Health Benefits of Running and Jogging

Your Pace May Play a Role in the Benefits You Gain

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According to data compiled by Running USA, 17.6 million people registered for running events in 2019. While that number is impressive, it declined by 2.7% from 2018 and showed a steady decline from 2013, when 19 million runners crossed a finish line at running events of all distances across the U.S. Experts expect that data collected in 2020 will show a sharper decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic.??

But these statistics only show the number of people who participate in running events, such as races or endurance challenges. There is limited data to show the number of people who participate in running or jogging simply for the health and wellness benefits it provides.

Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people laced up their running shoes and took to the streets to improve their health and improve their mental well-being.

Running vs. Jogging For Benefits

Some may wonder if the benefits of running apply regardless of pace. Put another way, do the health benefits of running still apply if you are jogging?

The difference between running and jogging comes down to speed. Sometimes, hard-core runners use the word "jogger" to indicate those who run at a slower pace or they use the word "jogging" to refer to running slowly (for example, during a warm-up or cool-down). More serious, hard core, and elite runners often do a lot of jogging. For example, they'll jog on recovery runs or in between intervals.

So is running healthier than jogging? There is some limited evidence to show that adding speed to your weekly workout does provide benefits. At least one study has suggested that running at a higher intensity is associated with decreased risk of hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and diabetes. In this study, speed was used as an indication of intensity. But the study authors pointed out that their results did not show causality. Also, the issue of running at high intensity but at a slower speed was not addressed.

There have been other studies that address speed, specifically speed intervals. As high-intensity interval training has gained popularity, more research has addressed the benefits that this form of training can provide. For runners, high-intensity training usually involves running faster (rather than jogging).

For instance, a short review published in 2017 in the Journal of Sports and Health Science addresses the issue of running speed and associated benefits. The author indicates that running fast (sprint training) has been shown to improve running performance and provides other advantages such as increased oxygen uptake capacity, and a lower risk of running-related injuries because of the decreased work volume and training time.

But just because (fast) running does provide benefits, doesn't mean that jogging doesn't provide benefits. In fact, as you review the health benefits of running below, you'll see that some advantages are seen more often in joggers who maintain a slow to moderate pace.

The bottom line? If you're interested in starting a running program for wellness, there's no reason to worry about running fast. As with any exercise program, consistency is key. Set up a program that is realistic for you. You're likely to gain benefits regardless of pace.

Health Benefits of Running

Every form of exercise can provide some health benefits. The National Institutes of Health points out that regular physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, get a better night's sleep, and age better.?? But research has also provided some insight into ways that jogging or running specifically can affect your health.

Better Body Composition

Running burns substantial calories. According to a calorie calculator, a 150-pound person burns about 357 calories in 30 minutes while running a 10-minute mile. If that same person runs an 8-minute mile, they would burn about 447 calories in that same amount of time.

Calorie Comparison

A 150-pound person burns 357–447 calories or more when running for 30 minutes, depending on pace. But that same person only burns 147 calories in 30 minutes while participating in a brisk walk.

This substantial calorie expenditure can help runners maintain a healthy weight when combined with a balanced eating plan. And studies have shown that it can also help people reach and maintain healthier body composition.

For example, one large meta-analysis published in 2015 found that when physically inactive but healthy adults (aged 18–65 years) are put on a running program that usually included 3-4 sessions per week they reduced body mass by 3.3 kg (on average) and percent body fat by 2.7% (on average) after a year when compared to sedentary but healthy adults.??

Another study looked at body mass indicators of long-term endurance runners with an average age of 49 years. These runners had been participating in the sport for an average of 23 years and were running about 28 miles per week on average. Researchers found that the running group had lower average BMIs (21.4 vs. 23.7) and showed a 10% greater lean mass than the control group.??

Better Heart Health

Like many other forms of regular physical activity, a running program can improve heart and lung function. In the short term, exercise increases both cardiac output and blood pressure, but once the body adapts to exercise, it is likely to show a lower resting heart rate and a stronger heart.??

Some researchers have expressed concern about the impact of long-term strenuous running (such as marathon training). The "proper dose" of vigorous running (the best intensity and the most effective duration) and its impact on heart health remains unclear. But, many scientists have found that moderate running provides substantial cardiovascular benefits.??

For instance, in one study, researchers found that runners had a 45% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, even when researchers adjusted for confounding factors, which included the facts that runners were more likely to be more likely to be men, younger, and leaner; were less likely to smoke and participate in other types of physical activities; had lower rates of chronic diseases; and had higher cardiorespiratory fitness levels.??

Studies have also shown that when inactive adults start running they are likely to improve their HDL (good) cholesterol and increase maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max), factors that are associated with better heart health.??

