From your muscles to your mental state, you gain a plethora of benefits from daily runs.
Are you in the midst of the #RWRunStreak and feeling like a different person than when you started? That’s because you are. Running every day triggers a variety of mental and physical benefits, all of which can help improve your athletic performance and make you a healthier human.
“If running or exercise were a pill, it would be the most widely prescribed drug in the world for all of the benefits for your health that it has,” Todd Buckingham, Ph.D., chief exercise physiologist at The Bucking Fit Life, a wellness coaching company and community, tells Runner’s World. “Exercise really is medicine, and running is medicine,” he says.
If you’re wondering about the effects of your daily dose, here are a list of all the benefits of running every day. Let it fuel you with motivation to keep running toward your run streak goal.
Your Heart Gets Stronger and More Efficient
As a new runner, those first couple of runs can be brutal. Your breathing is labored, and your heart feels like it’s pounding against your chest. Meanwhile, your legs are barely moving. But, a couple of weeks into your training, breathing becomes easier, and that heart-pounding sensation lessens as your feet pick up the pace.
If you’re wearing a fitness tracker, you may even notice a dip in your heart rate while you hit the same paces. “The heart is a muscle, just like every other muscle in the body. The more that you train it, the stronger it’s going to get,” Buckingham says.
He explains that running every day strengthens cardiac muscle tissue and causes the heart’s left ventricle, the chamber that forces oxygenated blood into the aorta (the artery that carries blood from the heart to the body), to increase in size. “There’s more space in that left ventricle to fill up with blood,” he says. “So not only is there more blood to be pumped out, but the heart is also stronger, so it can pump more blood out with each beat.”
As a result, your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to deliver oxygenated blood to your muscles. This is a boon for your daily runs and your overall heart health.
You Gain Muscle Mass and Strength
When you pound the pavement, treadmill, or trail day after day, your muscles—specifically, the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, soleus, and gastrocnemius (those last two are your calf muscles)—respond to the stimulus being imposed upon them.
“The muscle is damaged, and that means that the body has to repair the damaged muscles so that the same run doesn’t have the same effect that it did last time,” Buckingham says. Essentially, the muscles are re-built bigger and stronger. “It’s a lot like lifting weights,” he says.
But, unless your workouts consist of sprint intervals paired with resistance training, don’t expect to bulk up. Running long distances (even just a mile or more) at a sustainable pace primarily engages type I muscle fibers, which are good at resisting fatigue but are small in size. (Type II fibers, which are quick to fatigue but generate more force and power, are generally responsible for visible muscle growth.)
“You might see a little bit of increase in [muscle] size with distance running, but it’s not going to be as pronounced. Type I muscle fibers can get bigger, but not to the same extent as those type II fibers,” Buckingham explains.
Your Connective Tissue (Slowly) Adapts
Your body’s connective tissue, namely the tendons and ligaments, will also adapt to withstand the daily stress of running—just not as quickly as your muscle tissue. “The reason for this is because tendons and ligaments don’t have the same amount of blood flow that the muscles do, so it takes them longer to adapt,” Buckingham says.
While your muscles may begin to change a couple of weeks into a running streak, it could take three to four months for your tendons and ligaments to catch up, he says.
To prevent overuse injuries, it’s best to begin a streak with a conservative goal (a mile a day is a good place to start, says Buckingham) and gradually build upon that foundation. The general rule of thumb is to increase your mileage by no more than 10% each week, but Buckingham notes that this can vary depending on the athlete, their experience, and their mileage.
Avoiding long breaks is helpful for your connective tissues, says Alison Staples, coach at &Running in Howard County, Maryland. “Tendons need to be loaded consistently to learn how to accept the impact of running,” she says. “Running sporadically often leads to injury because we haven’t practiced loading our tendons enough before tacking on mileage.”
Your Nervous System Becomes Fine-Tuned
Buckingham compares the nervous system to a maze. “The first time you do it, you’re going to take a lot of wrong turns and end up doing extra work,” he says. But, over time, you learn the most direct path from point A to point B.
Similarly, the first few times you go out for a run, your neuromuscular connections will fire inefficiently, as one nerve fiber connects to multiple muscle fibers. Muscle fibers that don’t need to contract will be stimulated, resulting in wasted energy. However, with consistent running, your nervous system eventually adapts and learns the optimal route so everything works more efficiently.
Research backs this up, too, saying that consistent running trains your central nervous system to adjust to and get more efficient at the commands of running.
“The more you run, the more efficient you’re going to become [at running] because you’re teaching the body which muscle fibers should be firing and which shouldn’t,” Buckingham says.
You Feel Mentally Sharper
Running boosts circulation, increasing blood flow to the brain and delivering the nutrients you need to think and function. But exercise has also been shown to promote the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein important to brain function and memory.
“BDNF actually increases the brain’s ability to form new synapses, or connections, in the brain,” Buckingham says. “This helps with learning and memory. It makes it easier to absorb information and form long-term memories. The more BDNF that somebody has, the more the memory improves in function and capacity.”
According to Buckingham, the effects of increased BDNF are cumulative, but you may feel mentally sharper and more alert after just a few days of running.
Your Mood and Motivation Improve
BDNF can also help mitigate stress. “It doesn’t decrease stress hormones, but it does decrease the number of stress receptors,” Buckingham says. “And this could minimize the effect of those stress hormones in the brain.”
Add that to an exercise-induced endorphin release, and you have a recipe for an improved mood. In fact, research shows just 10 minutes of running can enhance your happiness.
“I am currently running the #RWRunStreak myself, and based on my own experience, running a mile every day has been a huge boost in my mood and motivation,” Staples says. “My one mile a day is my own form of non-negotiable self-care… And by doing this run streak, I’m certainly more relaxed and motivated to get my run in every day.”