A slight breeze brushes past, whistling through quiet air; it’s morning, not yet dawn. Weaving through shadowy streets, you feel electricity pulse from your calves, through quads, then hamstrings. It’s a powerful dance, you realize, as your muscles fire in sync with the firm beat in your chest; it’s a fluid rush, and you’ve mastered it. Months of pounding the pavement, and now, finally, the fatigue is gone. Training was one hell of an investment, sure, but it’s paid in dividends. Your strength. Your health. Your run. Now, you own it all.
The above scene is by no means an extraordinary picture. Sheer exhilaration. It’s how our bodies reward us when we allow our legs to perform exactly as they are designed, and it’s accessible to nearly anyone. But benefits of running far exceed the endorphin flood known as a “runner’s high;” the real rewards of daily cardio are found in its countless health benefits. In fact, jogging for as little as five minutes a day can be enough to stave off illness and tack years onto your lifespan. To provide a complete image of what cardio can do for you, I’ve listed a few major health benefits of running below.
A healthy heart
It’s no surprise that performing cardiovascular endurance exercise improves heart health and function. What might come as a shock is just how drastically even a minimal jogging routine can boost heart health. A long-term study searched for correlations between the frequency and length of running routines, and health levels of 55,000 adults both active and sedentary, over a 15 year period. Results showed that death by cardiovascular disease was 45% less likely for the running group.
A long life
The same research also indicated that runners have a 30% lower risk of death from any cause, as well as a three-year longer average lifespan than non-runners. The most promising discovery however, was the fact that “mortality benefits in runners were similar across running time, distance, frequency, amount, and speed,” according to D.H Lee, assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, who co-authored the study.
Contrary to narratives which paint running as a cause of joint breakdown, a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise examined around 100,000 people, and found that instances of knee osteoarthritis were half as prevalent in runners than walkers; even runners who ran upwards of 25 miles a day suffered no increased risk. Exercise physiologist Janet Hamilton says this is because every time you run, “you stress your bones and cartilage, just like your muscles, causing them to spring back stronger.”