If, like many others, you began your running career in a mire of hungover resolution on New Year’s Day, then that resolution may be beginning to fade. Research shows that as many as 50% of newcomers to running will give up in their first couple of months. But while everyone already knows that running is “good for you”, there are more benefits to come if new-starters can keep going and make it a regular habit. So, for those whose shins may be aching, knees complaining, and the sofa beckoning, here are the top five reasons you have probably never heard of to keep going.
Running can make you smarter
Once new runners have developed a solid core-fitness level they can begin to dabble in interval training (short bursts of high-intensity activity interleaved with recovery phases). In a trial at the University of Muensterin Germany, neuroscientists demonstrated that interval runners exhibited enhanced levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which encourages the growth and longevity of neurons (especially in the hippocampus). They also reported higher levels of norepinephrine (a neurotransmitter responsible for enhancing vigilant concentration).
Running is not bad for your knees
This is a long-held suspicion among new and non-runners. I have an uncle (Jim Hogan) who is in his 80s and only stopped running a few years ago, and he did not stop because of his knees. In 1966 he won a European Championship gold for the marathon (he ran it barefoot). Clearly, if there were to be someone who would suffer cartilage injury after a lifetime of running, it would be uncle Jim. And indeed a recent study has now confirmed what most runners anecdotally knew: that our joints are highly tolerant of running, even those of beginners.
Running enhances your memory
Have you forgotten what you watched on TV last week? What about where you ran? For me, those answers are a clear “yes” and “no”. While there has been research that demonstrates that running enhances synaptic plasticity, the vibrant and lived experience of running takes little effort to recall for all sorts of other reasons. Virginia Woolf thought that walking was like reading, being a linear and creative mental activity. For many long-runners it becomes a closing down of the clatter of the everyday to become something resembling a deeply restorative and meditative focus. Which brings us to the raptures of ART …
Runners can rejoice in ART (or Attention Restoration Theory)
Exciting work is taking place in environmental and behavioural psychology which suggests that being in (or having experience of) natural environments is beneficial. Recently there have been repeated studies on the effects of nature on reducing stress, its ability to improve attention and increase longevity. One of the most persuasive bodies of work to emerge in recent decades that supports this idea comes from a team headed up by Stephen Kaplan [PDF], who explored the cognitive benefits of interacting with nature in various forms. They showed that natural surroundings can restore cognitive function in ways that we can measure but not explain. In this, and in the many hundreds of other similar studies, the data is so persuasive that we must accept that even in the grumpiest console-loving adolescent, there is (though rarely expressed) a deeply genetic love of the outdoors.
The secret of the ‘runner’s high’: anandamide
The sublime, quiet pleasure of the “long run” is difficult to explain to non-believers, but the “runner’s high” has become cultural shorthand for understanding why we do what we do. But what is it? For years, the “high” was given mythical status. Although many runners bragged about their highs, scientists were rightly sceptical that endorphins could have such an impact on mood and performance. In a recent meta-analysis, the link between exercise and mental disposition was described as merely “plausible”.
In her book Ultimate Fitness, Gina Kolata (science writer for the New York Times) wrote the high off as a myth, and the psychobiologist Huda Akil thought it a “total fantasy” borrowed from pop culture. The main problem with the old endorphin theory was that the brain has a protective fatty wall that prevents all manner of wronguns floating into our cerebellums. And, because endorphins (like most things) cannot penetrate it, they can’t be responsible for the rush of the high that runners report.
Though some questions remain, the mystery was recently solved: the runners had not been lying. A high is experienced when the endocannabinoid system is activated by the neurotransmitter anandamide. Anandamide bypasses the blood-brain barrier easily, provides pain relief, feelings of relaxation, exultation, and dilates blood vessels to make oxygen flow more easily around the body (it’s even found in chocolate). Palaeolithic endurance hunters out on the veldts of prehistory are thought to have evolved these mechanisms to make hunting more successful, rewarding, and less painful.
While the first three months of running are not as hard as training for a marathon, for me they came fairly close. Most of the rewards listed above are a regular part of a skilled-runner’s week, but beginners have to take on trust that something will make all the pain and exhaustion of inexperience worthwhile.
What, for you, are the hidden merits of running? What would you like to pass on to those who are finding it a struggle to keep going?
Check out our other Social Media sites:
Rachel C. , PhD Research Scientist Consultant @ U-VIB PhD,
Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling NREMT-P (National Registry of Paramedics)
– 911 Medic for over 15 years
– Scientist for over 7 years
– Runner for LIFE
contact Us at u-VIB
source: The Guardian by Vybarr Cregan-Reid