10/18/2011 08:21 am ET Updated Dec 13, 2011

Why Are So Many People Running These Days?

The growth in running continues to amaze analysts. In a society that is getting fatter and more sedentary, a growing number are getting off the couch, and crossing the finish line of a marathon or half marathon each year. As one who got hooked on endorphins to "run along" with high school friends 50 years ago, it doesn't surprise me that the benefits of self-empowerment, achievement, vitality, etc. are attractive to a growing number of those entering mid life. But new runners are coming from all age groups, starting in the teen years and extending into the 80s.

I hear from about 30,000 individuals a year, because they are using my run-walk-run method. They tell me that this is the only way they would think about running. They often tell me their stories. Some started for health reasons, some were inspired by friends or relatives and others to be a role model for their children. But the most common reason for continuing to run is the amazing mental enhancements delivered.

Our bodies and minds are constantly adapting to make us better at what we do regularly. Running triggers a series of continual improvements, because upgrades are needed in each of these areas: strong bones, efficient heart action, oxygen delivery, and a higher level of awareness. While runners enjoy these benefits, there are other reasons that pull them out the door.

As substantial as the physical and medical benefits are, the mental and emotional enhancements are far greater. Running changes us -- month after month, year after year. It triggers and integrates multiple circuits that improve us in ways that enhance our health, life and state of mind. The overall message that running sends throughout the mind-body network is that "I am getting better," "I enjoy this" and "I feel better about life".

What we do regularly modifies our thinking and behavior patterns. Running tends to mold a person into positive contemplation -- searching for potential and expanding current consciousness about making things better.

While running expands or maintains our physical capabilities and stamina at any age, it also activates the frontal lobe -- the executive brain. Studies show that running stimulates activity within this decision-making center, where strategies are developed and problems are solved. This uniquely human command center can take control over emotional responses coming from the ancient subconscious brain, sort out the issues, find creative solutions and dig down for intuitive strength when needed.

Running has become a symbol of freedom. Just a few steps into a run and you can be disconnected from phones, texting, computer screens, demanding or aggravating people and non-productive activities. You are on your own, self-reliant, self-sufficient and empowered. When the pace is not stressful, the time on the run allows for positive thoughts and adaptations to occur. Just knowing that you will be receiving that freedom soon, can reduce the stress of the day and improve attitude.

Running changes us. Studies and personality profiles show that as beginners continue to run regularly without time goals, they become more positive. As I work with runners over months and years they tend to become more "self-starting", think and talk more honestly, and move on to other positive changes in their lives. Running activates circuits inside to gear up, improve capacity, become more efficient, expand awareness, focus, while instilling a sense that stress can be erased or managed, problems solved.

I have many roles, but find that I can fulfill each better because I run. Running activates the positive life forces that make me more alive, think better, feel better with greater physical and mental stamina. So when someone asks me what I do, my first response is automatic: "I'm a runner."

Running is only one of the aspects of my life that I treasure. But because I run, I enjoy all of the other areas better.

Jeff Galloway
US Olympian
Running Until You're 100