5 Surprising Perks of Running

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Five surprising perks of running. 5 Surprising Perks of Running www.runnerclick.com

We all know the question. And we’ve all been confronted with it a hundred times. “Why do you run?” And while it’s a simple enough question, the answer can sometimes be tricky. Because we all run for a million different reasons. Some run to lose weight; others run to eat more. Some run to be alone; while others run to be with friends. Some run to be competitive; while others run purely for the enjoyment of it. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Because while you might have initially taken up running for a specific reason, the chances are good that you’ll add and outgrow reasons for running as you age. Isn’t it wonderful that running is a great companion through all the phases of life? It can be a way to learn teamwork in school; a way to keep active through university; a way to shed unwanted pregnancy pounds; and a way to stay healthy as you age.

And while these are some of the more common reasons why people run, running has so much more to offer. Pull up a chair and let’s have a look at five of the surprising, lesser-known perks of running.

Regular exercise improves both memory and thinking skills

A study conducted at the University of British Colombia found that regular aerobic exercise seems to increase the size of the hippocampus of the brain. This extremely important region of the brain is involved in learning, as well as transforming short-term memories into long-term ones. And while aerobic exercise directly assists memory and thinking through a number of physiological processes, it also plays an indirect role. Through improving mood and sleep, and decreasing stress and anxiety, aerobic exercise also indirectly discourages cognitive impairment.

Study participants performed 120 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, which is a little less than the generally recommended 150 minutes per week. A small price to pay for improved memory and thinking skills, don’t you think?

Runners might be improving the heart health of their spouses

A 2014 study by a team from the University of Hartford studied the impact of strenuous exercise on hearth health. In an attempt to limit the effect of outside factors on the results, data was gathered from runners who competed in the 2012 Boston Marathon and then compared to that of their sedentary or near-sedentary spouses.

As predicted, the runners were slimmer, and had lower blood pressure, resting heart rates and levels of bad cholesterol than their non-running spouses. A surprising finding of the study was, however, that the heart health benefits of marathon training may, in fact, be transferable. The overall health of the runners’ spouses were good, even though they were considerably less active than their marathon running partners. They moved around more than many sedentary people, and generally had strong and healthy heart risk profiles.

The bottom line? Don’t despair if your spouse refuses to lace up with you. The benefits of your healthy habits may be rubbing off on them anyway!

Fit and active moms may give their unborn children an advantage in terms of cardiovascular and brain development

The physiologies of expectant moms and their unborn children are very closely intertwined. It is therefore not surprising that an unborn baby’s heart rate increases along with that of his or her exercising mom’s. Which ultimately results in a cardiovascular system that is more robust from an earlier age than that of children of moms who don’t exercise.

And while the mechanisms behind the findings are unclear for now, a team from the University of Montreal recently found that babies of moms who were active during pregnancy show signs of increased brain development. It is suspected, for now, that the chemicals produced by an expecting mom during moderate exercise eventually finds its way into the unborn baby’s bloodstream. Some of these chemicals are then believed to be involved in boosting the baby’s brain development. It is unclear, for now, how long into a child’s life this effect lasts.

Running may be good for your eyes

Good news for the older runners out there, is that the findings of a recent study suggest that exercise may be protecting our eye health as we age. This is achieved through a rise in the shielding power of neuron production in the retina. The bad news is, however, that for now studies have been limited to animals and findings are yet to be confirmed in humans.

Running adds years to your life (…and life to your years!)

A 2012 study published in PLOS Medicine concluded that being active in your free time, even at levels below the recommended minimum, results in a lower risk of death. The findings of this study also suggest that being more active than the recommended minimum may boost longevity even more. On the flip side, a lack of physical activity, especially when combined with being obese, significantly reduces life expectancy.

The surprising and wonderful thing about these findings, is that it is relevant across the board. For example, smokers who participated in the study and started exercising, added 4.1 years, on average, to their lives. Cancer survivors added 5.3 years to their lives. And participants with heart disease added an impressive 4.3 years to their lives. The takeaway? Even moderate levels of physical activity during your free time can increase the life expectancy of absolutely anyone.

So whatever your initial reason was for taking up running, here are five more to help keep you going. Your body, spouse and children will thank you in the long run!


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  6. Gretchen Reynolds, Mother's exercise may boost baby's brain, Online publication
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