As a running coach, I’ve had many runners wonder and ask, ‘what does running do to your body?’, and I’m here to tell you most, if not all of it, is really good for you. I know you hear stories about massive issues with runners at a marathon finish line, but that’s not the norm.
However, you do need to understand that this is a high impact activity and your body is going to go through some adjustments. Your muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments and brain are all going through changes.
In this article, we’ll start by looking at what happens to your body as you first start running, and then look at all the potential benefits you can experience from it.
There’s also the question of whether or not there are potential negative effects of running. I’ll answer all that plus how to get the best results from running.
Want to learn more? Then keep on reading!
What Does Running Do to Your Body When You First Start Running
You’ll be out of breath at first, and your heart rate will increase. I probably didn’t need to tell you that, right?
But what exactly is happening.
With each breath the oxygen coming in to your lungs is being pumped out by your heart to all the muscles in your body. That oxygen and blood flow is part of what keeps the energy going and why you feel fatigued so quickly when you first start. Your body isn’t yet efficient at this process.
In the beginning, you may not feel very well and your stomach may even be a little off. This is because it’s hard at work breaking down different energy sources to fuel your muscles.
Energy is created from Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). An organic molecule stored as glycogen in your muscles and blood. But our bodies only store a little quantity of it, which means once you start running the body needs to produce more.
And yes, glycogen needs are why you’ll so often hear endurance runners talk about carbohydrates!
Your Body Will Need More Oxygen
Your body needs extra oxygen to produce ATP. As a result, you’ll begin to breathe faster and harder.
At this point, you’re burning calories, lactic acid is accumulating in your muscles, and your core body temperature is rising.
Other things you may notice:
- Your face has started turning red. It’s caused by blood being diverted closer to the skin to be cooled.
- You’ll probably be sweating heavily, which is also to help you cool.
- Heart rate continues to rise because the body will feel like it’s working harder the longer you go.
- Muscles will start to feel tight or heavy, this is simply because they need time to adapt.
What Happens To Your Body As You Continue Running
As you build up to feeling like you’re in good shape, you’ll breathe, sweat, and convert glucose to ATP. Your body will enter a comfortable cycle. (which is not to say it suddenly feels easy!)
If you’re absolutely new to running, your body will be less efficient, and lactic acid will start to accumulate faster than your body can clear it. This is the point when running starts to hurt because of muscle fatigue and less muscle contractions.
A slow and steady build up is key to help your body become better at all of these processes.
As you keep running, you’ll notice dozens of new benefits.
How Often Do You Need to Run For Benefits?
To see meaningful results, you must run for at least 30 minutes three times a week. And yes, run/walk intervals count as running!
With this level of effort and dedication, you should expect to see moderate results in 3 to 4 weeks and big changes starting at 6 weeks.
But that doesn’t mean you need to wait that long to notice the myriad different benefits that come from running.
You’ll actually start seeing some of the benefits from running within 30 minutes of running. This includes improving your overall mood and helping fight depression.
Let’s look at the benefits you’ll gain from running in more detail.
What Running Does for Your Overall Health
Now that we’ve seen what starts happening to our body when we first start running, let’s look at the benefits we gain from maintaining a running routine.
#1 Improves Mental Health and Mood
We’ve all heard of ‘runner’s high’, which is the euphoric feeling runners have after a run. This is because running causes the release of endorphins and endocanabinoids, which are ‘feel good’ chemicals.
Even 30 minutes of running can boost your mood and help you deal with stress and anxiety better. In fact, research published in the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine found that 30 minutes of running is enough to lift the mood of someone who’s suffering from depression.
According to another research published in Frontiers in Psychology, running also releases dopamine, a mood booster connected to the brain’s pleasure and reward circuits.
So, no matter what pace you’re running at, running in and of itself can lead to significant mood and mental health benefits.
#2 Helps Lower Stress
Any type of activity can help reduce stress.
Running provides a few additional advantages. Moving your entire body in rhythmic, repetitive motion can help you get out of your head and into your body, allowing you to become more present and mindful.
In fact, according to research published in Acta Psychologica, going for a one- to two-mile run enhanced mood, reduced stress, and improved cognitive function more than engaging in a meditation session.
#3 Can Enhance Cognitive Function
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a brain-boosting chemical that is released during running. Aerobic exercise increased executive functioning in a group of people with cognitive impairment, according to research published in Frontiers in Psychology in April 2017.
