Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace – the London Marathon route passes them all but there’s got to be an easier way to take in the sights of the British capital city than enduring a gruelling 26.2 mile run, right?
Yet on Sunday April 17th more than 35,000 people lined up in Greenwich Park, after months of training in all-weather conditions, preparing to push their body to its very limits, and facing chafing, blisters, cramps, and exhaustion. So why do they do it? Why have hundreds of thousands of people over the years signed up for hours of pain?
Other than personal glory and taking part in a fantastic event, many decide to run long distance races in a bid to lead a healthier lifestyle. According to a survey of seven European nations recently undertaken by the running shoes and sports apparel brand ASICS, “running starts with a wish to get fit and lose weight.” Often, that goal sparks a passion for running that is separate from the physical health benefits, as runners start to enjoy pushing their body, feeling the adrenaline pumping and breathing in fresh air, as well as finding it a great way to clear the mind and reduce stress.
In that way, running benefits “first the body, then the mind.” In the survey, fitness was the seen as the primary reason for running, with losing weight a close second.
The American College of Sports Medicine’s Position Statement on Exercise is a tome packed with studies proving the myriad health benefits of endurance exercise. Moderate exercise of course has its benefits – doing something will always be better than doing nothing – but the ACSM report states that the longer or harder you exercise, the more your health will benefit. Long distance runners were shown to have an increase in good cholesterol, far greater decreases in body fat, triglyceride levels and risk of coronary heart disease than those who ran under 10 miles per week, plus a massive 50% reduction in high blood pressure.
Those are some pretty startling facts but there’s more. Runners burn more fat and more calories than almost any other athlete, running improves aerobic fitness by stimulating the muscles and heart to work more effectively, it can help to prevent certain types of cancer, and it boosts the immune system.
Some critics argue that long distance running is bad for your joints but those with obesity are far more likely to develop osteoarthritis, which occurs when the cartilage which is essential to cushion your joints starts to break down. In fact, running actually strengthens cartilage by flushing out toxins, stimulating oxygen flow and strengthening the ligaments around the joints. Of course, runners need to be careful – warming up and down is essential to reduce the risk of injury and sneakers should be replaced regularly – but ultimately running will help to strengthen joints and keep them mobile, not harm them.
As mentioned earlier, running doesn’t just reward the body with physical health benefits, it rewards the mind too. Studies have shown that running can reduce anxiety, something that many runners would wholeheartedly attest to. Running frees the mind and rids the body of stress-related tension and mental health professionals even use it as a tool to help treat depression and addictions. Running has also been linked to improved memory, thinking and learning functions.
The best thing of all? All these fantastic health benefits can be yours without having to join a club, pay membership fees, learn a new skill set, or fork out for expensive equipment. All you need is a supportive pair of running shoes, a bottle of water and you’re away! So when you watch the thousands of runners lining up at the start of the London Marathon, don’t pity them for what lies ahead, envy them for their healthy bodies and minds and be inspired to lace up your sneakers and start running yourself.
Will you run your way to a healthier body and mind?