Running may be the simplest sport. You just strap on a pair of shoes, head out the door and hit the ground, well, running. If you do run regularly, you experience a wealth of benefits, including improved health, weight management and mood. Running isn't for everyone, though. When you go out too hard, too soon or with ill-fitting clothes and shoes, you may suffer injuries. Running also requires a certain self-motivation that can be difficult to conjure up on days with poor weather or when you're feeling unmotivated.
Physical Pluses and Minuses
Running is a vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, meaning it challenges the large muscles of the body to raise the heart rate and burn calories. You strengthen your heart and lungs, your muscular system and your bones, due to the weight-bearing nature of the exercise. Almost anyone of any age can run; in fact, "The New York Times" reported in 2011 that masters runners, particularly those older than 60, are among the fastest growing population of runners. You naturally know how to run, as it's simply an extension of walking. People with joint problems, though, or those who are extremely overweight may find running uncomfortable or prohibitive. All the pounding involved in running requires an adaptation time. If you aren't one to be patient and gradually work up to faster speeds and longer miles, running may frustrate you. Running also doesn't do much to strengthen your upper body.
Weight Management, Sometimes
Running can lead to weight loss because it helps you to burn mega calories each session; if you burn more calories than you consume, you'll lose weight. A person can sizzle between 300 and 444 calories per half hour going at a 6 mph pace. Relying on running alone to lose weight can backfire, though. As you become more efficient at it, your body burns fewer calories during each exercise session, and running becomes less effective at helping you lose weight. You may also feel hungrier due to regular running. Your body tends to compensate, and you end up eating as many, if not more, calories than you ran off. The more you run, the more tired you become, and you may compensate by moving around less often during the day. Pair running with a low-calorie diet and you can get around these potential weight-loss barriers, but you have to make sure your diet includes enough calories to give you energy for the runs.
Impact on Mood and Connectedness
Regular aerobic activity, including running, can improve your mood and sleep cycles. Running also provides you with a documented feel-good sensation known as the "runner's high." It stimulates the release of brain chemicals that flood you with euphoric feelings -- but not everyone is so enamored of the activity. If you despise running and just can't motivate yourself to head out the door, running won't do you any good. It could make you feel frustrated and resistant to exercise as a whole. And running is primarily a solitary activity. You can join social running groups and teams, participate in races and find friends that run, but ultimately, you run solo. If you thrive in a large group, you're better off heading to a group fitness class or playing a team sport.
Weather and Gear
The simplicity of running is one of its appeals but also one of its potential drawbacks. Running outdoors is weather dependent. If you're not ready to hit the trails in the rain, snow, ice and wind, you'll have an inconsistent workout schedule. You can always switch to the treadmill during poor weather or dark mornings, but this requires a large equipment purchase or a gym membership. Although you can run in a plain cotton T-shirt and shorts, you'll benefit from investing in more technical fabrics that wick sweat and reduce chafing. Your wallet may also suffer from your regular shoe habit; running shoes typically lose their bounce after 300 to 400 miles and cost about $100 a pair. Get the wrong type of shoes for your particular gait and you may suffer injuries, such as knee or hip pain. Visit a running store to be properly fitted.
- Harvard School of Public Health: The Benefits of Physical Activity
- The New York Times: For Older Runners, Good News and Bad
- Harvard Health Publications: Calories Burned During 30 Minutes of Exercise for People of Three Different Weights
- Runner's World: 4 Ways That Running is Best for Weight Loss
- Runner's World: My Pros and Cons of Running
- Forbes: The 6 Weight-Loss Tips That Science Actually Knows Work
- The New York Times: When to Retire a Running Shoe
- Photo Credit Michael Blann/Digital Vision/Getty Images
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