Why running is the ultimate cardiovascular sport

2–3 minutes

Mental health advantages

Running’s mental health plusses are no less intriguing. “Running can be done on your own, but often has a social component as well, whether it’s running with a friend or being part of a running club or virtual community,” says Karmel Choi, a clinical psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “This adds to the emotional benefits by reducing isolation and increasing a sense of support and motivation.”

The activity can also be good for depression. Choi points to a recent study that found that individuals with depression who started running regularly “recovered at similar rates to those taking antidepressants.” She’s published supportive research and notes that her team estimates that if someone swapped just 15 minutes of sitting for 15 minutes of running each day, they could “reduce their risk of depression by as much as 26 percent.” Part of the reason for this is because running has been shown to release “feel-good hormones like endorphins and dopamine, that have been linked to better mood, reduced stress, and even the ‘runner’s high,’” Choi explains.

Beyond helping one feel better, running is associated with improved cognitive function. “Running can boost brain function by enhancing memory and learning capabilities,” says Gontang. He says this occurs because running increases blood flow to the brain and stimulates the production of a molecule known as the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), “which supports the growth of new neurons and protects existing brain cells.”

Getting started

Perhaps most compelling of all is that there are very low costs and almost no barriers of entry associated with participating in the sport. “Running can seem intimidating because it sometimes seems like people need all the latest watches or gear or tools or shoes to participate, but people can simply start with a road or trail near them, and often things they already own,” says Olenick.

To get started, begin slow and then work up to higher and higher fitness levels.

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