Sweat, sore muscles, burning lungs. Most people know all about those parts of running, from impassioned triathletes to people whose last memory of serious jogging was the compulsory gym class mile. If you feel more aligned with the latter group, it’s easy to wonder if running is even worth it. The short answer? Yes. It’s not the only way to get into a solid fitness routine, but for most people, most of the time, running can be worth it.
Just Journal of the American College of Cardiology “Leisure-Time Running Reduces All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality Risk” View Source may improve your overall physical and mental health and improve longevity. (The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend at least Department of Health and Human Services “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans” View Source .) In the short(er) term, running Johns Hopkins Medicine “The Truth Behind ‘Runner’s High’ and Other Mental Benefits of Running” View Source that boost the mood and improve relaxation.
My 30-Day Running Challenge
With this research in mind, I decided to embark on a 30-day running challenge. I wasn’t expecting an increased lifespan in just a month. But as a 29-year-old former college swimmer who’s never really enjoyed land-based workouts, I wanted to see what effects—if any at all—I would notice. (And if I end up becoming a centenarian, well, I’ll thank this experiment.)
These are the rules I set for my 30-day challenge:
- I’d run for 5–10 minutes every day, ideally in the morning.
- I could skip three days of exercise during the 30 day period.
- If I did a different kind of cardio (like surfing or skating), I’d be able to skip my run that day.
How Running Affects Your Body
1. Reduces The Risk of Heart Disease
The American Journal of Cardiology “Comparison of Aerobic Versus Resistance Exercise Training Effects on Metabolic Syndrome (from the Studies of a Targeted Risk Reduction Intervention Through Defined Exercise - STRRIDE-AT/RT)” View Source —like running—is a great way to reduce the risk of Mayo Clinic “Metabolic Syndrome” View Source , or your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. (Other key preventative methods include eating healthy food and not smoking.)
The great news is that you don’t have to train for a marathon to get these results. Just a mile a day or Archives of Internal Medicine “Miles run per week and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels in healthy, middle-aged men. A dose-response relationship” View Source may increase the amount of “good” cholesterol in your body. This is Mayo Clinic “HDL cholesterol: How to boost your 'good' cholesterol” View Source , which is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
I’m not a cardiologist, and I didn’t get any blood work done. This means I can’t say whether or not my experiment had an effect. Still, it’s good to know about!
2. Improves Metabolism
Medicine & Science in Sports & Medicine “A 45-minute vigorous exercise bout increases metabolic rate for 14 hours” View Source in the morning may increase your metabolic rate for the rest of the day, according to one study. This study was small (just 10 subjects) and done on men between the ages of 22-23. So—grain of salt.
In my own experiment, I noticed that I felt hungrier and ate a bit more than usual during the 30 days of my running challenge, but didn’t gain any weight. This reminded me of my days as a college swimmer and how hungry that vigorous, almost-daily exercise made me.
Still, if you’re looking to improve your metabolism, don’t just rely on running. How Exercise Affects Weight Loss and Metabolism “The New York Times ” View Source , and more research is needed to understand how running and other forms of exercise affect it.
3. Strengthens Bones
A week into my challenge, I decided to try ending my runs with a sprint. It’s something I used to do in college, so I figured I’d give it a try again. Turns out, quick sprints can positively affect bone health!
Just one or two minutes of International Journal of Epidemiology “A small amount of precisely measured high-intensity habitual physical activity predicts bone health in pre- and post-menopausal women in UK Biobank” View Source per day is associated with better bone health. This is also true with running in pre-menopausal women and jogging (or running at a slightly slower pace) in post-menopausal women.