During a run, the increased blood flow across the body and brain means that more oxygen and nutrients are supplied to the brain. This has the potential to induce neurogenesis or the formation of new brain cells.
A regular fitness program also increases the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved with learning and memory, according to a February 2011 research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
#4 Helps Sleep Quality
Many studies, including one published in the European Journal of Physiotherapy, demonstrate that runners have less sleep problems and are less sleepy throughout the day than non-runners.
Running at a moderate effort, maybe even better for enhancing sleep quality than running vigorously.
Furthermore, running has been shown to improve your capacity to fall asleep in as little as 30 minutes each day. You’ll feel less tired and more alert, increasing your productivity and energy levels and assisting you in feeling your best.
#5 Stimulates Growth Hormones
High-intensity running is one of the most powerful growth hormone stimulators. Growth hormone helps to build stronger muscles, which improves performance.
Running on a regular basis and with adequate training will help you increase strength and speed naturally. It’s one reason that you see so many elite runners putting in high volume weeks of easy running. Lots of natural speed benefits from the volume.
#6 Improves Insulin Sensitivity
According to a meta-analysis in Sports Medicine, running improves the sensitivity to insulin and fights against insulin resistance.
By increasing the insulin sensitivity, running reduces the risk of getting type II diabetes by a significant percentage.
#7 Improves Your Cardiovascular System
While you run, your heart and lungs work together to deliver oxygen-rich blood to all of your muscles, resulting in a stronger cardiovascular system.
As with your muscles, sufficient stress on the lungs and heart strengthens them and allows them to work better on a regular basis. This is going to help reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol.
#8 Reduces Risk of Heart Disease
Running on a regular basis has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Running has also been shown to lower blood pressure. Running improves circulation, which benefits key organs such as the heart and lungs. Your whole health will benefit from this.
#9 Strengthens Your Bones
Running is a weight-bearing, high-impact workout, which means that the repetitive pounding of the pavement challenges your bones in an effective way.
Your bones respond to stress by strengthening in order to withstand the repeated impact.
This is a significant benefit for your lower body, but if running is your main form of exercise, you may want to incorporate some weightlifting for your upper body for general balance.
Still, running can aid with bone density, which is important as we get older.
What Running Does for Your Body Composition
Your physical appearance is heavily influenced by your body composition.
Body composition refers to the proportion of your body that is made up of water, bone, fat, lean muscle, and organs.
Regular running has the effect of increasing lean muscle mass and lowering subcutaneous fat, which will improve the way you look. Often helping with that “toning” many people reference.
Let’s look at what running does for your body composition in more detail.
Running Works Every Muscle in Your Body
Running is an excellent full-body workout. Many non-runners believe that running is simply a lower-body workout, but it activates almost every muscle group in the body.
When you sprint, your core muscles are forced to contract. And various leg, upper body and core muscles engage depending on whether you’re going up or downhill.
While running uphill, your glutes and hamstrings, as well as your calves, will have to work hard to drive you higher.
On the other hand, while running downhill, your quadriceps on the front of your thighs will work to hold you upright against gravity.
Get more details about what muscles running works >>
What Does Running Do to Your Calves?
Running is excellent for toning your calves and shins. While running, the calf muscles are continuously in motion. Running will tone your calves.
To improve these results and avoid injuries, make sure you do some dynamic stretches before you start running.
How Does Running Affect Your Thigh Muscles?
The quadriceps form the front of the thighs, while the hamstrings form the back. While running, both of these muscle groups get a good workout.
This promotes fat loss and increases lean muscle mass in your thighs, giving you a toned appearance.
Can Running Make Your Butt Bigger?
Depending on the sort of running you perform, it can assist you in shaping your backside. Your butt is made up of pelvic bones, gluteal muscles, and fat.
Running on a regular basis will undoubtedly result in a toned, fit physique with a firm butt. However, unless you explicitly work on your glutes, running will not increase the size of your glutes.
You may notice that sprinters often have bigger glutes and leg muscles, this is due to the style of sprint training and strength training. Meanwhile marathon runners are notorious for not having that well developed posterior. HOWEVER, this is changing as more runners are starting to lift heavy weights!
Does Running Help You Lose Arm and Shoulder Fat?
Running burns fat all over your body, so your arms will get slimmer as well. But it’s not possible to spot reduce fat in your arms.
