There’s nothing like exercise to get you inspired to live a healthier lifestyle, and now that the sun is shining, you’ve got the perfect reason to take your workout from the gym to the great outdoors. And when it comes to a workout that offers some pretty awesome benefits without costing a penny, running wins every single time. From making you cleverer to more creative, here’s our expert rundown of what running can do for you.
1. Jumpstart creativity
Looking for inspiration to write your first novel, or paint a Picasso-esque work of art? Running doesn’t just make you fitter, it helps to develop creativity, too. It’s thought that doing regular exercise like running stimulates a special protein called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which is linked to a growth of new cells in the hippocampus region of the brain that helps with creative thinking. #win.
2. Expand your lifespan
Want to live to see through your 100th birthday? Running may get you one step closer! A new study, published in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, pegs running as a “lifestyle medicine for longevity.” The article reveals that runners have a 25 to 40 per cent reduced risk of premature mortality. “This can be attributed, among other things, to the positive effects of moderate amounts of running on health factors such as blood pressure, obesity and cholesterol,” says two-time Olympian Andy Baddeley.
3. Lose weight
The physical benefits of running can’t be underestimated, so if you’re looking to shed excess pounds, heading out for a run is a surefire ticket to a slimmer body. “Adding exercise to a mainly sedentary lifestyle is a great starting point for losing weight. Getting out for a run is a brilliant way to boost your metabolism and kickstart a new lifestyle, but needs to be part of a sensible build-up and long-term changes to diet and lifestyle,” says Baddeley. For maximum calorie burn, factor intervals into your run, (periods of high intensity followed by a slower pace) to keep your metabolism fired up.
4. Improve your mood
There’s no better way to take the sting out of a bad day than going for a run. Exercise such as running helps with the production of the happiness neurotransmitter serotonin, which is essential for balancing mood and positive emotions – hence the term ‘runner’s high.’ Best of all, the effects are pretty much instant. One study found that a 30-minute stint on the treadmill acted as a potent mood lifter in patients suffering depression, while another study proved that running, together with regular meditation, can help relieve depression. The findings, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, studied the effects of aerobic exercise (in particular running) when combined with meditation. The results showed an improvement in mood and reduced negative feelings in patients with depression, and it’s thought that these benefits come as a result of an increased level of neurons in the brain. “To capitalise on the mental refresh that running provides, turn your session into a social event or switch off to music or a podcast to get in the zone,” says Baddeley.
5. Beat stress
Need to clear your head? Go for a jog. The rhythmic action of pounding the pavements automatically helps to relax the mind. “Running provides a distraction from the rigours and stresses of work and everyday life and you can’t help but feel more positive. Lace up and step outside to take advantage of the UK’s green spaces and get away from traffic and any office stresses,” says Baddeley. “Prolong the calming effects long after your workout ends by enjoying a warm bath to de-stress your muscles and soothe your senses.”
6. Be smarter
Ever thought running could make you brainier? Studies have shown it can! One study by Harvard Medical School proved that aerobic exercise actually alters your brain to improve memory and thinking skills. Cardiovascular exercise helps to reduce insulin resistance, lowers inflammation and stimulates the release of growth factors (brain chemicals which affect the health of neurons) and these positive effects are only brought on by aerobic exercise, and not by exercise such as resistance training. “Improving cardiovascular fitness has been shown to boost memory, as the core of the brain’s memory and learning systems (the hippocampus) responds strongly to aerobic exercise. Running can also improve concentration and has been shown to protect against age-related cognitive decline. It is currently suspected that this protective capacity stems from increasing blood flow to the brain,” says Baddeley.
7. Sleep better
If you’re having trouble catching enough zzz’s, a cardio fix in the fresh air could be the ticket to help solve your sleep problems. Experts believe 150 minutes of exercise per week can positively affect sleep quality, and help us feel more alert during the daytime. On the flipside, getting a good night’s kip could also improve your performance, too, helping you to feel more motivated to go that extra mile. Keep your workouts to earlier in the day for best results, as exercising late in the evening can throw off your regular sleep pattern by raising levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which naturally peter off in the evening.
8. Boost your self-esteem
Step outside your comfort zone and sign up for a race for a big confidence recharge. While signing up for a 5K or even half-marathon might not be something you’d normally do, embracing a new challenge can be of enormous benefit. “Setting a goal, working towards it, and then achieving that goal is a huge confidence booster, regardless of your level of experience or ability,” says Baddeley, who offers professional training camps to amateur runners and triathletes performanceteam.co.uk). “It’s important to set realistic goals, but they should also stretch you.” Keep a journal that focuses on your progress and review it regularly in the run-up to race day to keep your confidence high. “The most satisfying achievements are those that seem just out of reach,” says Baddeley. “Put together a plan, including interim milestones to aim for and check off, and split your challenge into manageable chunks. Share your goals with someone you trust to help to keep you accountable.
Words: Louise Pyne