From runner’s highs to boosted immunity: feel the health benefits of running after just one run.
Whether you are in the marathon runner or the “I’m never going to be a” runner camp, it’s hard to dispute the health benefits of running.
But is a runner’s high really a thing, and can just one run improve our health, or is it all in our heads? Here’s a look at the health benefits of running and the science behind what happens to our brains when we are on a run.
Health benefits of running
Studies show that a long-term running regimen can:
- Reduce a woman’s risk of breast cancer: Studies show that running can reduce a woman’s risk of breast cancer by up to 30 percent
- Reduce the risk of heart disease: Runners who exceed government recommendations for exercise have a 40 percent lower risk of heart disease and 40 percent reduced risk of developing high blood pressure.
- Rewire the brain: Researchers believe running can be therapeutic and reprogram our brain so it is more able to manage stress and anxiety.
- Prevent obesity and Type II diabetes: Runners are less likely to be obese and develop diabetes.
- Strengthen your joints and bones: Despite the myth that running weakens your joints, runners have a 20 percent lower risk of osteoarthritis and hip replacement.
And yes, runner’s highs are most certainly real, and experts say you can achieve it after just one run.
Here’s what your brain looks like on – and after – a run, and how just one session pounding the pavement can offer tremendous health benefits.
Your Brain At 0:00: Gearing up
However, once you start thinking about going on a run, your brain begins preparing your body for it. Anticipating a challenge, it sends a signal to our nervous system that it’s time to conserve energy. Our heart starts to beat faster, blood makes its way to our limbs, and our muscles fill with the oxygen and nutrients they will need.
At the same time, this natural preparation wakes us up and helps us get over that “I just can’t put my sneakers on today” bump.
Your Brain At 5:00: Into the groove
Five minutes in, and you still may not be feeling like you are gliding through your workout. Why? At this point, your heart rate may be high, your pulse may be fast and you may feel like your breathing is heavy.
This is because your body starts to recognize the fact that you’re running as a sign of stress. As a result, it releases the stress hormone cortisol, and begins preparing your body to make decisions about what steps to take next. Experienced runners may have built up a bit of immunity to this cortisol response, so their bodies may trigger less of a fight-or-flight response. So if you’re new to running and feel it’s hard at first, you’re not imagining things.
All of that doesn’t sound like running, so far, is decreasing your stress and increasing your happiness. But it is. At this point, your body begins counteracting the stress you’re under and preparing for the next challenge by improving your cognition, as well as stimulating regions of your brain that are related to memory, decision making and learning.
Your Brain At 15:00: Peak performance
As a continued response to the stress your body is under, it begins sending neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine throughout your body. These feel-good chemicals begin to give you a sense of pleasure, increase your alertness and dull your sensitivity to pain.
At this point in your run, you may start to feel some itching. If you’re not used to the blood flow occurring in your limbs, your nerve endings could be irritated, sending an itching sensation to the brain. You may also experience some muscle cramping, which could be due to dehydration.
However, overall, you should start to feel those feel-good chemicals flooding your body. And you’ll find that the more you run, the more those stress chemicals turn into pleasure chemicals.
Your Brain At 45:00: Runner’s high
It turns out that our bodies may be wired for runner’s highs toward the end and after our runs.
Years ago, our ancestors’ survival depended upon their ability to run fast and far enough to catch the food they needed in order to live. Researchers think that they relied upon the feel-good chemicals released during a run for motivation for survival. The runner’s high may have served as a natural painkiller that helped them catch the food they needed for themselves and their families.
Toward the end of your run – and after – your elevated blood pressure and heart rate will continue to pump oxygen to your brain. This will make you feel alert and full of energy.
Additionally, newer research suggests that it’s not just endorphins, but also endocannabinoids, a naturally synthesized version of THC, that contributes to a runner’s high. Endocannabinoids, combined with those feel-good chemicals, will leave you feeling happy, energized and stress-free as you finish and recover from your run, just like they did thousands of years ago.
Ready to tap into the health benefits of running?
Which health benefits of running keep you motivated?
Are you a runner? Share how running has helped you in the comments section below.