Running has been a popular form of exercise since the 1970s, but in recent years the number of people running and participating in road races has hit record levels. Running provides many health benefits, but that doesn’t mean it is a good fit for everyone. These advantages and disadvantages will help you decide if you should give running a try.
Advantage: Improved fitness
Along with improving the condition of the heart and lungs, running is a weight-bearing physical activity that promotes bone health. Running can also reduce stress levels. Despite accusations that running may cause osteoarthritis of the knee, research has shown otherwise. One study that evaluated non-runners versus runners over a 21-year period found that non-runners were twice as likely to develop disabilities related to osteoarthritis as runners.
Disadvantage: Overuse injuries
Regardless of exercise type, doing too much too soon can result in injuries. However, Achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, stress fractures, and runner's knee are a few specific ailments often reported by runners. Training for long distances, ignoring rest days, and running through pain contributes to these injuries.
Advantage: Weight loss
Running is a high-intensity exercise that uses the larger muscle groups of the lower body resulting in high-calorie burn for weight loss. A 150-pound female who runs 3 miles in 30 minutes (6 miles per hour) will burn about 359 calories. When food intake does not cancel out this calorie deficit, moderate levels of running can result in weight loss.
Disadvantage: Weight gain
Surprisingly many people gain weight when they begin running, or when training for a long-distance event. Reasons for this weight gain may include an increase in muscle mass and increased glycogen in the muscle (which is stored with extra water). Additionally, as weekly mileage increases many people experience an increase in appetite. To satisfy this hunger, it is easy to eat and drink excess calories that lead to weight gain.
Advantage: The thrill of accomplishment
Whether you finally make a full lap around the park, or you cross the finish line of your first half marathon, running brings a feeling of pride and accomplishment that is unique to other forms of exercise. It’s this feeling that often gets runners hooked into running more often, joining a running club, or aiming for long-distance races. This sense of accomplishment and boost in self-esteem can keep you motivated to stick with your exercise program.
Disadvantage: Peer pressure
Once you start running, you will begin to connect with other runners due to shared interests. You may be impressed by their dedication, and feel challenged to keep up. Invitations to run further or faster can be difficult to turn down, but when you don’t take things slowly and work at your own pace, you risk injury, burnout, and feelings of defeat.
Advantage: Low-cost activity
You only need a quality pair of athletic shoes to add running to your exercise program. By running outdoors in your neighborhood, at local parks, or on a school track, you can meet exercise recommendations without the cost of a treadmill or gym membership.
Disadvantage: Potential to get expensive
While high-tech gear is not required, there is plenty out there that can make running more enjoyable. GPS watches, compression sleeves, running hats, sports sunglasses, and special foods and drinks, all have the potential to make running more expensive. If you plan to compete in races regularly, registration fees also present a financial barrier. Most 5K races range from $15 to $30. Longer distance races, such as half marathons and full marathons, can cost anywhere from $50 to well over $150 for a single registration.
If you want to add running to your exercise routine, experts recommend these four steps for safety:
- Wear quality running shoes that provide the support you need. (See Athletic Shoes: A Buying Guide.)
- Choose softer surfaces whenever possible.
- Don’t run through pain.
- Include strength training workouts.
To ensure a safe start, get the okay from your doctor, and start slowly by integrating short segments of running into a walking program. Over time, increase the running segments and decrease your walking segments. Aim for shorter distances and complete in a 5K (3.1 miles) before taking on longer distance events.