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Benefits of Running

As the weather begins to cool and winter starts knocking on our door, the majority of us start getting lazy. We start retreating back indoors, start eating more high energy, comfort foods and the motivation to exercise starts to wane. Before we know it, the kilos have crept back on and we find ourselves looking more like Michelin Man’s twin.

Ironically, the cooler months also coincides with several running events leading up to the bulk of running events around the start of spring. The cooler months are actually a fantastic time to start focusing on your running, either as a way of keeping the winter weight off, training for the many running events popping up or just as a way to keep your fitness up.

This four part series will examine all things running, from its history to running injuries and training methods to nutrition and supplementation. So whether you’re a casual exerciser, a part time sportsman or a full time bodybuilder and anywhere in between, read on and find out why running is a crucial part of our lives.

History of Running

The act of running has been around for millions of years. In larger land animals, it is by far one of the biggest factors in survival. It is believed human running evolved quite quickly after we began walking on two legs as a way of escaping predators and as a useful tool in early hunting.

In fact, our ability to perform and relative knack for endurance running is thought of as crucial for the development of the human species. Endurance running is considered rather special among primates and most land animals with only a select number commonly performing this practice, such as horses and dogs. Some suggest that many human features evolved as a result of endurance running such as an elongated narrow waist, a larger gluteus maximus (butt), a longer Archilles tendon, shorter toes and more abundant sweat glands.1

Since then, a large proportion of our daily lives involves some type of running, whether it be for sporting and exercise purposes to running after the bus, train or runaway oranges after our plastic bags have broken. In fact, Australian’s and the world’s love of running has exploded in the last couple of years with attendances skyrocketing at major running events such as our Sydney’s very own City2Surf; the world’s largest running event.

Running vs Walking

The main distinct difference between walking and running besides speed is the presence of a ‘flight phase’. In layman terms, the act of running has a portion where we are actually airborne and neither foot is in contact with the ground. In contrast, walking and even power walking always consists of at least one foot being on the ground at all times. In terms of speed, while the act of running is usually faster than that of walking, there is no one defined speed in which walking becomes running. The speed at which the flight phase occurs is considered the minimal speed of running for that individual.

Running and walking also differ in energetics. While they both predominantly use an aerobic system of energy production; that is oxygen is necessary, faster acts of running such as sprints require a faster way of providing energy. This is where our anaerobic system comes in and oxygen is actually not necessary in providing us with fuel. Running is also notoriously more costly in terms of energy. In fact, endurance running is uses up to 30-40% more energy than walking. This is mostly due to the presence of air resistance and as such, the faster you run, the more costly running becomes. At lower running speeds, the energy required to run may not differ much to that of walking the same distance. In this scenario, the benefits are that we cover the same amount of distance in much less time.

Running technique and training is another big reason why running can be more costly. Because we walk more than we run, many of us have a hard time adjusting to the new physical demands of running. Poor technique forces the body to work inefficiently and therefore expend more energy than an experienced runner. Training will also help build up your maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max), which is a measure of how well your body transports and uses oxygen; a key measure of physical fitness.

Health Benefits of Running

While both running and walking offer health benefits, running offers additional intensity which can be both an advantage and disadvantage in improving overall health. Running, as with all physical activity can help build up physical fitness which in turn can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as a whole host of chronic diseases. It can help improve body composition and positively impact attempts at weight loss.

Due to the constant impact of running, it can also positively affect bone growth, density and development. Running has also been shown to lead to improved mental health and help with the severity of depression. The higher intensity reached with running is a key factor in offering greater benefits to the above factors than that of walking.

However, with the benefits also come drawbacks. The high impact nature and increased intensity of running often results in increased musculoskeletal injuries including sprains, strains and joint issues. Recently there has also been a focus on whether running, especially long distance running is associated with heart attacks. The jury is still out, but it is thought that high intensity and/or strenuous activities can cause heart attacks by highlighting already present cardiovascular issues.

Bodybuilders Don't Need to Run


So many times, bodybuilders forego running and other forms of cardio and aerobic exercise in an attempt to build muscles. Many state that they are trying to gain weight or that cardio will interfere with muscle protein synthesis because of its catabolic nature. However, not only is cardio a fantastic way to improve muscular endurance, a recent study3 has even been able to show that doing some form of aerobically based exercise can improve muscle gains. The only time cardio can impede upon muscle growth would be if the cardio preceded weight training, in which case, fatigue seems to be the culprit. So, even if you were a bodybuilder or a weight trainer, don’t forego the running and other cardio exercises, unless you want to be smaller.

Born to Run

Running is steeped in our evolution to who we are today. It differs dramatically to that of walking and offers a whole host of benefits to not only our physical but also mental health and is an important part of a well rounded exercise regimen. While running can have its drawbacks, with proper time and training, these can be minimised. Stick around for part 2, where we look at running injuries and ways to prevent the most common types of injuries in running.

1. Bramble DM, Lieberman DE. ‘Endurance running and the evolution of Homo.’ Nature. 2004 Nov 18;432(7015):345-52.
2. Lieberman DE, Bramble DM. ‘The evolution of marathon running : capabilities in humans.’ Sports Med. 2007;37(4-5):288-90.
3. Lundberg TR, Fernandez-Gonzalo R, Gustafsson T, Tesch PA. ‘Aerobic Exercise Alters Skeletal Muscle Molecular Responses to Resistance Exercise.’ Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Mar 28. [Epub ahead of print]

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