How Running Rocks for Your Mind & Body, According to Women Who Love It

woman running outsideIn terms of convenience, running beats pretty much all other workouts: You simply throw on your kicks and go. But there's a lot more to this sport than torching calories. (Although, it certainly does that.)

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Read on to get some insight on how running helps your body AND your mind, courtesy of women who regularly hit the road.

1. Feeling strong boosts your confidence. When Kristin M., of Birmingham, Michigan, first began running, she could barely last a few minutes. But she stuck with it, and now she has completed several half-marathons and one full. "Knowing that you can run ... gives you a feeling of empowerment that doesn't come from anything else other than your own strength and drive," she says.

2. All exercise gets you "high." You know the rush of feel-good hormones that runners get? Well, it's a perk of ALL exercise. Even a half-hour of walking on a treadmill has been shown to increase the mood of someone who's seriously depressed.

3. Getting outside is healing. "I hadn't realized how just getting some fresh air could lift my spirits and clear my mind," shares Melissa J., a runner in Ottawa, Canada. "I feel lighter, less tense, and more relaxed." Plenty of research agrees that being in nature is a natural mood-mender. Even five minutes will do the trick (although, we hope you spend longer than that!)

4. You relieve anxiety when you think about now, not later. Running puts you smack-dab in the moment. As you focus on the rhythm of your feet hitting the track and your breathing, you're actually changing what's going on in your brain. Hello, mindfulness. Good-bye, negative thought patterns. And this perk applies to other workouts, too.

5. Feeling scared can be a good thing. We all have a built-in "fight or flight" system that's tripped when we feel scared. Weirdly, that anxious "get me out of here" reaction is a lot like you feel when you work out. When you physically run, your heart rate rises and you start to sweat. Because of that similarity, running (and any cardio workout) can serve as a sort of exposure therapy. You're training your body to associate those jittery feelings with something besides imminent danger.

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6. Not everything is a race. True, sometimes it is. But when you're just trying to improve at a sport (or are staring down ANY big challenge) you need to follow your OWN pace. And sometimes that means going very, very slooooow.

7. Your personal best might need a buddy. For a University of California Santa Barbara study, 36 runners were secretly timed while running along a footpath. The first time, they ran alone. Another time, they were met by a woman halfway through --  and their pace significantly increased. The moral of the story? We ALL thrive with social interaction, not to mention support.

8. We all need an emotional reason to stick with a workout. "Running is truly a mind, body, and soul experience," says Treva B. of Los Angeles, California. "It takes you higher and deeper into yourself. It's great cardio, but it's also a time for meditation and thought. Anytime I go running, I clear my head and come back restored."

9. Everyone's fitness goals are different -- and worthy. "I was recently invited to spend time with a group of global female marathoners who I thought were much more serious runners," notes Tracy H., of Syracuse, New York. "It was amazing to learn that they thought I was more of a runner because I commit to running every single day."

10. You don't just get in shape for yourself, but for others. When Randi W. of Baltimore, Maryland, started training for her first marathon, she sparked her friends' and family's interest in running as well. "Wherever there is movement," Randi points out, "there is guaranteed to be change!"

 

 

Image via © iStock.com/matthewennisphotography

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