Exercise is a great way to do something good for your health
People who exercise regularly have a decreased risk to develop cardiovascular problems like atherosclerosis (fat deposits in the blood vessels) that can lead to heart attacks and strokes. But what exercise is there to do? Many exercise regimens require expensive equipment or gym memberships and others like e.g. playing a team sport additionally to requiring regular dues, come with a high injury risk.
Running outdoors only requires comfortable clothing that doesn’t restrict your skin’s breathing and a pair of good running shoes. So it is one of the most inexpensive ways to get your exercise, but is it really good for you?
Running is a great way to get your heart pumping. Regular cardiovascular exercise will decrease your resting heart rate and your blood pressure, and decrease you risk for dying of a heart attack or stroke. Many scientists believe that the more strenuous activity of running or jogging leads to better effects on the heart than a less strenuous activity like e.g. walking or bicycling leisurely. Running or jogging also burns many more calories than walking or bicycling leisurely. While these activities are still better than a sedentary life style, doctors believe that people who run regularly live on average five to seven years longer than people of the same weight and body mass index who don’t exercise.
Running is also a great weight bearing exercise. Unlike swimming or bicycling which can, when done hard, burn almost the same amount of calories as running, running puts pressure on the bones of your legs and back. The body needs these signals to keep the bones strong. This is one of the reasons why astronauts that have stayed in a space station in zero gravity for several weeks have a significantly decreased bone density and a much higher risk to break a bone than regular people, even though astronauts are selected and trained for excellent physical shape. People who run or jog regularly have higher bone densities than people who don’t, which especially important in women to prevent osteoporosis and fractures.
Running can also increase brain capacity. There are probably several different mechanisms behind this positive effect of running. The increased circulation during the exercise brings more blood and with it nutrients and oxygen to the brain. During exercising the brain produces hormones that are called endorphins. These are substances that give us an intense feeling of pleasure, and indeed most people feel really good after running. This feeling of wellbeing lasts long enough that most people who run regularly report increased mental and emotional wellbeing. Running regularly can alleviate symptoms of depression, even though in this condition the hardest part is to find the motivation to get up and exercise.
Running outdoors can also stimulate brain capacity in a way that increases memory and learning as was shown in tests in Germany where a groups of students were tested for concentration and visual memory before and after a six-week three times per week jogging program. The exercise most likely stimulates the growth and helps the survival of brain cells in a region that is important for memory. Running also helps with coordination and balance, which is, most likely, due to the stimulation of growth or survival of nerve cells in the cerebellum, the part of the brain that is responsible for coordination and fine tuning of muscle control and movements. Running outdoors might be superior to running on a treadmill in these respects as it is more visually stimulating and requires better balance and coordination due to the presence of constantly changing, and often uneven surfaces.
Disadvantages of running outdoors
Running itself, whether done indoors or outdoors, has a few disadvantages. Additionally, there are some disadvantages that are specific to an outdoor activity. As a weight bearing activity running can be hard on the joints of the lower body, especially the knees and the ankles. Newer research, however, shows that running does not put as much stress on the joints of healthy people as previously thought. But since running can induce peak loads on the joints that are up to four times the body weight of the runner, it can be harmful to people who have existing joint damage, or who have deformities and misaligned joints. It can also put the joints in danger, if somebody is seriously overweight or obese. These people need to exercise a lot more care when running than healthy people, and it might be useful to use a form of exercise with lower impact on the joints like e.g. swimming until the health condition has healed or a significant amount of excess weight has been shed. Newer treadmills can be adjusted for bounce and thus reduce the impact on the joints compared to outdoor running on asphalt. This can be a significant advantage in people who are overweight or have pre-existing joint conditions. However, this negates one of the major advantages of outdoor running, as it requires either an expensive gym membership or the purchase of an expensive piece of equipment.
People who are unaccustomed to exercise and/or have preexisting cardiovascular condition can easily overdo it with a strenuous exercise like running. In extreme cases, it can cause a heart attack. People with these conditions therefore need to talk to their cardiologist before starting an outdoor running regimen. The doctor will then help to set healthy exercising goals like maximal heart rate and maximal duration of an exercising session and might recommend a less strenuous activity to build up endurance before starting a running regimen.
Women who engage in running need to wear a good sports bra to reduce the bouncing of the breast as this could otherwise induce irreversible sagging of the breasts.
More sun-exposure associated skin lesions
A study in Austria in 210 long-distance runners found that they had more sun-exposure associated skin lesions than people who did not run outdoors. The researchers also found evidence that sun-exposure was not the only factor in that condition, but that the suppression of the immune system that can often be found in extreme athletes also contributes to this. However, sun-induced skin damage can be prevented by the use of a tanning lotion with a high sun protection factor and the wearing of clothing and hats or a visor. Additionally, the suppression of the immune system that was found in the 210 Austrian long-distance runners is a condition that is associated with extreme exercise for at least 6 h a day and is extremely rare in recreational runners.
On of the biggest disadvantages of out door running might be the dependence of the weather. Many people have difficulties adhering to a workout program that involves regular outdoor running, when it is pouring outside, or the temperatures are below freezing. While good clothing can help, considering an indoor activity as a bad weather alternative might help some people to stick with an exercise regimen even thought the indoor activity will require a certain amount of money, while running outdoors is free.