Other studies show that running can Scientific Reports “Running exercise strengthens the intervertebral disc” View Source and thereby decrease your chances of experiencing what a slipped or herniated disc feels like. On the other hand, running can sometimes UNH Hospitals “A Runner's Guide to Lower Back Pain” View Source . This is usually due to muscle strain (which can be caused by wearing worn-out or ill-fitting shoes or overtraining) and muscle imbalances (which means that some muscles are weak while others are overworked). You can counteract this by making sure you’re wearing running shoes that work for you and working on crosstraining, particularly in the core muscles. If pain persists, visit a doctor or physical therapist.
4. Keeps Eyes Healthy
Both running and walking may help decrease your Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise “Walking and running are associated with similar reductions in cataract risk” View Source —or clouding in the eye that can cause blurred vision. I am blessed with eagle-like eyes. But if running gives me a higher chance of keeping my 20/20 vision for a long time, I’ll take it.
Running and Mental Health
People who put their workout routine on halt during the coronavirus pandemic BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine “Changes in physical activity and sedentary behaviours from before to during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown: a systematic review” View Source , which can have negative short- and long-term effects on physical and mental health. Those who picked up or continued their daily exercise routine during the pandemic Frontiers in Psychology “When Pandemic Hits: Exercise Frequency and Subjective Well-Being During COVID-19 Pandemic” View Source . Exercise Johns Hopkins Medicine “The Truth Behind ‘Runner’s High’ and Other Mental Benefits of Running” View Source in the bloodstream, which promotes short-term psychoactive effects such as reduced anxiety and feelings of calm. Moral of the story: running (and other exercise) is good for your mental health!
5. Boosts Your Mood
10 minutes of physical activity per week (!) may be enough to increase your Journal of Happiness Studies “A Systematic Review of the Relationship Between Physical Activity and Happiness” View Source , according to one study.
Just a few days into my running challenge, I noticed that I felt happier overall—and I can prove it too! I’ve been tracking my habits and mood in a bullet journal since 2017, so it’s easy for me to compare last month’s data with that of previous months. I was diagnosed with depression a couple of years ago, so my experience won’t align with everyone’s. Still, it was cool to see the results myself.
6. Manages And Relieves Stress
Running won’t take your stress away, but research suggests that regular exercise can make it much easier for you to Frontiers in Physiology “Regular exercise is associated with emotional resilience to acute stress in healthy adults” View Source . Running can impact your emotional resilience and protect you from the negative emotional consequences of stress.
This was the very reason I started my running challenge in the first place. Then, it just so happened to be the perfect timing because I was also writing about it for work. Without my daily cardio exercise, I’d started to feel restless and more nervous than usual.
I decided to start running again when I couldn’t fall asleep on a Tuesday night. And wow, was that a good idea. I felt a little tired in the afternoon for the first week of my running challenge, but I also felt significantly less stressed around bedtime.
I also found myself craving exercise whenever life got a bit more stressful. Then, I channeled that energy into my next workout.
7. Boosts Creativity
Aerobic workouts British Journal of Sports Medicine “Exercise enhances creativity independently of mood” View Source independently of one another, according to one study. As someone who works in a creative field, this was really intriguing to me.
I decided to run without music to give my brain some wiggle room. Focusing on nothing but my steps, breath, and my dog trotting alongside me, my internal monologues got a lot more creative. I came up with ideas for work, had time to think about what I wanted to cook for dinner that evening, and brainstormed art projects I could do on the weekends.
Here’s the kicker, though: I didn’t just brainstorm art projects—I actually did them. This brings me to the next benefit of running.
8. Improves Productivity
After a couple of weeks of daily running, I found it much easier to actually do the things I set out to do. Instead of watching artsy TikTok videos all night, I started modeling with clay and got back into embroidery in my free time.
But I also noticed the positive effects of my daily exercise at work. Rather than pushing less engaging tasks out as far out as possible, I got better at tackling them first thing. This aligns with the research I found on how running can positively impact your focus and Journal of Sport and Health Science “Exercise is more than medicine: The working age population's well-being and productivity” View Source .
