The surprising reasons you should start running (whatever your fitness level)

If you need an extra push to lace up and get going, this is it. Here are five science-backed benefits of a regular jog – whatever speed you go at. 

Runners are forever banging on about how amazing running is. We’re boring – we know that. It might take a little while before it feels easier but before long, you’ll start reaping the mental health benefits of jogging. I’m pretty sure relationships have been saved thanks to someone popping out for a 5K and working through irritations on the road instead of going into battle against their housemate/partner/parent.

After a few months of running, you’ll probably notice that you’re fitter, able to push harder and keep going longer. The heart health benefits of running are well known.

But there are far more reasons to run than that, and some are genuinely surprising. From boosting your stamina in other activities to giving your eyes a sporting chance against disease, these are just a few of the reasons to grab your trainers. 

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Runners tend to have better gut health

There’s plenty of research to show that runner and other athletes have0 higher levels of different gut bacteria, but the main thing to know is that running regularly can improve your overall gut microbiome profile.

One 2018 study found that people who ran three to five times a week had higher levels of butyrate – a short-chain fatty acid that reduces inflammation and produces more energy in the gut. Another study found that marathon runners had high levels of the bacteria veillonella, which feeds off lactic acid (the stuff that builds up after a tough workout causing DOMS). The more veillonella you have, the longer you might be able to run. 

Running de-ages our skin (even if you’re over 65)

A small study from McMaster University in Canada has found that exercising can reverse skin ageing in people who take it up later in life. A small group of volunteers aged 20 to 84 were split into two groups: the first did at least three hours of jogging or cycling every week, while the other was sedentary. At the end of the study, people were asked to let scientists examine a butt cheek (yep, really).

Scientists wanted to look at the impact exercise had had on skin that hadn’t been exposed to the sun, and they found that after the age of 40, men and women who exercised frequently had thicker dermis layers in their skin. In fact, theirs was much closer in composition to the 20- and 30-year-olds in the group than sedentary members of their own age bracket. And when, later, the scientists set a group of sedentary volunteers to start jogging, they found their skin radically de-aged.

Runners tend to have a younger biological age – which impacts skin health too.

Jogging at a moderate pace can help to keep eyes healthy

This might sound random, but your eyes can benefit massively from regular running. In fact, a paper published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise analysed data from over 9,500 people and found that the likelihood of poor eye health is linked to cardio fitness and frequency. 

The ideal level of fitness for significantly reducing the risk of glaucoma? Being able to run a 30-minute 5K.

Another study looked at the impact running has on the health of the blood vessels that support eye function. Comparing 100 marathon runners to 46 non-active people, researchers found that runners had much healthier eyes in general, particularly when it came to their retinal veins and arteries. 

Worried about your eyesight deteriorating with age? One study found that those who run over 2.4 miles a day (3.8K) cut their risk of developing age-related macular degeneration later in life. And that, researchers suggest, is because running keeps our bodies biologically young – slowing the ageing process in general.

Running outdoors can boost our immune system

If you turned to running during the pandemic, you probably did so to reap the mental health benefits as much as the physical ones. We all needed a release. But running will have served an added bonus: boosting immunity.

In fact, a 2021 study published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Medicine, confirmed that exercise of “adequate intensity” can help to strengthen and prepare the immune system for dealing with Covid. It concluded that activities like running prompted the body to release pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines and encouraged cell recruitment, which seems to have “an effect on the lower incidence, intensity of symptoms and mortality in viral infections observed in people who practice physical activity regularly”, scientists found.

Now that’s not to say that people who run don’t get Covid – they absolutely do. But there may be a link between regular running and the risk of really intense symptoms.  

People who run are supposed to be less at risk of severe Covid symptoms.

Running can help in other ways too. It causes an increase in the circulation of antibodies and white blood cells in the body, which means illnesses are detected earlier. 

When we run, our body temperature increases and that can help the body to fight off infection better, while running outdoors is a great way to reduce stress – and we know that chronic stress can lead to more frequent infections. 

Running can increase sexual satisfaction and pleasure 

We hate it when people talk about sex being a form of exercise or a chance to burn calories as much as the next person. Fundamentally, sex should be about pleasure and connection. But that’s not to say that what you do outside of the bedroom/sofa doesn’t have an impact on the intensity or satisfaction in the moment.

For a start, people who do regular, vigorous cardiovascular exercise are less likely to suffer from sexual dysfunction than others. Studies have also found that exercise can lead to increased sexual satisfaction, desirability and self-reported performance. 

It’s worth flagging that you can overdo running and that exercising excessively could well see your libido come crashing down. But in moderation (150 minutes a week, for example), running may be as good as (and much less expensive than) a plate of oysters. 

Images: Getty

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