Running is a wonderful sport in many ways. With little equipment and effort, you can go for a run almost anywhere in the world within minutes and spend time in the fresh air. To many runners, there are not just physical benefits but, the mental component of “clearing out” of the mind is an important reason why running is perceived as so extraordinary.
Running, which supports the weight of the body and strengthens muscles, bones and aerobic capacity, has a clear impact on health. In this article we would like to explore the question of how running affects our physical health and how much training is optimal.
Running prolongs life
Running is healthy. The fact that regular exercise has an impact on people’s health is not only obvious, but also proven. For example, the heart and lungs are strengthened and the arteries are kept in motion. This lowers the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. This helps reduce the risk of premature death by more than 25%, according to studies.
- Effect on the heart:
The heart is a muscle and is trained by the heightened stress of running. This not only gives it more power, but at the same time the blood vessels also benefit and the arteries maintain their elasticity better, which is an advantage especially as we age.
- Lower risk of cancer:
Various studies show that regular running can lower the risk of cancer. The reasons for this are thought to be a combination of reduced risk of obesity and exercise. The latter refers to the fact that the immune-stimulating effect of running fights inflammatory cells and promotes cell repair.
There are also the positive side effects that often go hand in hand with the lifestyle of runners: For example, not smoking and moderate alcohol consumption.
Upper limit – at what point does the benefit start to diminish?
The effect of running on premature mortality is strongest when people do not overdo it. According to the above-mentioned study, premature mortality decreases the most in the test group with light to moderate running activity. In contrast, the positive effect was less pronounced in the group with the highest training volumes. However, an increased mortality risk of frequent runners compared to non-runners could not be detected.
According to the study, the following optimal training loads result in relation to premature mortality:
Time: < 4.5 h / week
Distance: < 48 km / week
Number: < 6 times / week
Effects of running on the musculoskeletal system
We have already shown that regular running can have far-reaching health effects. However, especially with regard to the musculoskeletal system, (excessive) mechanical stress can also lead to undesirable side effects in the form of injuries. The load tolerance can be trained and becomes greater with increasing running experience. Accordingly, the following points should be taken into account:
The structure of the training and the training planning should be as individual as possible. The body’s ability to process running loads is individual. The amount and intensity of training should always be adapted to the current fitness level.
- Gentle increase in training load
The training frequency should be adapted to the previous training volume, running goals, ambitions and everyday life. Training and recovery belong together and should be in a healthy relationship. A good rule of thumb when increasing the volume is to increase a maximum of one unit per week and half year. Ideally, the increase should be gradual (for example, start with 4 runs every other week instead of 3). Also, increase the frequency first and only then the duration of the workouts.
From a training science perspective, the recommended number of workouts depends on your running experience and training goal. In our blog article “How often should you train?” you can find a simplified overview of how many workouts are recommended for which running experience / goal.
Running, regardless of gender, age, body weight, and health status, provides benefits when it comes to chronic disease prophylaxis and premature mortality. However, as with so many aspects of life, “too much” of a good thing can reduce the positive aspects or even have negative effects on health. It is therefore of great importance to make training as individual as possible and to take the body’s warning signals seriously.
Lee D, et al. Running as a Key Lifestyle Medicine for Longevity. Prog Cardiovasc Dis (2017), http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1016/j.pcad.2017.03.005