Heather* is 50 years old, well educated, and has spent most of her adult life in desk jobs. In high school she was intellectual and basically unathletic. She has a family history of high cholesterol. Five years ago she was in chemotherapy for breast cancer. Now she's an avid runner.
She started running 3 years ago. Since then, her "bad" cholesterol levels are about half what they were before and her "good" cholesterol levels have risen. Her resting heart rate is in the 50s, and she feels great.
"People say I'm addicted to running because I talk about it all the time," Heather says. "I guess I am a bit, but it makes me feel so good I want to share it with others. People have this idea that running's unpleasant. But they're thinking it's like running for the bus. Just getting out for an easy jog is surprisingly pleasant, energizing, and scenic."
Three of the most important reasons people who like to run give for running are that it keeps them healthy, they do it to do well in races or achieve other personal goals, and it feels great. And all of these are good reasons to do it.
The health benefits of running are well established. Running, like all regular exercise, is known to give the following benefits:
- You're less like to die prematurely.
- You're less likely to die of heart disease.
- You're less likely to develop diabetes, colon cancer, or high blood pressure.
- If you have high blood pressure, it will help reduce it.
- It helps control weight.
- It helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints.
- It helps improve mood and coordination.
- If you're an older adult, it helps you to be stronger and better able to move without falling. It will also reduce bone loss associated with osteoporosis.
And while regular aerobic exercise such as running might seem to be something that would leave you feeling tired, in reality it improves your energy levels. You'll feel less sluggish, not more, if you're hitting the trail a few times a week.
The feel-good component also has a real basis. The so-called "runner's high" isn't just a legend - running really can produce higher levels of beta-endorphins, "feel-good" hormones, in the brain. But the benefits extend well beyond that. Running, like all regular exercise, promotes psychological well-being and reduces stress and feelings of depression and anxiety. A fitter body has been found to help you have a fitter mind, and you will feel better about yourself - and sleep better, too.
Naturally, if you're competitive, running is a great sport for you. If you live near a major urban center, you're within an easy drive of the start line for dozens of races each year with distances from 5 kilometers to a marathon (42.2 kilometers, or 26 miles) and even farther. And because of the variety of people running in each, and because races categorize runners by age and gender, you're guaranteed competition at your level, whatever your level is.
And if you're not a "jock," then you're in the right crowd with runners. A surprisingly high percentage of runners were not athletic at all when they were in school, and a much larger-than-average portion of them were gifted or top-of-their-class students.
*Heather is based on a real person. Minor details have been changed.