Reduced Risk of Death

Joggers may enjoy greater benefits than runners when it comes to mortality risk. Researchers point out that certain health risks like myocardial fibrosis, arrhythmias, and coronary artery calcium have been demonstrated in high-intensity exercisers, like runners. But those risks are not as evident in moderate exercisers.??

Epidemiologic studies suggest that there is a decreased risk of death among those who exercise with the greatest mortality benefit shown in those who participate in moderate aerobic activity. For running specifically, there is an increased benefit with a dose of 1 to 2.5 hours of running per week at a slow to moderate pace.

Researchers have also found that running just 5 to 10 minutes per day and at slow speeds (10-minute mile or slower) is associated with markedly reduced risks of death from all causes and cardiovascular disease.

Study authors add, however, there is less clear evidence of a mortality benefit at higher levels of running.?? Although at least one other research review showed that regular intense endurance-exercise training in marathon runners, professional cyclists, and Olympic athletes has protective benefits against cardiovascular disease and premature death.??

Boosts Bone Health

Weight-bearing activities, like running, are known to improve bone density and support better bone health.?? According to Wolfe's law, when bones are placed under stress, bone cells (osteoclasts and osteoblasts) are stimulated to remodel and restructure themselves so that the bones are better able to withstand future forces of similar magnitude and direction.??

But this may be another case where the dose makes a difference. Some studies have suggested that adolescents and adults who participate in running often have lower bone mineral density than athletes who participate in ball and power sports. In fact, some researchers have found that it can be lower than their inactive peers.??

But researchers also know that athletes who participate in endurance sports like running may be at higher risk for undereating and overexercising—which can take a toll on bone health. The National Institutes of Health notes that if these conditions are ongoing and severe enough you can put yourself at risk for developing osteoporosis, a disease in which bone density is decreased, leaving your bones vulnerable to fracture.??

However, when researchers evaluated long-distance running at the club level (as opposed to elite-level competitive training) they found that running can increase bone formation and that it seems to have no harmful effect on bone properties.??

And studies investigating different ways to improve bone health in people who have already developed osteoporosis have found that jogging (especially when combined with other activities such as stair climbing or tennis) puts the right amount of stress on the body to limit the reduction of bone mineral density.??

Mental Benefits of Running

Those who participate in running and those who coach runners are quick to point out the substantial psychological benefits of running. In fact, the "runner's high" is a well-documented phenomenon.

In published studies, the runner's high is described as "a sudden pleasant feeling of euphoria, anxiolysis (reduced anxiety), sedation, and analgesia (the inability to feel pain)." Researchers believe that the condition occurs because the body releases endorphins. The release of a substance called anandamide—a natural endocannabinoid—may also play a role.

Of course, not every run is going to result in a feeling of euphoria. Even the most well-trained runners are likely to experience occasional mental and physical discomfort during workouts. But studies have indicated that a consistent program of running is likely to yield substantial psychological benefits both in the short-term and over time.??

Improved Self Esteem

Studies have linked body image and perceived physical fitness to self-esteem. That is, those who have are confident about their bodies and who believe that they are physically fit are likely to have better self-esteem.

Researchers have also found that physical activity can, directly and indirectly, improve self-esteem, body image, and perceived physical fitness in adults. For this reason, experts advise a program of physical activity for those who have low self-esteem.

Those who choose running or jogging as their physical activity may enjoy even greater benefits. One study involving 424 non-professional runners who ran (on average) more than 28.8 miles per week showed that 96% of them reported mental and emotional benefits from running. Sixty-four percent of them specifically noted that they experienced improved self-confidence as a result of their running.

Another study interestingly compared non-elite marathoners to those who participate in casual jogging. Interestingly the study found that marathoners reported themselves to be more self-sufficient and assertive, but joggers (who did not complete marathons) were more happy-go-lucky. It should be noted, however, that the study was limited in scope, involving only 68 male runners.

Lastly, several studies have linked running to higher levels of self-esteem and self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is defined as one's belief in one's ability to be successful at a specific task. It is a situation-specific form of self-confidence and it influences how people think, feel, motivate themselves and act.

Better Mood

Running has also been linked to improved mood in both the general population and in people who have been diagnosed with a mood disorder.

For instance, a study published in 2018 investigated the effects of a 12-week running program on adults and children who had been diagnosed with a complex mood disorder. For the study, 46 participants met twice per week and progressed from mostly walking to mostly running. At the end of the program, they participated in a 5K run as a group. Weekly sessions also included motivational talks on issues including mental illness, running strategies, nutrition, and mindfulness.

Researchers found that involvement in the running program improved mood symptoms including depression, anxiety, and stress in both adult and youth participants. The study authors also provided supporting research showing that just a single episode of running can improve mood. Researchers acknowledged the small scope of the study, however, and suggested ongoing studies.???

