How Running Changes Your Body


What do you think happens during a run? People love to run for several different reasons. Maybe it's to get in shape. Maybe it's to beat depression. Or maybe it's something else.

When you start running, several things happen to your body. Some changes can be expected, while others can be a surprise. Changes that result from a regular running routine can be visible, such as weight loss, or “behind the scenes,” such as a sharper mind.

If you've ever wondered how running changes your body, then keep reading. We'll tell you what happens to you physically, mentally, and emotionally when you pound the pavement.

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Over Time

In this section, we'll take a look at how running changes your body throughout the course of a run. A sort of play by play, if you will. What's behind that surge of energy when you first set out? What are your cells up to while you're pounding the pavement? Read on to find out.

In the first few seconds. Your body releases adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for your muscles to use. ATP are energy molecules created from the food you eat and are stored in your muscles and blood.

ATP converts into adenosine diphosphate (ADP), another energy molecule, to give you a rush of power. ADP turns back into ATP after this initial flurry.

In the first 90 seconds. Your cells break down glycogen, the body's energy storage unit, to release more ATP, as well as get glucose directly from your blood. Your muscles release lactic acid and you start to feel the burn.

In the next few minutes. Your heart starts beating faster and you begin to burn calories, breathe heavily, and sweat.

Heavy breathing is due to your body's need for more oxygen in order to use glucose efficiently. Perspiration is your body's way of cooling you down, as burning glycogen and oxygen increases your body temperature.

Blood is directed toward your muscles and away from functions that are not a priority at the moment, like digestion.

Within 10 minutes. If you're in good shape, you feel strong. Since you have a good supply of ATP in your muscles, your body is able to use oxygen and glucose efficiently.

If you're in bad shape, your ATP supply is insufficient. Lactic acid begins to build up and you feel tired.

After 30 minutes. As your pace slows down, so do your breathing and heart rate. Your brain is flooded with the mood-elevating hormone dopamine. You feel accomplished and you're in a good mood.

Physically

The most obvious changes when you start running occur on the outside. Noticeable by your friends, family, and colleagues, physical changes include a more compact body shape and a higher level of energy.

Increased energy. Want to have more energy? Run! One run is enough to boost your energy levels and reduce fatigue. According to research, workers who exercise on a regular basis are more productive and have more energy than their less active peers.

So whenever you're feeling sluggish, lace up your running shoes instead of flopping onto the couch. You'll feel better and have more energy all day, even if you got up early. And here's a tip: listen to music while running to increase speed and power.

Weight loss. Running burns serious calories, which leads to a lower figure on the scale. Someone who weighs 160 pounds, for example, can burn more than 850 calories in an hour of running.

Less muscle. Your body is smart. In order to run efficiently, it will get rid of any unnecessary weight that would slow it down, and that includes muscle. Compared to fat, muscle is less efficient and provides less energy per gram.

Metabolic boost. Running results in a higher resting metabolism, which means you continue to burn extra calories even after you've stopped running. You could just be sitting down and you'd still be burning more calories than the next person.

More endurance. Consistent running improves your overall endurance. After a while, you'll notice that you're able to run longer distances without getting shortness of breath as easily.

Stronger heart. Running strengthens the heart, increases its efficiency in pumping oxygen throughout the body, and reduces your risk for heart disease. In fact, just one hour of running a week can slash your risk by almost half.

Smaller butt. Running will help shed off inches all over your body, including your bottom. Like any other type of cardiovascular exercise, running doesn't really help develop muscle mass, but it will lead to a smaller, firmer body – and booty.

To tone your butt, run on inclined surfaces to really work your glutes. You can also supplement your runs with weight training for a fuller bottom. Squats, deadlifts, and lunges are all great butt exercises.

Aching knees. Runner's knee is common among runners. This injury happens when the kneecap becomes irritated, causing pain that can be either sharp or dull. The pain occurs around or just behind the kneecap, especially after long periods of running, sitting with bent knees, or descending stairs.

Stronger legs. Running constantly works the leg muscles; they are taxed and rebuilt, and this promotes overall strength in the legs. To get sculpted pins, add sprints to your runs and work out with weights regularly.

Black toenails. Black toenails are another common complaint among runners. They are caused by bleeding underneath the nail, usually due to ill-fitting shoes. The shoe constantly rubs or hits against the foot, eventually injuring the toes. A blood blister then forms under the nail.

This problem can be addressed by buying larger running shoes (at least a half size bigger than what you normally wear). Black toenails will heal when repetitive trauma stops.

Sagging breasts. But only if you don't wear a bra or wear the wrong one. During walking, a woman's breasts move the same amount in each direction – up, down, in, out, and side to side.

During running or jogging, breasts move differently – 51 percent up and down, 27 percent in and out, and 22 percent side to side. Wearing a sports bra, particularly an encapsulation bra that has separate molded cups, keeps boobs from sagging.

Note that even if you're an A cup woman, you still need to wear a bra. Regardless of cup size, a sports bra limits breast movement by about 50 percent.

Stronger bones. High-impact workouts like running actually have a greater positive effect on bone mineral density than resistance training. Running hits some spots that lower-impact exercises miss, keeping bones healthy.

Mentally and Emotionally

While mental and emotional changes are probably inconspicuous to everyone else and only evident to yourself, they are just as significant. Feeling better about yourself and getting higher quality sleep are just a couple of the things that happen “behind the scenes” for running enthusiasts.

Improved mood. Going on a run is an instant mood booster. “Runner's high” isn't a figment of imagination; it's actually backed by science.

Research shows that running produces endorphins, which trigger a positive feeling in the body. How long and how intense a run has to be in order to achieve runner's high varies from person to person.

Better self-esteem. Running improves self-esteem, especially when done outside with lovely views to look at. Hence, it's better to run outdoors than to do so on a treadmill. The vitamin D you get from sun exposure can also relieve depressive symptoms.

But still, hop on that treadmill if it's what's available to you at the moment. No matter what your age, gender, or size, running can quickly make you feel like a million bucks.

Less stress. Running boosts the brain's serotonin levels. This natural mood stabilizer makes the brain calmer and more resistant to stress. Norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate how you respond to stress, also increases when you get moving.

Regular exercise can even remodel the brain, so the next time you're feeling stressed out, go for a run.

Better sleep. Running promotes higher quality sleep. In addition, runners tend to adapt good sleeping habits in order to maintain performance levels. It's a cycle of success.

Sharper mind. Running improves memory as well as protects against dementia and Alzheimer's disease, even for individuals with a family history of it. Studies have found that aerobic exercise counters age-related cognitive declines.

Exercising, especially between the ages of 25 and 45, prevents the brain from deteriorating. It particularly protects the hippocampus, the area associated with learning and memory.

In addition, cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells and enhance overall mental performance, including decision-making, learning, and higher thinking.

More positive outlook. Active people, including runners, tend to be more optimistic. Exercise can be just as effective as antidepressants in some cases; that's why doctors recommend that folks suffering from anxiety or depression make time for physical activity.

Addiction control. Healthy lifestyle changes, including exercise, may help prevent relapses and ultimately, recovery from an addiction. Going for a run can distract you from your cravings. If your body clock has been disrupted, running can also help reset it.

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