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Physiological Effects of Running

Physiological Effects of Running

            While running can help improve (mood) + (overall fitness and health), it can also negatively impact (body) + (mind).  Not unlike other forms of exercise, running gives us the physical activity/outlet to release pent-up energy (once that initial pain goes away of course) to think about and process our worries, stressors, etc. You can even figure out solutions to difficult life situations better because running helps to clear the mind. In addition to the stress relief we can experience as a result of jogging and the time we get to spend alone in reflection, thinking, listening to music, etc. there are also clear benefits for our brains.  Cardiovascular exercise is known to create new brain cells (a process called neurogenesis) in the area of the brain called the hippocampus.  This part of the brain is primarily responsible for memory function, and there are strong links between jogging regularly and enhanced memory/brain power.  Have you ever heard (or better yet experienced) a “runners high”? Interestingly this term is more accurate than most people realize.  When we run out brain releases a boost of endorphins, which are the body’s natural “feel-good” hormones. These hormones create a feeling of “internal goodness”.  People who run 3-4 times per week on average experience greater levels of happiness and report less depression and anxiety when compared to non-runners.  Think of it as a free and really healthy way to boost endorphins and chaser your own runner’s high.  Last, but certainly not lease, once of (if not the) greatest benefit of running is the positive impact on self-esteem. On one hand, people often experience weight-loss and improved physical health from jogging.  This makes them feel better about themselves and is often reinforced by other people in the forms of compliments or more attention.  As we lose weight and get stronger we feel better about ourselves.  There is also a huge psychological impact on self-concept as we work hard to achieve running goals.  We experience a great sense of accomplishment with each new run, and research supports the idea that the more successful a person feels the more productive they actually become.  So, in a very real way, jogging can help us be more productive, feel accomplishment, and boost our overall self-esteem.  Running/ jogging has so many wonderful and significant benefits to offer us all.  Jogging for just 30 minutes, 3-4 times per week can be more than enough to give you these 4 essential benefits.  Once you get into the habit of running you will experience greater stress relief, better mental and cognitive abilities, an enhanced mood, and heightened self-esteem.  When you look at it this way, it almost seems silly not to lace up your gym shoes and outside right now.  If you struggle with motivation, or are not sure how to get started working with a trained professional or a life coach could certainly help you achieve these amazing benefits of jogging.

