Outside of breaking into a canter to avoid missing the last train, or tearing after your runaway toddler, in one year roughly 70 million people in England consciously chose to put on a pair of trainers for the sole purpose of running at least twice in 28 days, making it the most popular sport in the country.
Running is not limited to pounding the pavement jogging but also includes activities like track sprinting, fell-running and parkour/free running. The variety means that no matter what your age or fitness level is you can always find something that is suited to you whatever your motivation is - thrill-seeking, lover of the great outdoors etc.
Health benefits of running
What's great about running is that not only is it accessible - you only need a pair of trainers to get started and you can do it just about anywhere, anytime - it also has a number of confirmed health benefits:
Cardiovascular health - It's one of the best "cardio" exercises to control body weight and improve your cardiovascular profile (lower resting heart rate, controlled blood pressure, higher levels of HDL/"good" cholesterol) and you don't have to do that much of it to benefit from its positive effects: simply jogging 5-10 minutes a day, or 50 minutes each week, can reduce your risk of death from cardiovascular disease by as much as 50% (ref).
Better sleep - Chemicals released during and after a run relaxes your body and encourage a deeper more restful sleep. Although, you should try to avoid high intensity running/sprinting at least one hour before bedtime to avoid being overstimulated and kept awake.
Improves knee and back health - Contrary to myth regular runners have a lower incidence of knee and back arthritis compared to sedentary equivalents, and in the majority of cases, symptoms of arthritis are improved with self-selected running programmes (ref).
Improves mood and reduces anxiety - When you run for 30 minutes or more your body releases endocannabinoids, similar to cannabinoids in cannabis. This naturally produced chemical can cross into the brain to give you the feeling of calmness and reduced stress. The "Runner's high".
Endocannabinoids also increase your dopamine levels(the reward chemical) adding to the feel-good factor after a run. You can see why some people say they NEED to run to de-stress.
Improves memory and may reduce the rate of cognitive decline - Running increases the blood flow to the part of the brain important for memory (the hippocampus) and in so doing improves your working memory and focus. Regular running also stimulates new nerves forming and new connection pathways in the adult brain, the hippocampus again, which may reduce the rate of cognitive decline.
Running. Too much of a good thing?
The downside of regular physical activity is the risk of injury. Roughly 60% of runners will have an injury at one time bad enough to stop them from running for several weeks. The repetitive nature of the activity means that the majority of injuries are due to overuse with the most affected areas being the knees, shin area, feet, ankle and lower back.
Common running injuries for recreation runners include:
- "Runner's knee"
- IT Band injury
- High Hamstring Tendinopathy
- Patellar tendinopathy
- Shin splints/medial tibial stress syndrome
- Achilles Tendonitis
- Stress fractures
- Plantar fasciitis
- Foot pain
Many running problems are avoidable and when they occur are treatable. The key is to address any tweaks and twinges early before they worsen.
If you feel pain at a level of 5 or more, where 10 is worst if the pain interferes with your daily life or continues for two or more weeks seek medical advice.
For individuals with existing medical problems, one concern is knowing if they can or should start running. Knowing where to get advice for this is a common issue they face.
As a Consultant in Sports and Exercise Medicine Dr Ade has experience working with individuals of all ages, at different stages of their health and fitness journey, and is ready to help you get started on your fitness journey.