athletes, pro and amateur alike, have been touting the benefits of running since the days of ancient Greece. It's good for your body, it's good for your appearance, it's good for your mental health. With a few exceptions, there aren't many areas where running isn't good for you.
But not many people understand just how good it can be. Running isn't just a general health elixir or restorative. It doesn't just strengthen the heart and expand lung capacity. It also fights off some rather serious diseases, and quite effectively at that. Indeed, it's often so effective that many doctors now push it harder than medication.
There are, of course, some people who shouldn't run. They include people who are sick, asthmatics who have had recent flare-ups, people with recent concussions, people who are tired, people who experience sharp pain when they run, people with back pain, and pregnant women who don't already have regular running routines.
But the number of people excluded from running as a healthy exercise continues to shrink. Thirty years ago, those over the age of 50 were discouraged. Now, as long as they're otherwise healthy, people are routinely running well into old age, and showing all the health benefits that go along with it. Here are a few of the illnesses that running helps to combat.
Exercise is one of the most commonly prescribed treatments for almost all mental illnesses, but especially clinical depression. Running helps for a number of reasons. First, it releases endorphins and other pleasure-inducing chemicals in the brain; this is the cause of the well-documented "runner's high" that keeps so many athletes coming back. And any type of exercise tends to boost self esteem and self confidence, two of the key problems with many depressed patients. But running may also provide a psychological benefit, giving those with depression a period of stress-free meditation that is otherwise difficult to find.
Running prevents many cases of diabetes and helps diabetics
manage their diseases better. There are two types of diabetes. The first, type one, results from a lack of functioning insulin in the body. As a result, glucose can't properly enter the body's cells to provide fuel and instead piles up in the bloodstream, leading to dangerously high blood sugar levels. The second, type two, occurs when the cells in the body develop a resistance to insulin, leading to the same problem. There is as yet no known single cause for type one, but type two is often caused in part by obesity and poor health. Regular running, along with a balanced diet, can greatly reduce the risk of type two diabetes. And those who already have either type typically find it much easier to manage with a regular exercise routine of any sort.
Running is helpful in preventing many types of cancer, from breast cancer to colon cancer. Concerns have been raised over the years that running itself might contribute to cancer risks, but the science has never backed it up (aside from a link between marathoners and skin cancer that may simply be due to their frequent exposure to sunlight). Numerous studies in recent years show running is associated with a moderately lower risk of developing cancer. It can also be helpful to those who have already developed cancer: In one study of women with breast cancer, the most physically active had a 26 to 40 percent lower risk of recurrence or of cancer-related death.
4. Run to Your Heart's Content
Every now and again there's a cry and hue when a runner dies of a heart attack, usually during or after a marathon. People with active heart problems are cautioned from rigorous exercise, and it's always wise to confer with your doctor before starting something new. But the empirical reality is that running saves far more hearts than it hurts. You may be at a slightly greater risk of a heart attack during a marathon, statistically speaking, but only barely, and the long-term benefit to your heart more than outweighs it.
Running is one of the most popular exercises. It's also one of the most healthy, far and away. It's great for your heart, it helps fend off cancer, it helps prevent diabetes and it's a proven treatment for mental illness. And those are just a few of its many benefits. If you're looking for a new exercise routine, you can't go wrong with running.
Valerie Johnston is a health and fitness writer located in East Texas. With ambitions of one day running a marathon, writing for Healthline.com ensures she keeps up-to-date on all of the latest health and fitness news.