9. Sharpens The Mind
Because I got the creative juices flowing during my morning runs, I felt sharper once I sat down at my desk. Research shows that even a single run can impact your PLoS ONE “Acute Aerobic Exercise Increases Cortical Activity during Working Memory: A Functional MRI Study in Female College Students” View Source . It’s not surprising to me that I found it easier to juggle my project management tasks.
10. Improves Memory
Did you know that regular running can improve your long-term memory, too? Aerobic exercise increases the PNAS “Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory” View Source , which is the part of your brain that helps you learn and remember things. It can also be effective in reversing hippocampal volume loss when you’re older. This means you’ll be able to remember more for longer periods of time.
How Running Affects Your Life
Running has tons of positive effects on your mental and physical health—but that’s not all. This exercise can improve your overall quality of life. All it takes is a few minutes out of your day and a pair of good running shoes.
11. Gets People Outside
It’s no secret that vitamin D is Nutrients “Vitamin D’s Effect on Immune Function” View Source —which is why going outside on a daily basis is so important. Regular exercise in University of Glasgow “REGULAR EXERCISE IN NATURAL ENVIRONMENTS HALVES RISK OF POOR MENTAL HEALTH” View Source like forests, parks, or even in the streets can also significantly impact how good running is for your mental health. (Just make sure to Skin Cancer Foundation “All About Sunscreen” View Source about 30 minutes before heading out—vitamin D is great; a sunburn is not.)
Living in Southern California made running outside really easy for me. During my challenge, it rained a total of two days. I just waited until it stopped to do my run. If you live in a rainier area (I lived in the very rainy Hamburg, Germany for most of my life so… I get it) it may be a good idea to invest in a treadmill or sign up for a gym membership. Then, when the weather is nicer, prioritize going outside. Or just get a good rain jacket.
12. Improves Confidence
Now that I don’t sound like a choo-choo train anymore when I run up hills, I definitely feel better in my own skin. My mood has increased and my stress levels decreased, so I’m not surprised that I feel more confident after 30 days of daily exercise.
And, according to my research, I’m not alone in feeling like this. Physical activity, like running, can help improve self-esteem. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment “Physical activity and self-esteem: testing direct and indirect relationships associated with psychological and physical mechanisms” View Source .
13. Increases a Sense of Connection
Nature Communications “Exercise contagion in a global social network” View Source ! Running can be a very social sport (if you want it to be). If you need an accountability buddy, ask your friends or spouse to join you. You can also check Facebook for a local group of runners that keep you going.
Besides my dog, I also took my husband along for some of my runs. Getting up and exercising together before starting work has been a nice way to start the day.
14. Impacts Other Health Choices
I’ve always had back problems that I know can be contained if I do my daily physical therapy exercises. Since I plopped down on my yoga mat to stretch after every running session, I became more diligent in putting 5–10 minutes into my PT exercises.
Lo and behold, my core muscles got stronger and my back pain has significantly decreased over the past month. But running doesn’t just impact your other exercise routines, it can lead to better choices for your overall health. Research also shows that running may Vanderbilt News “Exercise Can Curb Marijuana Use and Cravings” View Source and cravings and help people with Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment “A preliminary, randomized trial of aerobic exercise for alcohol dependence ” View Source drink less.
15. Improves Sleep
Studies indicate that endurance exercise in the morning can make it easier for you to International Sports Medicine Journal “Effects of endurance and strength acute exercise on night sleep quality” View Source . It’s also going to improve the overall quality of your sleep.
Like the people in the study, I felt more relaxed and rested after just two days of running. I fully believe that daily running has helped me fall asleep faster and stay asleep throughout the night!
16. Can Improve Longevity
Perhaps best the best effect of daily running? It can prolong your life. There are numerous studies on how running can improve longevity:
- One study found that runners seemed younger, were leaner, and less likely to smoke, Archives of Internal Medicine “Reduced disability and mortality among aging runners: a 21-year longitudinal study” View Source and a higher survival advantage.
