Health Benefits of Running

Get Fit is not just about running, we provide our customers with everything they need to lead a healthy, active lifestyle. But running holds a special place in our hearts, so in this post we’re going to share a few of the health benefits of running.

Running and Immune System

White blood cells, also called leukocytes, migrate between tissues like lung and spleen and our circulation via lymphatics and blood. When pathogens like viruses or bacteria get past our outer barrier (skin, mucosal membranes), it’s up to our immune cells to seek and destroy the bad guys. Think of leukocytes as cops trying to protect our city from criminals. Leukocyte exchange refers to how well the cops are able to patrol all the streets and alleys. If the cops are sitting in the Donut Stop parking lot all day and night, crime will be unchecked and the city will decay into chaotic lawlessness. It’s the same with our body. If our immune cells cannot efficiently move in and out of the different organs in our body, they will not be able to destroy invading pathogens, and we will get sick more often. The research article Exercise and leukocyte interchange among central circulation, lung, spleen, and muscle tracked white blood cells in two groups of rats, those who ran on a treadmill for 45 minutes daily vs control rats that didn’t run, found that the running rats had significantly greater leukocyte trafficking in and out of the lungs and spleen 24 hours after their run. In other words, running every day improves the ability of your immune cells to circulate in and out of your lungs and spleen for an entire 24 hours. Why is this? Running improves circulation. It gets your blood pumping and also your lymphatics. Start running today to improve the ability of your immune cells to search out and destroy any viruses before they make you sick!

Metabolic and heart health benefits of running

Running will improve your body’s ability to burn fat and carbohydrate, by increasing the number and size of the mitochondria in your muscles, and can rescue you from insulin resistance, the precursor to type II diabetes. Spending the majority of your time in zone 2, running at a pace where you can still carry on a conversation, will maximize your metabolic improvements. Endurance exercise like running or cycling also enhances cardiovascular health by dilating arteries and increasing cardiac output, making it easier for the heart to pump blood with every beat. This lowers blood pressure and resting heart rate. 

Running to relieve stress and anxiety

Running is as effective at treating anxiety as an acute dose of valium or 4 weeks of an SSRI such as Prozac. One study gave one group of stressed mice access to a running wheel, while the other group of stressed mice had a locked running wheel in their cages. After 3 weeks, the mice who were able to run exhibited better social engagement and had higher levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the reward parts of the brain. Running causes favorable changes in brain chemistry, mood, and social behavior. In fact, there are at least three mechanisms by which running mimics the anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effects of SSRIS such as fluoxetine. Increased tryptophan transport into the brain, increased serotonin synthesis in the brain, and decreased recycling of serotonin out of the synaptic cleft. To dig deeper you can read the articles referenced above- “Beneficial effects of fluoxetine, reboxetine, venflaxetine, and voluntary running exercise in stressed male rats with anxiety and depression-like behaviors” and “Wheel running alters serotonin (5-HT) transporter, 5-HT1A, 5-HT1B, and alpha1B-adrenergic receptor in the rat raphe nuclei.”

Cognitive benefits of running

According to the Science magazine review article This is Your Brain on Exercise, a protein called cathepsin B, which is secreted by muscle cells during physical activity, is required for exercise-induced neurogenesis, or the formation of new brain cells. This effect is most pronounced in the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in learning and memory, the part that is most affected by Alzheimer’s disease. While much research has been done in mice, a human study found elevated blood levels of cathepsin B after four months of running 3 X week on a treadmill for 45 minutes. Subjects also improved in a picture drawing memory task.

In summary, running strengthens your immune system, improves your heart health and metabolism, boosts your mood and lowers anxiety, and grows new brain cells. So what’s stopping you from going out for a run right now? For help on how to get started running, see last month’s post on Marching out of your comfort zone and into running. And for all the equipment, encouragement, and community support you need, come into Get Fit and get started today.