WITH running becoming an increasingly popular form of exercise, George Dove looks into the health benefits it brings.

Running is becoming more and more popular. The number of regular runners in the UK now stands at ten and a half million, which means it ranks only behind swimming in the most popular form of exercise undertaken by Brits.

While it may seem daunting to run for miles, you don’t have to go full Forrest Gump to feel the effects. Running for just half an hour can make some very positive changes to your body.

Everybody knows that running is good for you—it’s common knowledge. If you ask someone what it does for your body, chances are they will say something vague like ‘it keeps you fit’. Let’s get specific.

People spend hours at the gym, trying to work off their festive gut or chiselling their beach body in time for the summer. If it is slimming you want, it is running you need. All exercise burns calories, but none do so as efficiently as a run.

As it is cardio vascular exercise it builds lung strength, so the more you run the stronger your lungs grow. It also builds bone strength in your legs. When you run, your bones are put under pressure and then essential minerals are sent to the stressed bones—making them stronger. Now, more interestingly, studies have shown that regularly galloping around the suburbs can actually improve you hearing. It seems an odd one, right? Research at the Bellarmine University in Kentucky found that running increases the blood flow to your ears and therefore makes your hearing more astute.

When we run a protein (estrogen-related receptor gamma) is produced and it regulates the release of energy to our muscles and our brain. The more adept your body becomes at producing this protein, the more efficient your memory can become and your muscles will become better served to cope with the demands of running. Don’t believe it? Famous brainboxes such as Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing, Nobel Prize winning scientist Wolfgang Ketterle, and British journalist and politician Matthew Parris all clocked full marathon times under three hours.

This next one’s a classic, but it’s true. Runners claim that getting the miles in makes them feel happy, and from the comfort of your sofa watching telly, that will seem hard to believe—but science can prove the lycra clad nutters correct. Aerobic exercise expulses kynurenine, which is produced in times of stress and is believed to be linked to depression, from the blood and therefore makes you happier. Getting outside and active also builds up your immune system as you come into contact with small, brief does of all kinds of germs. Not enough to make you ill, but just enough to become tolerant and prevent sickness in the future.

One may be tired and want to jump into bed straight after a run, and there is research to show that running helps you in this department too. Due to the chemicals released in your brain, the calmer state of mind brought about will help you sleep in a more regular pattern. Another way it may help in the boudoir, according to research ran by Cambridge University, is by increasing your libido. Dr Danny Longman was the lead author on the paper that studied 542 runners at the Robin Hood Marathon and found that men who finished the race faster were more likely to have higher sperm counts and stronger sex drives. This thesis reaches far back into our ancestral history, when our primitive predecessors used to hunt by outlasting their prey in the chase. Females of those days used to see strong runners as better mates when they brought back the most food, meaning strong genes were passed down to their descendants.

Now here’s a biggie. Research carried out over the period of 17 years by Finnish scientists concluded that jogging can reduce the risk of cancer. They studied the health of 2,560 middle aged males and concluded that those who are physically active were better defended against the development of cancer. The stand out line of the research being that just thirty minutes of exercise a day (or the equivalent of) can result in “a 50 percent reduction in the risk of dying prematurely from cancer”. If this isn’t reason enough to start running, then what is?

If you combine all of these factors, running regularly can brighten your outlook, make (and keep) you fitter, protect you against getting the sniffles, make you lean as hell and keep you as sharp as a tac. No wonder it’s becoming more popular.

By George Dove

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