Swinging your arms while running can aid with fat loss and arm and shoulder toning, but make sure to maintain good running form. Weight training paired with running can help you tone your arms and shoulders.
We do not encourage running with hand weights. It can easily lead to poor running form.
Does Running Reduce Belly Fat?
Running, when combined with a calorie deficit, aids in fat loss throughout the body. Fat loss around the stomach is the most difficult for some body types and takes the longest to achieve.
When you run on a daily basis, you may find that as you shed overall body fat, your belly fat gradually decreases as well.
- Focus on strength training in combination with running for maximum fat loss
- Ensure that you are eating enough to fuel workouts, or you will increase cortisol which leads the body to hold fat
- Include core workouts to flatten the abdominal muscles
If you are working out, but gaining weight << read this
Will Running Affect Your Chest and Breasts?
Running, on its own, does not shrink your breasts. Though we do often joke that the first place many women lose weight is from their boobs.
If you exercise on a regular basis and eat a balanced diet with a calorie deficit, you may notice that your chest area shrinks over time as you continue to remove fat from your body. This is not something you can control, the body will lose fat where it wants to.
If you want your breasts to seem fuller, work on your pectoral muscles. Once again we’re talking about strength training.
Does Running Make You Skinny?
Running in combination with strength training has been shown to have the maximum impact on fat loss. Compared to walking, cycling on the flat, or swimming, running at a higher intensity can result in a greater calorie burn per minute.
When you burn more calories than you consume, you lose weight. Running can help you lose weight if you don’t overeat afterward.
However, remember that skinny can also be “skinny fat”. This is what happens when you vastly under eat and the body starts to lose muscle. Trust me this isn’t the goal or healthy!!
- Focus on a quality runner’s diet
- Do a combination of easy runs and speed workouts
- Do at least 2 strength sessions per week
Potential Negative Effects of Running
We’ve discussed the myriad benefits you’ll gain from running, but are there any potential negative effects of running?
It’s important to pay attention to both sides to know exactly what running does to your body.
All in all, there are definitely more benefits to running than potential risks. But let’s look at the important aspects to discuss when it comes to the potential negative effects of running.
Risk of Overuse Injuries
Running does not mean you MUST get injured. You just need to train smart.
New runners should begin slowly and pay attention to any signals the body is giving around pain.
Running too much, too hard, too soon is the most common cause of injury and stops you from reaping the benefits of running, thereby discouraging you from continuing your new habit.
For the body to adapt to the amount and distance you’re running, you should progressively increase your mileage using the 10% rule. According to research published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, increasing your mileage by roughly 10% per week is good for avoiding injuries while still seeing progress.
It’s also important to add some strength training into your training routine. This is because every step you take when running is four to five times your body weight into the ground, so having a strong foundation will help you run with better form while also lowering your chance of injury.
Monotonous At Times
Running might become monotonous after a while, especially on a treadmill. Boredom may demotivate even the most dedicated runner. However, there are methods to spice up your running routine.
- Switch up the type of run with hill sprints, fartleks or tempo runs
- Join a running group for built in accountability
- Find a new running route
- Mix it up with trail running
Does Running Lead to Knee Pain?
Contrary to popular belief, running actually encourages and improves knee health.
Knee problems are usually a results of lack of hip, glute strength, poor running form or overtraining. However, running is unlikely to be the cause of knee osteoarthritis.
Researchers discovered that the more people ran, the less likely they were to suffer from knee discomfort or osteoarthritis, according to a study published in the Arthritis Care & Research Journal.
While it’s difficult to prove if running directly led people to have reduced knee discomfort, experts believe it’s possible since running helps people keep their BMI in balance and their leg muscles strong.
And like I mentioned above, running also helps strengthen the bones which further helps.
So, Is Running Good for You?
Yes, without a doubt! Any drawbacks to running are a result of overdoing it.
So, lace up some running shoes if you want a great body, want to improve your mood, fight depression, sleep better at night, and benefit from good cardiovascular health.
How Long Does It Take for Running to Change Your Body?
Running must be done on a regular basis, for at least 30 minutes three times a week if you want to see real results.
With this level of dedication, you will notice small changes in 3 to 4 weeks and big changes from the 6-week mark.
Other ways to connect with Amanda
Instagram Daily Fun: RunToTheFinish
Facebook Community Chatter: RunToTheFinish