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9 unexpected benefits of running

Let's explore the benefits of the world’s oldest sport

Two young women laugh as they run on treadmills at the gym
Two young women laugh as they run on treadmills at the gym

It’s said that the first hungry humans started running so that they could hunt down the Ice Age’s version of a filet mignon. Thankfully these days we no longer need to chase beasts across harsh terrain to acquire our dinner (although Thursday evening grocery shops aren’t too far from it), yet millions of Aussies still run or jog regularly.

So apart from burning calories, what are some of the benefits of the world’s oldest sport?

We spoke with Sue Cook who launched Run Squad, an intensive 12-week running program designed for children with disabilities, to get the low-down on some of the more unexpected perks that come from pounding the pavement.

It lowers the risk of osteoarthritis

It’s a common misconception that running is bad for your joints with a scientific review in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy finding that moderate runners (those that run recreationally) have less chance of developing hip and knee arthritis than non-runners.

Researchers are assuming that this is because running helps to strengthen your bones and lower your body mass index (BMI), which means less strain on your joints as you age.

It helps you sleep better

Studies have found that strength and endurance training in the morning makes it easier to fall asleep of an evening, improving both the quality and quantity of night-time rest. Maybe it’s time to set the alarm a little bit earlier tomorrow?

It can be social

Running doesn’t have to be a solo sport, and team jogs or relays are a great way to meet new people and develop relationships.

“Running can be such an inclusive sport. You don’t need expensive equipment, you can do it almost anywhere and with our Run for Life program, we encourage all participants to join in and help each other. It gives all the young people an environment to be active with a sense of purpose and acceptance,” says Sue.

Credit: nib health insurance

It can help you succeed at work

Research suggests that regular aerobic exercise (like running) can help improve your ability to pay attention, plan and prioritise, complete tasks and self-monitor – all skills that come in handy in the workplace.

It boosts your mood

Did you know that 20 minutes of running has been found to be an effective antidepressant? This might explain the term ‘runner’s high’ – that euphoric feeling that runners describe after a good jog.

It improves your heart health

Physical activity is essential to maintaining a healthy heart and running not only strengthens this vital organ, but it also helps control your blood pressure.

It’s a fundamental movement

Running is a fundamental movement, so building your technique and practising it regularly is important for developing your coordination and stamina. And, Sue explains that there’s more to perfecting your running style than you might think,

“At Run for Life, we have a qualified team that focus on correct running technique, which involves everything from cadence, foot strike position and breathing to arm swing and posture.”

It reduces stress

Stressed out? It might be time to go for a run with research finding that it reduces activity in your frontal cortex, which can help you cope with everyday challenges without panicking.

It’s a confidence booster

The University of Florida analysed 57 research papers and found that exercise leads to an improvement in body image. This means that you’ll get more confidence in your body even if there is no physical change (like losing weight or gaining muscle tone).

Infographic breaking down benefits of running, including sleeping better, healthier heart, reduce stress, stronger joints and increase happiness

Ready to run?

If you’re new to running or have had a break, avoid injury by starting with small distances on flat ground and gradually increase distance and gradient. A great way to safely increase your running distances is to alternate walking and running throughout your session, (e.g. two minutes running, five minutes walking) and gradually increase running time and decreasing walking time as your fitness improves.

Warming up (with a brisk walk) and cooling down (with sustained stretches) is important for injury prevention regardless of how experienced a runner you are.

Most cities across Australia have running clubs if you’d rather run with a friend; otherwise, it’s a matter of grabbing some joggers, playing some good music and pounding the pavement. For more information, check out our article 5 running tips for beginners.

Run for Life is a Cerebral Palsy Alliance evidence-based 12-week running program designed for children and teens with disabilities and their siblings that’s supported by nib foundation. The program is designed to build technique, skills and confidence for participants, while promoting social engagement. It aims to improve the health, wellbeing and quality of life for youth with disabilities and support the health and wellbeing of the broader family unit. For more check out nib foundation’s dedicated page.