Personal Transformation

The challenge provided by running can provide the opportunity for personal transformation. This experience is often witnessed by coaches who guide runners through physical trials.

David Silk is the creator of Precision Run, a method-driven treadmill class that is offered in Precision Run studios and on the Equinox + app. According to Silk, running forces you to face physical and emotional discomfort in a very real and raw way. He explains that even for seasoned runners, there is no way to avoid it or make it easy.

But facing the emotional wall of running can lead to mental breakthroughs and a heightened sense of accomplishment. In fact, Silk says that he often sees this phenomenon in the new runners he coaches during his classes.

"Running isn’t easy for anyone," he says, "so when a person is able to get uncomfortable with something so honest and real, and there are no real shortcuts, they end up confronting the emotional wall of running...it’s like a sort of wake-up call. It’s a very complex feeling that boils to the surface a lot of truths and realizations about one's physical (and mental) wellbeing."

David Silk, Creator of Precision Run and Equinox+ Instructor

It is not unusual for a runner to meet that wall during class and then literally need a shoulder to cry on. They feel frustrated and often angry and it is in that pivotal moment I have seen more people change their lives for the better.

— David Silk, Creator of Precision Run and Equinox+ Instructor

Enhanced Sleep

In general, exercise is known to improve the quality of sleep without any adverse side effects that may be experienced if you take a sleep-enhancing medication.?? In fact, this benefit has been seen in both adults and adolescents.

One study investigated the way that running might improve the sleep quality in 51 adolescent boys and girls who were randomly assigned to a running group or a control group. The runners ran every morning for 30 minutes at moderate intensity during weekdays for three consecutive weeks. At the end of the trial, the runners showed better sleep and psychological functioning as compared to the control group.??

Several studies have also shown that running can improve sleep patterns in older adults.

And if you are worried about the impact of running before bedtime, some studies have suggested that there is no cause for concern. In 2020, researchers found that high-intensity exercise performed in the early evening does not disrupt and may even improve subsequent sleep in endurance-trained runners.??

Reduced Stress

A number of studies link running to reduced stress levels. For instance, one study showed that men who participate in a regular program of jogging show greater emotional stability and decreased stress in men when compared to sedentary men. And other studies suggest that marathon runners and joggers report lower levels of tension, anger, confusion, and fatigue than non-exercisers.??

Silk describes the stress-release process that he sees when people start to participate in his running classes. And he describes how it has helped them manage stress from the pandemic in 2020.

David Silk, Creator of Precision Run and Equinox+ Instructor

I see so many runners gain a feeling of positivity, clarity, focus, and happiness when they turn to running. I describe it to runners as a sort of emotional purge that leaves you feeling so much better than when you started. I experience it myself all the time. This benefit I continue to believe is one of the most powerful tools to combat depression. I don’t think it was just the lack of gym access that led so many people to running in 2020.

— David Silk, Creator of Precision Run and Equinox+ Instructor

Those who run outdoors may also gain stress-relief benefits from exposure to nature. Studies have shown that visiting natural environments can be beneficial in reducing both physical and psychological stress levels.??

But David Silk says that indoor treadmill running can also provide benefits because it can be precise and engaging. He says that the dynamic and complex treadmill workout is the "least boring type of running" because you can control everything, such as speed and incline, to make the run both effective and personal.

Improved Management of Mental Health Conditions

Exercise, in general, has been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression. A large scale Cochrane review published in 2013 found that exercise may be slightly more effective in reducing symptoms of depression when compared to some psychological or pharmacological therapies, although the authors note the findings were based on a small number of trials.??

Those who have been diagnosed with a physical or mental disorder may find that running, specifically, can help them manage their condition. In addition to the improvement of mood disorders and low-self esteem already noted above, running has been compared to psychotherapy in the management of mental health and has been shown to provide favorable results. In fact, the authors of one review stated that running can be a therapeutic tool for a series of negative psychological conditions, such as depression, anxiety, tension, mood changes, and low self-esteem.??

A Word From Verywell

While it is clear that running can offer an array of mental and physical health benefits, it doesn't mean that running should replace any treatment for a medical or psychological condition without guidance from your healthcare provider. If you are interested in starting a running program to improve your health, speak to your provider about your goals and find out if there are any considerations or modifications you should be aware of. You might also enlist the help of a running group or a coach for guidance and support.

Then as you start your running journey, remember that building your endurance and adding mileage takes time. David Silk suggests that if you are new to running, focus on the length of the run, regardless if it’s on a treadmill or outdoors. Only do 15-minute runs for the first week and then try 30-minute runs for a couple of weeks.

He also adds that it's important to remember that the challenge is worth it. He says "the uncomfortable moments getting started are going to unlock new feelings, a healthier body and a potential in you that very few things can. You were made for this."

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