- Another study shows that physical activity can be associated with PLOS Medicine “Leisure Time Physical Activity of Moderate to Vigorous Intensity and Mortality: A Large Pooled Cohort Analysis” View Source , regardless of people’s BMI.
- A Copenhagen study found that people who do light to moderate jogging have a Journal of the American College of Cardiology “Dose of Jogging and Long-Term Mortality: The Copenhagen City Heart Study” View Source than people who don’t run.
Dedicating a few minutes a day to exercising and live a longer, happier life rather than sitting on my couch and watching Netflix on repeat sounds great. But I won’t know for a while if this will really pan out for me—get back to me in 2073.
Walking Versus Running—Is One Better Than The Other?
If running is just isn’t going to happen for you, walking is a great alternative. A study of people with obesity showed that just Archives of Internal Medicine “Effects of the amount of exercise on body weight, body composition, and measures of central obesity: STRRIDE--a randomized controlled study” View Source helped individuals lose weight—despite not changing their diet.
Whether it’s your knees, joints, or motivation holding you back from running every day, just start walking to move your body. You’ll still reap similar health benefits.
Tips for Before, During, and After Your Run
There’s no wrong way to run. There are, however, ways to run that may not serve you. This could mean overexerting yourself, never warming up or cooling down, or pushing through aches and pains. None of this will feel good, especially if you’re new to the sport. For all its benefits, running can also cause a host of injuries, from blisters to shin splints to hip and knee pain. Before you start, make sure to cover the basics.
- Hydrate and fuel up: Make sure to get your fluids before setting out— Johns Hopkins Medicine “Fuel Your Fitness” View Source is best. You should also aim to eat two or three hours before setting out. Complex carbohydrates, like oatmeal or whole grain toast will help provide you with energy. (If you run first thing in the morning and don’t have time to eat beforehand, just make sure you’re getting some carbs at dinner the night before.) After you run, drink at least Cleveland Clinic “Runners, Here’s How To Fuel Up and Stay Hydrated” View Source , then pick a snack or meal with a balance of protein, carbs, and fat. This could be a smoothie, a banana with nut butter, or a sandwich. If your appetite is low after you run, consider drinking some chocolate milk—it’s a Cleveland Clinic “Should You Drink Chocolate Milk After a Workout?” View Source !
- Warm up before you start and cool down when you’re done: You can find warmups and cooldowns on YouTube or sign up for a running app, which will have both on demand. We like Runkeeper.
- Consider a beginner running program: Perhaps you’re able to get started with a personal running coach. If not, look for a beginner program like C25K (that’s “couch to 5K,” a running program designed to get sedentary people running), or, again, a running app. This will have beginner-friendly guided sessions that can make running more approachable.
- Try fartleks: We’ll pause for you to get the giggles out of the way. Think of fartleks as a form of interval training, which allows you to combine slower stretches with sudden bursts of speed. The amount of time you spend at the higher speed is up to you. You can use visual guides (like, say, “I’ll run fast until I reach the stop sign at the end of the block”) or set a timer. Either way, it can help with endurance and speed while running.
- Take it easy: You don’t have to run every single day if you aren’t up for it. Start slow—and combine your runs with walks—and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a runner.
How to Gear Up for Running
I’ve been exercising with Asics my whole life, and they fit my feet perfectly. To have your personal Cinderella moment, do some research before you buy a shoe. Better yet, go to a store that specializes in running gear. This way you can let the experts help you find the perfect shoe.
Generally speaking, we can recommend the following shoes:
- Running shoes with a thick sole: Hoka One Clifton ($140)
- Running shoes for medium support: Brooks Ghost ($140)
- Lightweight running shoes: Allbirds Dashers ($135)
Not all of us are meant to run a marathon in our lifetime, but the positive impact that running has on your mind and body can’t be denied. So if you’re looking for an accessible, affordable, and comparably easy way to stay in shape, give running a try— even if it’s just for a few minutes every day.