Those of us on the couch watching runners start the Comrades Marathon, or following the action on social media, have probably asked ourselves repeatedly why anyone would put themselves through a gruelling 86km run.
Well, it turns out that there are a number of health benefits to long distance running.
According to an article published in the PIT Journal, long-distance running provides a number of physiological benefits for the human body.
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It stimulates the heart, respiratory system and the brain, and reduces cardiovascular mortality.
Here are 10 health benefits of long distance running:
1. Long distance running strengthens your heart. When strengthened, your heart, which is a muscle, is able to pump blood to your muscles more effectively.
2. Your leg muscles benefit – you develop more endurance and won’t find yourself getting injured quite as often or easily.
3. Exercise helps strengthen bones, ligaments and tendons, once again making you less injury prone.
4. Have you heard the term VO2? Well, running increases this. What it means is that your body is able take oxygen from the oxygen-rich blood to your entire body. Over time, this will make running (and exercise) feel a bit easier.
5. More capillaries (those mini blood vessels) will grow and as a result enhance blood supply to your muscle fibres. This in turn provides increased energy and oxygen to your muscles.
6. The concentration of key aerobic enzymes also increases. These enzymes have an important job helping to break fuel into useable forms of energy that you need when running.
7. Running also forms more myoglobin in the skeletal muscle fibres. This facilitates oxygen transfer into the muscles, which helps improve your running.
8. Looking to lose weight or keep it off? Running develops your fat-burning capacity – your body learns how to tap into your fat supply optimally. Maintaining a healthy weight is important if you want to lower your risk of developing health issues.
9. Running is a great way to train your mind. It helps you develop mental toughness and teaches you coping skills. As you start adding more kilometres to your training runs, your confidence receives a boost when you find that your body can actually go the distance.
10. According to the Archives of Internal Medicine, regular exercise such as long-distance running can “lift depression just as well as prescription antidepressants”.
However, it’s important to remember that although ultramarathon runners are generally healthier and take less sick time than the rest of the population, they do tend to suffer more knee pain and stress fractures.
If you plan to start running marathons, schedule a check-up with your doctor first, who can check if your heart and lungs are healthy enough to take on endurance exercise.