I understand and know that running is not for everyone. I don’t enjoy running as much as I would like to as well. Neither am I considered good at it. In fact this morning I struggled with an easy run and only managed 4km before I threw in the towel. My left hip was a little tight and I was running out of breath even at the easiest of pace.
Growing up, I did not get much positive influence to run. Other than my brother, very few in my family circle actually runs now. None of the friends I grew up with picked up running, except for maybe one or at most two. All my friends who are running now were made through running.
But do you realise that as a form of exercise, running is actually the most accessible sports there is? You do not need any equipment (you can even run barefoot, which can be healthy) and you can do it by yourself, anytime and anywhere that is safe. Running can be considered as a skill and it includes anything from jogging, sprinting, chasing, and even evading. These are all important for athletics, sports and everyday activities (think of chasing after the bus or running away from that ferocious dog).
Still, it is not easy to discipline yourself to run consistently. And if you have not been running, starting can be slow and a chore. Truth be told, I struggle with it daily. Sometimes I look forward to go out to log some miles, but most days it is mixture of a slog and dull. I have to deep dig each night to stir up sufficient motivation to run the next morning.
Being 6 foot tall and big boned (as what my mum always said of me), running does not come naturally to me. I am not fast and I have to work hard even for the smallest of improvements. I have seen myself running in videos, and it doesn’t exactly look smooth.
Reasons to Run
I don’t run to add days to my life, I run to add life to my days.
― Ronald Rook
I started running regularly only when I was close to my forties. My main goal was to maintain, if not, lose some weight. I love my desserts and I enjoy junk food (burgers, fries, pizza and anything fast). I chose running because it is the most accessible form of workout. It may be boring but it is something that I could do any time when I am able to.
But after running for a few years, I began to experience running from difficult to doable and to fulfilling even. Fulfilling in the sense that I began to experience the benefits of running, one by one.
What has running done for me?
1 – It improved my self-image and confidence
The first thing I experienced after a few months of consistent running was my reducing waistline! It took about 2 to 3 inches off, which required me to buy new work trousers and even allowed me to fit into slimmer cuts, which was becoming trendier.
Running is an exercise that burns lots of calories. The constant cardio really helped me to lose weight. At my heaviest, I was about 94kg (207lbs). I shed off about 10kg within the first 2 years of running, and another 5kg later on as I continue to incorporate runs into my daily routine.
Bear in mind that I achieved the reduction in weight without sacrificing or changing my diet. I still take my desserts, sweet drinks and eat anything I want and anytime I want. It is unhealthy but I am silently proud that I have been getting away with the indulgence.
It has been said that ‘you cannot outrun a bad diet’, but I have accidentally proven that is half-truth, perhaps. Still, there is such a paradox condition of being ‘fit but unhealthy’. I may only be able to get away with a bad diet for so long, as I advance in age and my metabolism declines accordingly.
Anyway, being leaner and fitter has boosted my self-esteem. Whether I want to admit or not, my new found fitness has played a positive role in how I feel about myself. The ability to complete marathons and even ultra-races built my self-confidence. It is a reminder that I am able to handle and overcome difficult things in life.
2 – It actually removed the pain in my knees
The first reason that I usually get from those who says that they don’t run is because of their weak knees or that they have knee pains. People thought that running is an impact sports that is bad for the joints. You might be surprised if I tell you that running has actually removed my knee pain!
I remember suffering from knee pains as young as my late twenties, mostly from playing social badminton. You know how the amateurs are, no warm ups or strengthening routines, we just jumped into the courts and play anyhow. As a result of bad habits, my knees were not in good shape. They were not exactly busted but I actually felt tugging aches on my knees when I climbed stairs, in my twenties!
I wasn’t expecting the pain to go away when I started running. Actually I did not pay much attention to it. It was annoying when I ran, but it was also manageable since I don’t run too far or long. But I did read up on running techniques and getting the right type of shoes with the goal of improving my running capability.
After a few years of running, one day I suddenly realised that I wasn’t plagued by knee pains anymore! This could be in part due to the weight I lost, which puts less pressure on my knees. Running also strengthens bones and leg muscles as well. What this does is that stronger bones, muscles and tendons provide better support for the joints.
So if you want to get rid of knee pain, try running. This is one running benefit that many will find difficult to believe. It may seem counterintuitive, but it worked for me.
3 – Naturally, it improved my health
Ever since I started running I found that I hardly fall sick. Running, I suspect has helped me fend off annoying bugs. I cannot remember the last time I was unwell, which is fantastic. I have been receiving excellent medical reports and doctors’ compliments from all my annual check-ups.
Despite my reckless diet, my HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, also commonly called the ‘good cholesterol’, has maintained at a desirable level. My LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, the ‘bad cholesterol’, is in check. LDL cholesterol is bad because it collects in the walls of your blood vessels, raising your chances of health problems like a heart attack or stroke. My father died of heart attack when he was only 66 years of age.
For someone who has great liking for sweet-tasting foods, I am most worried about my glucose readings. Surprisingly I have been getting away with within-the-range results for the last 5 years. My paternal grandmother actually died of diabetes in her forties. I did not get to meet or know her. I may be actually pushing my luck, so I’d better rein in this sweet tooth problem.
