We know that running is a great full body workout, burning calories, strengthening muscles including your heart, but is there a certain mileage to get extra results? All miles count, but there are some extra benefits of long distance running!
What is long distance running?
Distance running is any run that requires you to tap in to your endurance and mental training to continue pushing past an easy workout. I’ve seen it listed as any run over 1.9 miles, but that’s not what we’re talking about today.
We’re talking about the weekend long runs that challenge you and add to life expectancy.
- During half marathon training this might be 9-13 miles.
- During marathon training this might be 13-22 miles.
- Ultra runners will be taking the distance even farther depending upon their upcoming goal and training.
A single one hour run can add 7 hours to your life!
This doesn’t mean you need to run a marathon every day or that you want to go overboard, but if once a week you can do a run that’s say 30%-40% longer than your weekday runs…big benefits.
There are plenty of benefits and perks enjoyed by long distance runners that you can’t get from a short easy run. In this post, we’ll list the top seven reasons for including long distance running (LDR).
7 Benefits Of Long Distance Running
Listen, we know that I’m biased to running being a phenomenal tool to change your life. But there is plenty of science back up my love of the sport and I hope to encourage you to continue testing your limits.
One of the reasons I love distance running is that the intensity remains low, giving us time to see the world around us and actually think!
But here are the long run benefits we want to talk about:
- Heart health
- Helps fight signs of depression
- Improved self esteem
- Better sleep quality
- Increased muscle mass and weight loss
- Better breathing
- Prevention of cognitive decline
How long distance running improves heart health?
Long distance running is one of the best ways to improve your heart health. The act of long distance running will work out all sorts of muscle tissues in your body, including those that line arteries and veins which then improves blood flow.
Runners have a 30% LOWER risk of dying from any cardiovascular issue.
One reason for this is that it increases your VO2 Max. That means your body can more efficiently pump oxygen to the muscles, which further improves your ability to run farther or faster.
A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that distance running can reduce blood pressure by about three points for each weekly mile you cover. This is huge for people with high blood pressure and it’s a great way to reduce heart disease risk.
The human body was designed to chase down prey,
So adding a few runs in each week, with one being longer is a key to keeping your heart pumping at it’s fullest.
Why distance running is good for your mental health?
Running can reduce anxiety and depression. But how?
There are both hormonal and brain chemicals, along with mental reshaping occurring.
The runner’s high is a natural phenomenon that occurs thanks to long distance running. It triggers our internal endocannabinoid system (yup same thing as CBD).
Endorphins and endocannabinoids react when the body is under stress.
Different from the sort of stress we feel with a big job interview, physical stress on the body from running or other exercise causes the production of these natural pain-relievers.
Researchers believe that the reason we feel a high after a long run can be attributed to the old days of chasing down our food. In order to eat, our ancestors had to run down large animals for hours, or even days.
The runner’s high is the likely reason that humans could run for as far and fast as they did, thanks to the natural pain-killing properties released to the brain.
Distance Running Improves Self Esteem
The second piece of mental health is the way that long distance running allows us to see ourselves.
It’s tough and it pushes you to your limits mentally, physically, emotionally.
You learn about yourself when you’re out there on that long distance run – the good, bad, and ugly parts of who are as well as what makes you awesome!
A few of the many ways you’ll see self esteem improve:
- chasing a tough goal is rewarding – we like a challenge!
- sense of accomplishment distance runners crossing a finish line
- disconnecting from digital forces you to focus on the now and gives you time to truly think
- it’s a chance to be present with your thoughts
- it reminds you of how powerful your body is and your mind
When distance running, I find that my mind is much emptier than during other types of exercise and so it’s easier for me to just think without feeling overwhelmed or distracted. It’s 100% changed my relationship with my body and allowed me to question other things I once thought were too hard.
Running long for better quality sleep
Again, we have a number of ways your long distance running could improve sleep!
First, most distance runners run in the morning. This means you are exposing your eyes to light early in the morning which releases cortisol (a good thing this is when we want it highest) and that starts a clock to when your cortisol will be lowest for sleep!
Second, through distance running we become better at dealing with all of life’s stressors. That means less rumination at night, more ways to release tension and care for our bodies.
Our good mood is also aided by the aforementioned endocanabinoids and dopamine! All of which means a lower chance of battling insomnia.
Surprise Bonus:Distance running is also a great workout for your mind because distance runners are constantly balancing on one foot. And balance exercises have been proven to help with insomnia!
Distance Running and Muscles
Long distance runners will often have a higher muscle to fat ratio because running causes an increase in metabolism and burning of glucose for energy. Metabolism is increased due to muscles, due to continued activity and fueling the body for the work at hand! All of these means that long distance running is a hugely beneficial way to manage weight loss.
This is NOT TO SAY that distance running is the best way to build muscle.
Lift heavy things. That should be part of any running routine now, but running does absolutely build muscle.
When distance running, your body will use different muscles than it does during a shorter run. In particular, you’ll build up stronger legs, glutes, hips and core muscles. These are all required for balance, coordination and injury prevention in covering many miles.
Bonus: Distance runners have lower levels of markers for muscle injury after working out, which means we are able to recover faster.
Long Distance Running and the Brain
It turns out that one of the best ways to prevent Alzheimer’s or general cognitive decline is intense physical activity.
Unfortunately, too many people believe that as we get old we need to drop all intensity. Numerous studies have shown that we can and SHOULD include intensity at all ages. Of course, we change the amount of recovery and plans for running in old age…but we don’t stop.
In fact, one study showed that those who ran just 15 miles per week reduced their risk by 40%.
Additionally, a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that moderate intensity exercise in the morning improved working memory and overall executive cognitive function.
We’re talking long term benefits from your aerobic exercise.
Running Improves Lung Capacity
Finally, distance running can help increase lung capacity.
Runners are constantly breathing in large volumes of air to fuel muscles, which means the diaphragm is being put to work. As we age it can indeed become weaker, which means more breathing issues and a weaker heart.
The more you practice running long the easier it is for your lungs to adapt to the increased demand and so distance runners have better airflow than those who do not perform long distance runs regularly
Plus, the lung health institute says that strong healthy muscles require less oxygen to operate, which means your running actually reduces the stress on your lungs!
If you’re looking for some added benefits of long distance running, I hope this article has helped shed some light on the perks that come with putting in all those miles!
The motivation to stick to it goes far beyond a race day finish line and I’ll take anything that makes me feel even 50% more excited for a run when the weather is rough.
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