Looking for inspiration to lace up and hit the roads, trails, or treadmill this week? Well, turn to science. The reasons to run go far beyond vanity. Check out these science-backed benefits of running—and then set your sights on your next finish line.
1. Running makes you happy
That euphoric sensation you experience after a long run or a jog around your favorite hometown route is legit. People toss around the term “runner’s high” casually, but it’s a real, scientifically-proven thing. That rush of feel-good hormones comes from endocannabinoids, and just 30 minutes of walking on a treadmill can instantly lift your mood. In fact, researchers at the University of Missouri Columbia recently found that running causes the same kind of neurochemical adaptations in the brain that are shared by addictive drugs. Just say nope to dope—and yes to another pair of Nikes.
2. Running can help treat depression
While running is no substitute for the help of a trained human professional, a 2013 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise showed that physical activity acts as an effective alternative to treating depression. Combine your miles with a pre- or post-workout meditation session, and the benefits are substantial, a 2016 study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry reported.
3. Running gives your brain a boost
A recent study published in London’s Journal of Physiology shows that running can help you develop massive cognitive gains. Running activates and enhances neuron reserves in the human brain, which are central to the brain’s capacity to learn, the study shows. Bonus: Running can actually multiply those reserves more than other kinds of high-intensity resistance training.
4. Running can improve your memory
Can’t remember what you had for lunch yesterday, or where you put your favoUrite pair of New Balances after last week’s bootcamp session? Lace up and hit the road, because going for a run can directly affect your brain in the short- and long-term. A 2014 study at the University of British Columbia revealed that regular aerobic exercise—the kind that gets your heart rate up and makes you sweat, a la SoulCycle or running—can boost the size of your hippocampus. And that’s a good thing: The hippocampus is the area of the brain involved in verbal memory and learning.
5. Running keeps you sharp
Worried about “losing it” as you get older? Keep running! A recent study published in the journal Neurology showed that older people who continue exercising regularly experience a slower rate of mental decline. Get ready to use that #grandmotherrunner tag loudly and proudly!
6. Running helps your heart
There’s an abundance of studies proving that running helps heart function. A recent University of Hartford study, in particular, studied marathon runners and found that their running habits led to decreased cardiovascular risk factors.
7. Running doesn’t destroy your knees — it strengthens them!
If you’re a runner, you’ve undoubtedly been told it’s “bad for your knees!” We call BS—and science has our back on this one. Studies show that running actually helps increase bone mass and can slow age-related bone loss.
8. Running can reduce cancer risks
Several studies also have reported links between physical activity and a reduced risk of cancers of the prostate, lung, and lining of the uterus (endometrial cancer).” Furthermore, findings published in the Journal of Nutrition have suggested that running may lessen a person’s susceptibility to certain forms of cancer.
9. Running can help you live longer
When it comes to living your longest, healthiest life, what you eat matters—but so does how you sweat. A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that there are twice as many deaths due to lack of exercise than to obesity.
10. You don’t need to run a lot to reap the benefits
You don’t need to be a marathon runner to reap all these running-related rewards. Instead, according to a meta-analysis published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, running just 50 minutes per week—the equivalent of one six-mile run or two 5Ks—can protect the body from risk for stroke, arthritis, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and some cancers.