Is Long Distance Running Good For You?
Long distance running is one of the first things that people turn to when they want to lose weight or improve their cardiovascular fitness.
It is a great way to build fitness, develop a healthy heart and improve endurance.
Running also has a wealth of less known benefits and drawbacks that you should consider if you are regularly running or considering long distance running.
Improved Memory and Learning Ability – Scientists have shown that marathon runners have an improved ability to learn and remember things.
A protein called oestrogen-related receptor gamma that is responsible for increasing the blood supply to muscles and improving running speed also improves the speed at which neurons are fired in the brain making you more ‘switched on’.
Reduced Chance Of Cancer – 30 minutes of running per day has been shown to be one of the best forms of exercise to reduce the risk of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers.
Better Cholesterol Levels – Long distance running not only decreases the total amount of cholesterol in your blood but also increases the amount of HDL (‘good’) cholesterol, reducing your risk of developing heart disease.
Improved Bone Density – Running is a weight bearing exercise and the impact of your feet on the ground forces your body to become stronger to withstand the stress.
Running 20-30kms per week has been shown to improve bone density, reducing the chance of developing osteoporosis.
Improved Mood – Ultra-marathon runners have described feeling surges of serotonin when covering very long distances but even running shorter distances can reduce stress and anxiety levels.
Kynurenine, a substance which has been linked to depression, accumulates in the blood during times of stress and running has been shown to help the body to filter it out, positively impacting mood.
Increased Sex Drive – By increasing testosterone, endorphins and adrenaline running has been shown to lift the sex drive of both men and women.
Having a more positive body image from regular exercise can also make you feel more confident and sexy in bed.
Joint Injuries – The repetitive nature of long distance running places an enormous amount of stress on your knees, hips, legs and back.
Poor technique is responsible for a lot of long distance running injuries and overtraining can cause shin splints and muscle tears that can take months to recover from.
Weakened Immune System – While 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day can boost your immune system, the amount of time spent running long distances exposes the body to high cortisol levels.
This reduces the immune system’s ability to function effectively and can do so for up to three days following a run of 90 minutes or more.
Hormonal Imbalances – It is easy to over-exercise when running long distances and doing so can wreak havoc on your hormones.
The functioning of the thyroid gland can be impaired from long distance running leading to a host of health problems including severe weight gain or loss, an irregular heartbeat and mood disturbances.
Testosterone and oestrogen levels can also be decreased from excess exercise resulting in a lower sex drive, muscle loss, a need for increased recovery time, amenorrhea in women and an increase in the risk of osteoporosis.
Damage To The Heart – Running is a great way to improve your cardiovascular fitness but the stress placed on the heart when running very long distances can increase inflammation, lead to a build-up of plaque and cause scarring on the heart muscle.
Although rare, long distance running has also been shown to weaken the right ventricle and can even contribute to cardiac arrest.
If you love long distance running, don’t let the cons deter you!
Listen to your body, rest when you need to and make sure that you are eating enough nutrition-dense calories to support your activity level.
Take time to learn about proper running form, wear well-fitted shoes and always warm-up and cool-down appropriately.
Long distance running will affect everyone differently.
As long as you know the risk factors, you can then consider scaling back to enjoy the benefits while minimising the downsides so you stay fit AND healthy for longer.