As for overall fitness an easy-paced jog, for a total of one to 2 ½ hours each week, that leaves you a little bit breathless but still able to talk intermittently provides your body with many cardiovascular benefits, reports New York University’s Langone Medical Center. These benefits can extend your life up to six years. Similar to any other muscle in your body, your heart becomes strengthened and works more efficiently as you jog regularly. Jogging is an excellent way to lose weight. You’ll burn approximately 250 calories in a half-hour jog and about 500 calories after one hour. As you burn 3,500 calories over the course of a week or more without increasing your food intake, you’ll enjoy the benefit of losing 1 pound of fat. To boost this benefit of jogging, you can follow a calorie-reduced diet that adds to your weight loss. A reduction of 250 to 500 calories each day will help you lose ½ to 1 pound more each week, in addition to the weight you lose jogging. When you jog, the large muscles of your lower legs are engaged, as are your abdominal muscles and arm muscles. Regular joggers and runners often look lean and toned, which is due to the muscle development that occurs naturally as you jog. You can increase this benefit and burn more calories to promote weight loss by wearing a 4-to 7 pound weighted vest while you jog. Start out with less weight and slowly increase it every one to two weeks. Alternatively, you can also build more muscle and burn more calories during your jog by incorporating a few hills into your jogging workout. Running makes your heart stronger. While running, your heart beats faster thus making the blood flow and oxygen exchange more effective and decreasing a risk of a heart attack. A strong heart will more easily deal with any kind of stress. You’ll sleep like a baby. If you pump your heart with a 30 minutes long run, it will actually make your pulse lower while resting and sleeping. Live longer without pain. Running can increase bone density and prevent osteoporosis. Results show that running strengthens bones better than other aerobic activities. Researchers from University of Missouri who compared the bone density of runners and cyclists said that 63 % had low density in their spine or hips compared to only 19% of runners. It’s not only apples that can keep the doctor away. Active people are less likely to develop colon cancer. And ladies, women who regularly engage in intense workouts like running can reduce their risk of breast cancer by up to 30 percent. A strong core improves posture, strengthens limbs, and helps make everyday activities a breeze. And whether we feel it or not, running engages that midsection, strengthening those all-important muscles. Bonus: A solid core in runners can improve performance, too. Running is a natural way to keep high blood pressure at bay- and fast. Amping up workouts can help lower blood pressure in just a few weeks. Aerobic exercises such as running, cycling and swimming have a consistent, demonstrated effect on lowering blood pressure. According to a report published in November 2013 in “Circulation, “men and women at all blood pressure levels benefit from regular aerobic activity, including those with hypertension. This same report suggests reductions in blood pressure are associated with moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity of at least 12 weeks’ duration, on average, involving 3 to 4 sessions per week, lasting an average of 40 minutes per session. Exercise has been shown to help keep the mind sharp and could even reduce symptoms of dementia. Hitting the track might also protect the brain against Alzheimer’s, even among those with a family history of it. The benefits of cardiovascular activity are immense. The body becomes naturally inclined to consume more oxygen during high-intensity modes of exercise, which strengthens the lungs and allows runners to breathe at greater ease during rest. Running has been scientifically tested to improve heart function. Aerobic exercise also decreases resting heart rate and blood pressure. Running is often perceived as a daunting activity by average gym-goers, but it’s part of a complete exercise regimen. The health benefits realized as an outcome of three to four bouts of running each week can ultimately transform your lifestyle, and dramatically improve your overall well-being. According to the American Heart Association, physical activity will improve your overall quality of life. This sentiment is shared among most health institutions. It’s no secret that remaining active is important for sustaining both physical and mental well-being. The benefits of certain types of exercise outweigh some alternatives, though. Higher intensity modes of cardiovascular activity, such as running, supply the body with added health benefits that low-octane exercise, like walking from the couch to the refrigerator, cannot match. You don’t need to become a marathon runner in order to enjoy the maximum benefits of aerobic exercise. However, you need to challenge yourself. Running improves heart health because it forces the body to operate at a high capacity.  This means heart rate is increased, which causes rapid blood flow. Increased heart rate during exercise also supplies working muscles with added oxygen. Vital nutrients are carried to the body’s tissues in this process. The energy needs of the body are naturally increased while running, forcing blood vessels to palpitate. The outcome of this symbiotic process ultimately improves the body’s ability to function at a high level, fueling your overall well-being. People who have asthma can also benefit from aerobic exercise, including running. A recent study published in the “American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine” confirmed that 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, like running, done three times a week can improve asthma control significantly. Although asthma may be triggered by exercise for some people, others who have their condition in control can use running to improve overall lung health and strengthen the breathing muscles. Running can reduce the amount of fat in your body. According to an article on the Peak Performance website, fat reduction from running is not immediate, but cumulative results may be impressive. According to the National Federation of Personal Trainers Endurance Specialist Manual, 65 percent to 95 percent of the calories your burn during aerobic exercise such as running comes from your body’s fat stores. The exact proportion of fat calories that your burn depends on your aerobic condition and the intensity of the activity. Your body burns calories for energy while you run, and running harder and longer requires more energy. However, the Peak Performance website reports that energy contributions from fat calories decreases as energy demands go up. Longer and more intense running session’s recruit more calories from glycogen stores in your body and may not burn any fat calories. Glycogen is energy that your body stores from carbohydrates. Phasic activities such as cross country running may help reduce the amount of total cholesterol in your bloodstream more effectively than static exercise such as weight training or wrestling. Phasic activities use more rapidly adaptive movements with relatively short periods of muscular contraction, whereas static activates require less movement and sustained muscular contractions. According to a study in the “Journal of Lipid Research,” phasic activities reduced total cholesterol levels in test subjects, but static activities did not. The study reports that subjects that had greater cholesterol reductions also reported higher intensity activity, so more intense running may reduce your cholesterol level more than lower-intensity running. Running may promote higher HDL cholesterol levels in your blood. According to the American Heart Association, HDL cholesterol is “good” cholesterol, because it may protect you from heart disease by transporting cholesterol out of your arteries. The Peak Performance website reports that the more miles a woman runs may correspond with higher HDL cholesterol levels. Running 40 miles each week may increase a woman’s HDL cholesterol and reduce her chances of developing heart diseases by 30 percent. Peak Performance reports that a man may experience higher HDL levels that reduce his risk for heart disease by 10 percent for every 10 miles he runs in a week.

