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The benefits of running

Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News


Sept. 14--We all know that in order to stay healthy, we need to move our body -- preferably 30 minutes a day and a minimum of five times a week. However, we often make up numerous excuses not to exercise, ranging from "no time" or "too tired" to "no one to go with."

These pretexts might work for some sports that are time consuming and costly, but they certainly don't apply to running. Running -- or call it jogging if you are a beginner -- does not need too much of your time, is cheaper than any other sport, and can be done anywhere and at anytime. All you need is a good pair of running shoes, and off you go! Moreover, running is one of the best workouts there is, as it is a very intense sport. Arab News gives you the multiple health benefits of running to keep you motivated if you're already a runner or to make you want to start running right now!

For many people, the most important reason to start running is to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. They are right; running is a great way to burn calories. Research has shown that the pace does not matter that much. It is mainly the distance and your body weight that count. While running, a person burns approximately his weight multiplied by the number of kilometers he runs. So a person who weighs 70 kilos will burn 700 calories in a 10 km run.

Apart from the calories burnt during the workout, your body will keep burning more calories after the run, while it is repairing your muscles from the training session. In addition, as running builds muscle mass, your resting metabolism will go up. Running also speeds up the digestive system and can help relieve digestive problems. Starting to run, naturally, is not a license to eat whatever you feel like, but it will, combined with a balanced diet, definitely help you to reach or maintain a healthy weight.

Running strengthens the heart, which is a muscle just like all other muscles in our body, and helps prevent heart attacks. When we make our heart work, it will get stronger and bigger and will need less beats per minute to transport the blood and oxygen through the body. In fact, the heart of an inactive person beats 36,000 more times each day than that of a runner.

Apart from a stronger heart, regular running improves our cardiovascular health. During a run, a person's arteries expand and contract three times more than when being sedentary. This helps maintain the elasticity of the arteries -- it keeps the arteries open -- which in its turn lowers blood pressure by keeping the blood flow smooth. Regular running, in addition, raises HDL (good) cholesterol and reduces the risk of blood clots.

Contrary to what most nonrunners say and perhaps wish to believe, running does not destroy your joints and bones. In fact, the opposite is true: Those who run regularly will have stronger bones as they age compared to those who do not run. Our bones seem to respond to the law of "use it or lose it." They react to physical demands by growing stronger. The reason is simple: running increases oxygen flow to and flushes out toxins from the joints. In addition, as said before, runners are less likely to suffer from obesity, which appears to be the main factor in developing osteoporosis. Again, a healthy diet with a sufficient amount of calcium and vitamin D is indispensable to maintain healthy joints and bones.

The bones and joints of runners are not only stronger, but also better protected, as jogging will strengthen the muscles around them. True, running will not make you look like a body builder, but it will definitely make the muscles in your legs, hips, back and even arms stronger. Depending if you focus on sprints or long-distance running, your muscles will be more or less bulky, but even those skinny and weak-looking marathon runners have strong leg and core muscles that enable them to complete the 42.195 km race.

As all cardio workouts, running helps maximize the lungs' potential, as it keeps them strong and powerful. We normally use only 50 percent of our lung potential, but running encourages the use of the other half. Research has proven that the lungs of a runner work 1.5 times better than those of the average adult. This means your life overall will improve, as it will make all activities easier -- from playing with your kids to taking the stairs, and from taking a dive in the sea to playing a musical wind instrument.

Running has long-term benefits. Given that running has a positive effect on the immune system by creating a higher concentration of lymphocytes in the blood, you will have a smaller chance to get a cold or other viral infection. Related to this is that running improves sleep and helps control stress levels. Indeed, an intensive running workout is one of the best ways to relieve off stress and daily frustrations.

Regular running simply improves your physical appearance. Besides helping you to maintain a healthy weight and building muscles, running makes your hair and skin look healthier (because of the improved blood circulation) and slows down the aging process by preventing muscle and bone loss. As the saying goes: We don't stop running because we get old; we get old because we stop running.

Ever heard of the term "runner's high"? During a running session our brains release endorphins and other feel-good hormones that make us calm and sometimes give us a sense of euphoria. This is called a runner's high. Running is even frequently recommended to people suffering from depression and other psychological disorders, because studies show that running reduces depression symptoms. However, running has more psychological benefits. Healthy adults who exercise regularly are generally happier than those who don't. Running also builds confidence and gives a feeling of empowerment. It increases self-esteem, especially when you accomplish a previously set goal, such as running 30 minutes without a break or finishing a 5 km run. Running helps the mind to focus and get rid of any anger or fear. Since the movement is a monotonous one, the effects of running can be similar to those of meditation. While running, we can free our mind of negative thoughts and trigger creativity.

This list with health benefits is hopefully sufficient (though not exhaustive!) to make you tie your running shoe laces. Then comes the next question: how to start? Next week we will discuss the best way for a beginner to start running.


(c)2011 the Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)

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