Earlier this year, I decided to commit to a regular running routine because climbing the stairs to my third-floor walkup wasn't really enough cardio.
I figured with access to some pretty incredible running paths (hello, Central Park!), I didn't have much of a reason not to give it a try. And, I told myself, the results would pay off in better physical fitness.
What I didn't expect was for running to completely transform my mind.
There are weight loss perks to any cardio routine, but the biggest benefits of hitting the pavement have nothing to do with a dress size. Just like with any other form of exercise, there's so much more to gain than there is to lose -- and I can only bet that it will be the same for you. Below are just a few ways running can change your whole attitude:
1. Running makes you happier.
One word: Endorphins. Research has shown that exercise is a proven mood booster. When you're active, your brain releases feel-good chemicals that perk up your attitude and make you happier post-workout. In other words, it's a pretty healthy remedy for a bad day.
2. It gives you a goal to work toward.
The only person you're really competing with when you run is yourself. Each run and each race is an opportunity to push your endurance levels. The reward for your hard work won't come easy, but that feeling you get when you shave a minute off your mile and beat your personal record is truly unmatched.
3. It could help with depression.
A study from the University of Michigan found that group exercise in nature -- even if you're just walking -- can ease depressive symptoms. There's also the added benefit of getting vitamin D when you're running outdoors. A low storage of vitamin D has been linked to seasonal affective disorder.
4. Running makes you part of a community...
Statistics show that running -- particularly in races -- is only growing in popularity. Chances are you have several co-workers or friends who are into the activity and more than willing to offer some tips. Better yet, make them a running partner: Research shows working out with a friend may make you perform better.
5. ...but it's also a great solo activity.
Sometimes you just need your shoes, your headphones and nothing but the trail in front of you. In fact, a little "me time" can actually be good for you. May as well get in some exercise in the process.
6. It's a healthy way to relieve stress.
There's nothing like taking a bad day at work or a fight with a significant other out on a run. Exercise is a scientifically-backed way to lower your stress levels. Between the mood-boosting endorphins, the pumped-up music and the increased heart rate, you're bound to get those frustrations out. Run your way to a better state of mind and leave your worries on the pavement (or treadmill, if that's what you prefer).
7. Running helps you sleep better...
Running and sleep go hand in hand. Experts suggest prioritizing sleep if you're looking to improve your technique and the exercise helps ensure you'll get a restful amount of shuteye. Talk about a win.
8. ...and it can turn you into an early bird.
A 6 a.m. wakeup call can be jolting, but the reward is worth it. The more you get into a routine of waking up at the same time (which you should be doing anyway as part of practicing good sleep hygiene), the easier it becomes. Need some tricks to motivate you to get out of bed? Try one of these to jumpstart your run.
9. It keeps your brain sharp.
The more you run, the less likely you are to experience mental decline. Research suggests that exercise can improve cognitive function as you age, including working memory and task switching.
10. Running makes you stronger in every way.
Your strength shouldn't be measured in the number on the scale but how you feel in the other minutes of your life. Running -- if done properly and consistently -- engages your muscles, improves your joints and boosts your endurance. Not to mention, research suggests exercise may reduce your risk of disease and increase longevity.
Honestly, that's worth more than the size stitched on a pair of jeans.
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