            As for negative effects, running can have great impact on body. Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), or runner’s knee, got its nickname from an obvious and very unfortunate reason—it’s common among runners. The stress of running can cause irritation where the kneecap (patella) rests on the thighbone. The resulting pain can be sharp and sudden or dull and chronic, and it may disappear while you’re running, only to return again afterward. While biomechanical issues may be to blame for runner’s knee, the cause can often be traced back to poorly conditioned quadriceps and tight hamstrings. Running is a high-impact sport in which no runner is immune to injury. Runners typically develop knee problems for two reasons: impact and overuse. Ross Tucker, author of “The Runner’s Body,“ explains that “each time your foot makes contact with the ground, forces equaling two to four times your body weight travel upward through your lower leg, knee, thigh, hip and pelvis, and into your spine.” This repetitive motion puts a great deal of stress on your body. He goes on to say that “the impact forces from running do not equally disrupt all the tissues they pass through. Instead, damage is concentrated in areas of greater susceptibility.” In many people, especially in women, the knee are very susceptible to injury. Women are more prone to knee injury than men. Reasons for this include their wider pelvis, leg alignment, joint looseness and general muscle strength. For this reason, women runners should be especially careful to take preventative measures against injury. Chafing is a common ailment among runners and can be extremely painful during and after running. Chafing is caused by repeated motion—specifically, skin rubbing against loose fabric or other skin. Chafing most often occurs around the bra line (women, nipples (men), inner thighs, groin, and under the arms. Moisture, either from sweat or rain, can worsen chafing. It can also be caused by a poorly fitted bra and clothes with rough seams.  Running also causes you to have what is called “Black Toenail”, which comes from your foot sliding forward in your shoe, banging your toes against the top, front, and sides with each step. Your feet also swell during a walk or run and get compressed by your socks and shoes. That pressure and impact can damage your toenail beds, or create a blister under the toenail itself. When this happens, the extra blood and fluid causes your toenail to separate from the toenail bed, or the “toenail in training” as the Jeff Galloway site calls it. The blood colors the toenail black. Shin splints are very common among beginning runners because they may do too much too soon. With anterior shin splints, you’ll feel pain on the outside if your lower leg along the shin. Posterior shin splints, damage to the muscles on the inside of the lower leg, cause pain in the soft tissue behind the bone. While shin splints are usually cause by tight calf muscles and weak shin muscles, other factors may have aggravated the injury. Running on hard surfaces can put added strain on your front leg muscles. You may also pronate or supinate when your run, causing your front leg muscles to work harder to keep your feet stabilized. This biomechanical flaw may be made worse by a shoe with poor support. Another common cause is simply overtraining. Achilles tendonitis is often a result of overtraining, or doing too much too soon. Excessive hill running can contribute to it. Flattening of the arch of your foot can place you at increased risk of developing Achilles tendonitis because of the extra stress place on your Achilles tendon when walking or running. Stress fractures most frequently happen when runners increase the intensity and volume of their training over several weeks to a few months. A shortage of calcium or a biomechanical flaw—either in your running style in or your body structure—may also contribute to the injury. Common stress fractures in runners occur in the tibia (the inner and larger bone of the leg below the knee), the femur (thigh bone) and in the sacrum (triangular bone at the base of the spine) and the metatarsal (toe) bones in the foot.  Plantar fasciitis is common in long-distance runners because running can place too much stress on your heel bone and the soft tissue attached to it. Wearing old, worn-out running shoes or ones that lack arch support may be a factor. Other causes of plantar fasciitis are over pronation (when your feet roll inward too much) or too-tight calf muscles. Having flat feet or high arches may also cause added stress. High-heeled shoes can also be lead to plantar fasciitis because they make your Achilles tendon contract and shorten, which puts strain on the tissue around your heel.

            As for effects to the brain, which could be good or bad; depending on how much you do it. Running can increase the production of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are naturally existing chemicals in the human body. They are involved in the communication between the nerve cells of the body. The nerve cells control thought and movement. Nerve cells, called neurons, communicate with each other by releasing and accepting calcium and potassium. The neurotransmitters affect how much of the chemicals that excite the neurons are released or accepted. Serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine are a type of neurotransmitter called monoamines. Exercise has an effect on the other types of neurotransmitters as well but the monoamines are studied extensively because of their effect on mood. “Exercise, like drugs of abuse, leads to the release of neurotransmitters such as endorphins and dopamine, which are involved with a sense of reward, “Kanarek said. “As with food intake and other parts of life, moderation seems to be the key. Exercise, as long as it doesn’t interfere with other aspects of one’s life, is a good thing with respect to both physical and mental health.”

Me, myself have experienced this first hand, and have plenty of runner friends that experience this as well. Running can be addicting; just like drugs or alcohol is to an addict or alcoholic, and many tend to rely on it as their natural way to feel good. Then comes personal goals, such as running a 5k, 10k, Half Marathon, or Marathon; some even go the extra miles by running an Ultra Marathon. Running can be a good thing if you do it properly, and don’t overdo it! Overdoing it, and doing it improperly are the main causes of injury from what I’ve gathered.  


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