If you’ve never run a step, you might be wondering whether you should take you first few and give running a go. The answer? Yes – because the benefits of running for both your body and mind are huge. Here are 10 of the best…
1. It can help you live longer
Various studies have shown the life-extending benefits of running and exercise more broadly.
Most recently, a 2023 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research & Public Health has found that running for as little as 75 minutes per week can add a solid 12 years to your life. Looking at 4,400 subjects, this study compared those who ran at least 75 minutes a week with those who ran less than 10 minutes a week, and shows that big rewards can come from a small, manageable amount of running.
The National Runners’ and Walkers’ Study at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California backs this. Having followed more than 154,000 runners and walkers since 1991, the Study has found that as little as three to seven miles of running per week reduces the risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes and high cholesterol. In a study of 55,000 people, meanwhile, researchers at Iowa State University found running three times a week for an average of just 17 minutes a time reduced the risk of fatal heart attack or stroke by 55%.
This all adds more evidence to the pile that running works wonders for your lifespan.
2. It can reduce cancer risk
While running doesn’t cure cancer, plenty of research suggests that it can help to prevent it. A review of 170 studies in the Journal of Nutrition showed that regular exercise is associated with a lower risk of developing certain cancers, including colon cancer (where risk in regular exercisers was reduced from 40% to 70%), breast cancer (30% to 40%) and lung cancer (30% to 40%).
Another study performed a genetic analysis of nearly 131,000 women from around the world, including nearly 70,000 who had been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. It found that people who were likely to engage in ‘greater overall physical activity, greater vigorous activity, and lower sedentary time’ – based on their DNA – had a 41% lower risk of invasive breast cancer than those who were inactive. This means that physical activity such as running could help to safeguard your body against diseases such as this.
3. It keeps your mind sharp
The physical benefits of running are enormous, but let’s not overlook the psychological ones, too.
Research in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review posited ‘insurmountable’ evidence that regular exercise helps to curb age-related mental decline, with Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience also finding that adults over the age of 50 who take up aerobic exercise benefit from better cognitive function and improved blood flow in the brain. What’s more, a separate study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that those who ran 15.3 miles per week had a 40% lower risk of dying from Alzheimer’s disease than non-runners.
The cognitive benefits of running, then, are worth keeping in mind.
4. It’s good for your joints
Sorry, naysayers! Despite popular legend, running won’t wreck your knees. Instead, it can actually strengthen your knees and other joints, with research from Stanford University in California finding that recreational runners showed less wear and tear on their joints than non-runners. In addition, research published in Osteoporosis International found that older runners had higher bone mineral density than sedentary folk and swimmers of the same age.
5. It soothes stress
Ever felt more relaxed and energised after a run? If so, you aren’t alone, as running is repeatedly cited as an activity that helps you to lift mental loads and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
A small study conducted by Asics measured the brain waves of participants before and after a 20-minute run, and found that even this relatively short bout of exercise led to a 58% reduction in levels of cognitive stress.
6. It doesn’t cost much
We all have different budgets and priorities, and you can of course spend a lot of money on premium running goods such as carbon-fibre trainers, high-tech apparel and GPS gadgets should you want to. But, strip things back to basics and all you really need to get started and feel the benefits of running is a pair of decent trainers and a comfortable outfit that doesn’t chafe. As far as sports go, running is one of the most affordable you can choose to do.
7. It’s perfect ‘me time’
Running is a great way to give yourself permission to do something just for you. As you log the miles you can listen to music, catch up on an audiobook or your favourite podcast, or leave your phone at home, unplug yourself from the grid altogether and simply be mindful of your breathing and the sights and sounds around you.
Whether it’s to escape the kids or your inbox, or to simply catch some fresh air while you can, carving out time for a run helps to keep the balance of your life in check.
8. You can enjoy nature
Talking of fresh air, going for a run really is an ideal reason to get outside and enjoy the therapeutic benefits of nature. One study published in Environmental Science & Technology found that people who exercised outdoors reported increased energy and decreased feelings of depression and were more likely to repeat their workouts.
Other research published in Scientific Reports found that those who spent two hours in nature a week were more likely to report good health and life satisfaction. Running in a natural environment is also good for boosting your levels of vitamin D – of which many Britons are deficient – so there’s no better reason to hit the trails or your local park for your next run.
9. It puts you in control
Adaptable and flexible, running is the ultimate pursuit for personalisation – you can choose precisely how and when you want to approach it.
You can run solo or with others, recreationally or to build up to races, for 15 minutes or for a full marathon, first thing in the morning or as the final activity to wrap up your day. A special benefit of running is that it’s not a one-size-fits-all activity, but instead one that can slot into your life according to your unique schedule. It’s up to you.
10. It can make you happier
When you go for a run, you can leave negativity at the door, as studies have proven that running can enhance your mood and general sense of wellbeing.
One study, conducted by Glasgow Caledonian University, quizzed more than 8,000 parkrun regulars on their health and wellbeing. On average, they scored 4.4 out of 6 on the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire, which is above the average of score of 4 for the general population. Plus, 89% of parkrunners said that running regularly made them feel happier and had a positive impact on their mental health – and that’s perhaps one of the best benefits of running you can get.