My blood pressure level has stayed in the ideal range for as long as I can remember. I don’t watch my salt intake and I like my food tasty. And if you noticed, my resting heart rate has also been coming down. I have seen a cardiologist about this, just as a precaution, in case there was something lurking behind. Apparently, exercise makes the heart bigger, more elastic, and able to pump more blood per beat. My heart has become more efficient over the years due to the consistent physical activities.
I am not saying all this to show off. I am trying to tell you that I can only attribute all this to running.
If you google it, you will find many citations of studies on the benefits of running for health and even how it can add years to your life. Some of the positive biological pathways include better body composition (less fat), lower cholesterol, greater cardiovascular fitness, excellent glucose and insulin control, stronger bones, better hormone regulation, and positive neurological functioning.
Additionally, running can improve the body’s defense against diseases, reduce inflammations, enhance gut microbiota composition, prevent upper respiratory infections and improve antibody response.
4 – It improved my mental health and likely kept depression away
Running provided me with lots of me-time. With the demands of work and family, and now the added-on Covid-19 pandemic stresses, running became a good outlet for me to be alone with myself to think and energize.
Heard about the ‘runner’s high’? You may have experienced it – it is the relaxing and fulfilling feeling after a good workout. I almost always feel good about myself after a run. One of the reasons I try to run in the morning even though it’s hard, is that it tees me up with positivity. I feel like I have accomplished something challenging and it then creates momentum for the rest of the day.
When you start out on your run, your body goes through a transition. Your breathing becomes heavy, your pulse quicken as the heart pumps harder to move oxygenated blood to your muscles and brain. As you hit your stride, your body slowly releases hormones called endorphins. These are chemicals that trigger a positive feeling in your body.
If you ask the physicians, they will explain that regular cardiovascular exercise, such as running, can spark growth of new blood vessels to nourish the brain. Exercise may also promote neurogenesis (the process by which new neurons are formed in the brain), which will lead to improvement in brain performance and prevent cognitive decline.
Depression may be a taboo subject, but I think it is something very real for anyone trying to manage a family, job and other responsibilities, what more during this pandemic. I may feel down from time to time but I am fortunate that I don’t experience persistent depressive feelings or hopelessness. I believe my running has played a big role in keeping my mental health in check.
Apparently exercise has a dramatic anti-depressive effect. It dampens the brain’s response to physical and emotional stress. I think running has kept me in elevated mood more often than not. Maybe that is why my boys like to be around me, or so I think.
5 – It helps me to sleep better
Everyone knows that sleep is important, quality sleep that is, not just in terms of quantity. Ideally we want to be able to sleep well and get the most out of time we spend in bed.
I would say that I sleep quite well each night. I don’t toss and turn much as I generally starts to get sleepy after 9.30pm. I know, I am not much of a party person, and I like to stay home. Boring me. But this is partly because I want to wake up early enough to get an hour run before I start my day, preparing breakfast for the family and getting to work.
It could be because I am an early riser, but running has helped me to fall asleep more quickly at night and improved the quality of my sleep. But it works both ways. The more I run, the more quality sleep I need. I know from experience that my workouts will suffer or just not happen if I don’t get enough sleep the night before. A good night’s sleep is essential for the training routine.
6 – I could learn on the go
How does running help in terms of time management? Think about listening to audios and learn on the go. You can actually multitask while you run and exercise your brain along with your body.
Other than listening to favourite songs of yesteryears, I also listen to books, sermons and podcasts on subject that I have interest in. You will be amazed by the amount of quality content available today. Just get a good pair of Bluetooth earbuds, subscribe to any providers in your smartphone and you are ready to go.
I have listened to many hours of podcast during my runs – business, investment, running, and sermons. You can learn from experts in respective fields, mostly free of charge. I have gained many ideas and insights while listening on the run. You get to learn, internalise and think on how you can apply the knowledge all while you are running. After the run, I write the idea down and plan on implementation. I would say it is a really productive use of my time indeed.
7 – It has helped me to cover more distance in less time
If you like to visit new places like I do, you will know that the best way to discover about a place or town is by walking. When I traveled overseas for work, I always take the opportunity to explore nearby scenes, local culture and if time permits, places of attraction.
Getting around by public transportation is necessary if you want to travel over a long distance. But once you are there, you will still need to venture the streets and corners by walking. And if you are just moving between two to three bus or train stops, you might as well cover the distance by foot. You will definitely see and experience much more.
This is where the physical fitness from running comes in. Running strengthens your legs incredibly and prep them well for brisk and extended walking. Think about the times when you were on holidays. How much time were you actually moving and exploring versus the time you needed to sit down and rest? For a tight itinerary, you may be walking for a full day for multiple days.
Running has also accorded me the fitness to hike longer and faster in the wilderness. This naturally translates to more distance I can trek on trails in a day. Strong legs and a fit body will enable you to carry more provision whilst you hike the distance. If you like the outdoors like I do, think of all the beautiful trails, mountains, valleys and waterfalls that are only accessible by foot. Physical fitness will not only enable you to reach these places, it will get you there enjoyably as well.
There are a lot of known benefits if you run. And I not saying that running, or making the effort to run, is easy. But so is life. Neither are. But one thing good about running is that it is measurable. We can track the miles and count the minutes. We can see where we have started and how far we have come. There is a profound truth to this. Your effort produces result. And the effort will be worth it.