As a cardio exercise, running has the potential to benefit your heart and your overall health. Running will improve your overall fitness and can absolutely help you lose weight when combined with a caloric deficit.
Physical Benefits of Running
Running burns calories at a rapid rate, although the number of calories burned depends on exertion and each individual's body composition and fitness level. It's listed by the American Council on Exercise as one of the best calorie burners available, but it's important to note this refers to running, not jogging. These are two different activities, with running representing a higher intensity and speed than jogging.
Increased Cardiovascular Capabilities
Any cardio exercise done repeatedly has the potential to increase your stamina and cardiovascular capabilities, but running, in particular, is a great exercise for cardio training. This full-body exercise recruits both small and large muscles and challenges the heart.
Running burns calories. Rounds of sprinting are especially good for burning calories - sprints are high-speed, short distance episodes of running. When combined with a caloric deficit, running can help you lose weight. Some new runners first notice a loss in fat and inches before they notice any decrease in numbers on the scale. Clothes will start to fit better and the body will appear tighter than before they started running.
Though running shouldn't be your first choice for exercise if your main goal is to build your muscles and make them large (save that goal for strength training), running does utilize many different muscles and will help build strength. The leg muscles of the quads, hamstrings, calves, and the glutes and hip flexors are all utilized during running, but it's important to note that running is considered cardio and should be complemented with strength and flexibility training to help avoid injury.
Running increases blood circulation, which in turn increases the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to skin. The decrease in cortisol that comes from running is also beneficial to the skin, helping keep skin healthy and increasing collagen production.
Mental Health Benefits
Running helps the body release endorphins. Whether or not you ever experience the so-called "runner's high," getting exercise at regular intervals can help bolster your mood and give you an outlet for aggression or anxiety.
Running can help manage depression, but should not be used as a replacement for therapy or medication without first consulting with a licensed mental health professional. Most runners make the claim that a run can help boost their mood, but clinical depression needs more than running.
For those who have anxiety that presents as nervousness, running can help work out some of that nervous energy. Similarly to depression, anxiety can be lessened by the increased endorphins and decreased cortisol that come from running. Doing something good for yourself - like cardio exercise - can also help boost your mood and overall feelings of well-being.
Regular cardio exercise like running can help with getting better sleep at night, which in turn helps you avoid injury as restorative hormones are released during sleep to help you recover from the day's activities. Note that running close to bed time may actually make it more difficult to fall asleep, so time runs accordingly to derive the most benefit.
Men vs. Women
Though running is beneficial to both men and women, men typically make better runners for a few reasons:
- Their larger hearts give them better cardiovascular capacity.
- The position of a woman's hips makes running less natural for them than for men.
- Increased testosterone in men makes them pump red blood cells - and thus - oxygen more efficiently.
Body Composition Improvement by Gender
Men typically have an easier time losing weight from running than women due, largely due to the increased levels of estrogen in women. Estrogen compels the female body to hold on to body fat - which is beneficial to the female functions of carrying a baby and breastfeeding. So while both men and women will see body improvements from dedicated running, men may notice them faster.
Running takes practice, so don't expect to go run several miles on your first try. Start with fast walking, then try jogging, and then as your stamina improves, give running a try. You should see improvements in your stamina in as little as six weeks. Aim to get out for your 30 minute walk/jog or run three times a week, with recovery days in between. As you run more, you will notice you can go longer distances or can run faster than when you first started. Before you know it, you might be bragging about your "runner's high" experiences and will feel healthier than ever.