Henry Howe — Head of Movement and Performance
Running is perhaps the most accessible form of physical activity available to us and has been a saviour for many people during lockdown. There are so many ways in which running can make a positive impact on your life, so let’s discuss some of those to try and get you on board!
I think that after walking the most accessible form of exercise has to be running. You can do it anywhere, in any weather and at any time of day. A pair of running shoes can last a long time and the only limitation is generally time. Many people struggle with the financial commitment of joining a gym, or perhaps travel a lot so access to a gym is an issue — but with a pair of running shoes, neither of these barriers is present. You can also get some good variation in your running by choosing different routes, perhaps different surfaces or changing terrain — all of these aspects provide a different stimulus to your running to keep you engaged.
What’s more, there is a strong argument that humans are meant to run. You heard that right — whilst many medics and trainers will say that running is bad for you, there is a convincing body of evidence that says we might only be here today because we learned to run. This idea comes from various human studies that show some of our muscles, ligaments and tendons are only really active during running. But that doesn’t seem enough on its own you might be thinking, and you’re right.
The real key indicator that has guided our thoughts on the topic comes from our development from Neanderthal to homo sapiens, with the thinking that we almost certainly had an influx of animal food sources long before we invented hunting tools. Back in the savanna humans had a major advantage over the animals we ate — we could sweat! Being able to sweat is one of the body's best ways of cooling down, and without this ability, many animals will die of heat exhaustion before too long. This brings us back around to why running was so important for us — we could run, relatively slowly, for just long enough that animals couldn’t cool down and eventually would become our dinner for the next week… This is called exhaustion hunting, interesting right? If this interests you, I really recommend the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.
Right, enough evolutionary science! Let’s talk cold hard evidence on why running is such a good investment of your time and why it may well help you live longer.
For decades we have tried to extend our lives and live as vital an existence as possible — whilst gyms and HIIT workouts are relatively new, the desire to live a long life is not. In pursuing these researchers conduct huge population studies in the elderly to try and see common traits in those that live the longest, with the lowest incidence of concurrent disease. Interestingly two findings come out time and time again; V02Max and leg strength. Your V02Max is as good a measure of any for the health of your heart and lungs, and it’s not controversial to say that those that can move around more and to a higher intensity are likely to live longer. Leg strength is another one that makes sense for longevity, not least because it allows us to maintain independence! Without the option of moving around freely, getting up out of chairs, and climbing stairs, we really are limited in how well we can look after ourselves.
And what are the two key outcomes of running? Strong heart, strong legs. And let’s not forget that those who run tend to have a lower BMI — another relevant statistic when screening people for risk of heart disease. In this sense running is a bit of a miracle drug.
So we know that running is great for our physical health, but what about our mental health? The positive effects of running on our mental health are perhaps even more significant.
Now I’d stress that as with any mental well-being challenge you really can’t paper over cracks — exercise forms a valuable tool for helping people, but a journey towards health should always begin with advice from a medical professional.
That being said running has long been reported as beneficial for people suffering from depression and anxiety and can be a source of “download time” for those experiencing high levels of stress. There is something inherently satisfying about traveling great distances on your own steam, and it can provide great thinking time and headspace when there is something on your mind. Many people also describe the repetitive nature as quite a meditative act, and indeed spending time outside with many sensory inputs can be considered mindfulness for a lot of us. Sometimes in life, we just need a goal and some accountability — and working towards your first 5k or marathon can provide that meaningful goal. If you’re not sold on this then next time you’re feeling low, stressed or wound up — go for a run and pay attention to how you feel afterwards!
The final topic I’d like to discuss is how flexible running is in relation to your social life.
Running is flexible, it can provide a great outlet for those seeking some solitude and is also a great excuse to connect with people. When you need time to yourself it’s important to acknowledge that. But a recent study created in conjunction with Park Run has shown that running regularly in a group is beneficial to your well being — you rely on others to be there and they rely on you to do the same. For those that don’t know what Park Run is, it’s a weekly free-to-enter 5k run held every Saturday in parks across the world. It’s a fantastic initiative and draws in people of all shapes, ages and sizes — I really recommend it.
But whether you like to run alone or run as a group Magic Mountain has you covered. Running is a great way to contribute to the calorie goal of your team with a 30-min slow run accruing a considerable 275 calories — good bang for your buck!
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