Top 10 Reasons to Begin a Running (Or Walking) Program

Written by Dr. Daniel A. Shaye

Why run? Why walk? Why exercise at all? And why start today? Here’s a list of 10 great reasons to join the estimated 19 million Americans who run at least twice a week.

1 – It’s good for your waistline. Who doesn’t like looking good at the beach, or at a party? But waist size is about more than looks; it’s an important indicator of overall health and well-being. A large waist size is linked to serious health problems including breast cancer and infertility. Not to mention diabetes (diagnosed in over 25 million Americans, notes the American Diabetes Association) and heart disease, the leading killers of Americans according to the CDC. Look good, live well? Sounds like a plan to me.

2 – You’ll live longer. Regular aerobic exercise is good for your immune system, bone density, heart health and brain function. In fact, it’s the closest thing to a miracle drug we’ve discovered. Exercising enough to burn just 1,000 calories (kCal) per week can reduce your “all-cause mortality risk” by 20-30 percent… and you don’t even have to work out “hard” to do it. If you want to run fast, be my guest; but moderate, less taxing aerobic intensities are sufficient to achieve most health benefits. Run slowly, walk, dance, cycle, whatever… and reap the rewards.

3 – It’s good for your brain. Running and other forms of aerobic exercise increase brain cell counts and improve vascular (blood flow) networks feeding it. Research has shown that aerobic exercise decreases your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and senile dementia, and improves your ability to reason. That’s good if you’re older, or plan to be some day. That’s also good news if you plan to be effective at tasks involving your brain. Want to increase your earning potential by boosting your brain power? Maybe a run might help… I’m just sayin’….

4 – You just might discover you’re a superhero. Remember comic books, or your favorite novels and shows? It’s exciting to live vicariously through a man of steel, or a woman with super-strength (and a cool invisible jet). But what if you could fly? What if, unlike so many others who get out of breath walking up a modest hill or flight of stairs, you could RUN for 5 minutes? 10 minutes? An hour even… while talking and laughing? Sure, running is about the most modest of super-powers (my apologies to The Flash), but there’s something special about being able to fly along, your feet lightly tip-tapping on the earth more as a courtesy than necessity as you float. And while you’re channeling your inner super-hero, consider that you can be the greatest 40-50 year old you’ve even been, leaving behind the weight of “younger you” forever. Or, you can win an age-group award at the local 5K—and feel like a hero-for-a-day in your own hometown. You can even legitimately race against an 80 year-old woman, and a 16 year-old boy, courtesy of what’s known as “age-graded” racing. The possibilities are endless—though you’ll risk having your “secret identity” exposed to the world. The choice is yours.

Whatever your motivations for running or walking, whether competitive or cosmetic, whether as a component of your exercise prescription or escape from the office cube, running, walking, health, and fitness can and should be joyous pursuits.

5 – You can de-stress… naturally. Forget about hitting the bottle or downing a pill… hit the trail instead.  Running is a natural anti-depressant and mood-altering activity.  That argument with your co-worker or friend, that disaster that’s just a temporary glitch… running can smooth that over and grant you a fresh perspective. Also, if your challenge is finding “me” time, running (or walking) is your ticket. As you nimbly skip and bound up-and-down the hills of the local cross country trail, you’ll have a moment away from “Mommy!” The cell phone’s insistent ring suddenly seems a million miles away. The pressures of the world can wait; and for just a few minutes, or maybe an hour, you can even forget they exist.

6 – It’s a way to be joyously irresponsible. Seriously, when can you ditch the tie, or the heels, or the pressure and just PLAY these days? Runners who are doctors, lawyers, pastors or pilots all look pretty much the same on a run. You can put on tights, and sweat… and it’s OK. You can step in a big puddle, and it’s fine—even joyous. And here’s a tip for the sanguine: You’ll never network with a business contact over drinks like you will bonding on a good run together. Hmm… maybe this is also true for couples… just a thought.

7 – It’s social. No, seriously. Running can be a solo time, but it’s also an opportunity to become part of something larger than just you. You can run for a cause, or for a person—whether as part of a fund-raising drive, or simply wearing a T-shirt remembering Aunt Sadie. You can have a running partner, or weekly group run that’s carved in stone. You can join a running club and hang out with wonderful people who share your passion (and maybe meet some life-long friends). Or go to a big race with thousands of people, and join the “moving party” that these races have become.

8 – You can eat like a horse. My Jewish mother used to look at my lean runner body in horror and say, “You need to eat!” Halfway through a meal, she’d say, “You shouldn’t eat so much!” Running burns roughly 100 calories per mile, compared to the energy you’d naturally expend at rest, so it’s no wonder I was ravenous while running 50-70+ miles per week in college. Let’s say you have no desire to cover those distances, but are still interested in eating heartily. Want to eat a 273-calorie Snickers bar? Run 3 miles, and you’ll actually lose weight compared to your sedentary neighbor who doesn’t eat that bar. Don’t want to run? Walk twice as far, and you’ll pretty much get the same effect. Don’t feel like walking 6 miles? No problem… walk 2 miles, 3 times a week, and you’ll get the same effect. And for the extreme folks out there, you can burn an entire pound of fat by running 35 miles. Sound like a lot? Not so. You can run that 35 miles over 6 weeks, which means you’ll just have to run a hair under 2 miles a day, 3 days a week.

9 – You’ll experience nature. It’s really nice, staying all warm and cozy on the couch on a snowy day. It feels different after you’ve been out for a run in that snow, making fresh crunch-crunch-crunching footprints, seeing deer, experiencing that magnificent ice-encrusted tree against the hazy sunshine. Runners might see the red fox that lives at Eastern State Hospital, or the albino (piebald) deer that lives off Jamestown Road, or a host of other wondrous critters that so many of us never get to see. Get off the couch, and experience the real Animal Planet.

10 – It’s yours… and it’s FUN. In most ball sports, a bad pass or fellow player’s error can spoil a play or game. If your racquetball partner no-shows, you can’t play.  Not so in running, where your efforts (or shortcomings!) are yours and yours alone. If your goal is to run a mile without stopping, reaching that achievement is something no one can take away from you. You did it. Yes, you. And don’t forget:  For all the scientifically validated benefits of running, exercise can be just plain fun. Whatever your motivations for running or walking, whether competitive or cosmetic, whether as a component of your exercise prescription or escape from the office cube, running, walking, health, and fitness can and should be joyous pursuits. These joys are readily accessible to all socioeconomic groups—no club membership or greens fees required. Join us—we’d love to have you on our “team.”