The benefits of running include both physical and mental gains. Here are just five of them, explained by an expert coach.
It’s safe to say that 2020 was the year that running’s popularity skyrocketed. With gyms closing due to the pandemic, many people dusted off their trainers, downloaded Strava and took to the streets to make the most of the daily outdoor exercise allowance.
A year later and gyms are finally open again. Given the grey April weather, indoor exercise is currently much more preferable to getting wet and cold on a run. But that doesn’t mean that your stint as a runner should become a distant memory as you return to your usual form of exercise.
Running improves cardiovascular health
If you’ve taken up running during lockdown or have been running for a while, you may have noticed a few changes to how your body reacts to movement. For one, it improves cardiovascular health which increases endurance so that you can sustain vigorous activity for longer stretches of time.
The best part is, you don’t have to spend hours pounding the pavement or sprinting at maximum effort levels to notice these changes. “Longer and slower runs help to build your aerobic base and overall cardiovascular health. It is why exercise is so important for the body,” says Emma Kirk-Odunubi, a running gait analyst and strength and conditioning coach.
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“Working your heart rate in a longer, more steady state without taxing yourself increases oxygen uptake by the muscles and enables them to become more efficient at doing so,” Emma explains.
This in turn will help to improve your overall fitness and you’re likely to notice the benefits in everyday life – such as finding it easier to walk up the stairs or run to catch a taxi.
When you’re short on time, yet eager to reap the benefits of running, Emma recommends running in intervals. “Training at a higher intensity means the body will use energy from different sources. During recovery, it relies on a lower intensity aerobic system to recover and replace energy stores. So, if you are short on time and want to workout, then a short 20-minute interval run is ideal.”
Running builds overall strength
Despite popular belief, lifting weights is not the only way to strength train and build muscle – running can do the same. We’re not saying that running should replace your strength training or weight lifting routine, as the two go hand-in-hand. “Running on hills or tough terrain is a great way to strengthen your entire body,” says Eastnine run coach Ania Gabb.
Running on uneven surfaces forces you to use your stabiliser muscles – such as your glutes, abs and back. These muscles are responsible for keeping you balanced and steady, so when you’re running on uneven terrain, these same muscles have to work even harder to help you maintain your form.
“Doing hill sprints or running a route with hills is a great way to build your overall strength, especially in your legs. Your muscles work harder as you climb up an incline, but as you become stronger those inclines will feel a little bit easier,” adds Ania.
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Running makes you more confident
While some people enjoy running solo, others might find that it can be an effective way to meet like-minded individuals who are on a similar fitness journey. The support of a running community can make all the difference if you’re trying to stick to your goals.
“When I joined Run Dem Crew in 2015, I quickly realised how beneficial having a community is. For them it was about family, running was just what brought us together,” says Dora Atim, Nike+ run coach and founder of Black Ultra Running.
“Running with people in your community can be reassuring as they will understand what you are experiencing,” explains Dora.
Running communities make you feel valued – not only as a runner, but also as a person. It’s hard not to feel good about yourself or be motivated to give it your all when you’ve got a team of people rallying behind you.
Running can manage health conditions
We must always remember that everyone’s body is different and each of us respond differently to treatments – especially when it comes to long-term illnesses and health conditions. While running is by no means a cure-all, it could help to keep symptoms from illnesses or the risk of disease at bay.
Studies have found that running helps to improve your blood circulation and could lower blood pressure as it improves the body’s ability to take in and use oxygen. “Regular aerobic exercise such as running can make your heart stronger – and a stronger heart can pump more blood throughout your body while using less effort. If our heart can work less in order to pump, the force on our arteries also decreases – which can therefore lower our blood pressure,” explains Grace Rowland, cardiac physiologist and run coach.
Sophie Grace Holmes who is a personal trainer and endurance athlete, says exercise and running in particular saved her life. At four months old, she was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (a life-threatening lung disease) and was told she wouldn’t live past the age of sixteen. Sophie started running when she was 11 and has been using it as a tool to keep her lungs healthy ever since.
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“When I was 19, my lung function dropped to 50%, but through running (including hills and sprints), it increased my lung function up to 105% in around three months,” says Sophie, who now competes in endurance events such as marathons. “It’s important that my lungs are trained like any other muscle so that they remain strong. Running is the perfect exercise to do so - especially if you focus on breath work during a session.”
Boosts your mood
You’ve probably heard before that running is an effective stress reliever. It’s where the phrase “runner’s high” comes from and a recent study by ASICS on 14,000 people found that during the pandemic, 82% of UK runners said that running helps to clear their mind – while 78% felt that it made them feel more sane and in control of their life.
Many women have reported that running allows them to switch off from the world. “I use it as my headspace. Especially throughout this difficult and unnerving climate. It’s been a godsend for getting out and just clearing my mind,” says Emma.
“I have discovered that running for me is survival. The world is a very strange place at the moment. Running has been one of the only things keeping me going. No races, no structured training, just running because it gets me outside. It helps me get clarity on how I am actually feeling,” comments Dora.
To stay committed, try scheduling in your runs like you would a meeting. Putting your phone on airplane mode will allow you to run safely without any distractions. It’s also a great time to listen to your favourite playlist or podcast to accompany you on your run. Whichever way you try to stick with running, your body will thank you for it.
Try our Strength Training for Runners plan at the Strong Women Training Club
Attention all runners, joggers and plodders: start your 14-day free trial at the Strong Women Training Club and join us for four weeks of Strength Training for Runners! Over the course of the plan, you’ll strengthen key running muscles, improve core control and work on any imbalances that may be causing injuries. It’s all bodyweight focused so don’t worry about having to buy any equipment. If you decide it’s not for you, you can cancel after 14 days without spending a penny. Get ready to run stronger!
Follow @StrongWomenUK on Instagram for the latest workouts, delicious recipes and motivation from your favourite fitness experts.