6 reasons why running keeps you happy and healthy

My whole life changed the day I took up running. It all started when a friend signed me up for a half marathon and I was thrown into a world of 6 a.m. training runs and peculiar aerodynamic shoes. I’ve been a runner ever since. It’s not always pretty, and there are many days when I stand on a trail with my hands on my hips, gasping for breath and wondering if I am cut out for such athleticism.

But I kept going and I learned that running has a multitude of benefits. From your physical health to your sanity, there’s nothing that a good jog can’t improve.

Running Gives You ‘Me’ Time

I love to run with a partner, but there’s nothing like running alone. It’s the ‘me’ time that I desperately need.

When you run by yourself, you have time to think. I know many runners who process the issues of the day with several miles on the open road. You have enough time alone to work through whatever bothers you, and by the time you’re home again, you’ll feel mentally refreshed.

If something is weighing on your mind, I say, take it to the streets. Run until you’ve sorted it out. Sometimes the best therapy comes not on a couch, but in running shoes.

Running Helps You Process Pain

Running puts you in tune with your body in a way few other exercise regimes can do. You get to know how you function under physical stress and exactly how much you can take.

The first time I trained for a half marathon, it didn’t take long to start defining my feelings of pain. I knew the difference between real discomfort that signaled a serious injury and stiffness that will work itself out after the first two miles. It helped me either push through laziness or know when to give my body a break.

It’s like the Serenity Prayer. You can change (like improving your time) when you need to, accept some truths as they are (you may never run a 7 minute mile)… and running helps you know the difference.

Running is a Mood Booster

You’ve heard about “the runner’s high”. It’s true. It’s all about the endorphins, a chemical reaction in your brain and body where the physical exertion goes beyond pain into pleasure.

I call it being “in the zone”. Once you get past the tough part, you literally run into this blissful state of motion. It’s hard to explain, but you know it when you get there because you can run for miles on this.

On a practical level, knowing that you can push past your pain threshold into a braver new world is empowering and that alone will make you feel good.

Running Makes You Eat Healthier

Honestly, it’s easier for me to workout rather than improve my diet. The resolve it takes to get up and run is slightly stronger than the resolve to resist a bag of Skittles. That said, I noticed early in my training that as I ran further distances, I was more conscious about what I ate, because they directly affect each other.

I will never forget the evening that I made two dozen sugar cookies and ate a dozen of them. The next morning I had the worst three mile run.

You want to run at your optimal performance level, and it won’t take you long to realize which foods help and which ones hurt. Simply by running, your diet changes, and you consume the best foods to fuel your body.

Running Builds Endurance for the Body and the Brain

Distance running is brutal. Some days you’re like a model in a Nike advertisement with your strength and agility. Other days, you’re lucky to make it around the block without needing to stop and catch your breath. Running is a game where you can easily be winning or left behind depending on a number of factors, some of which are out of your control.

The key is to keep moving forward. You must endure. You can’t get to the finish line any other way.

Endurance is an amazing thing, because once you learn that you can endure pain and keep moving, you can do anything. The mental blocks are down and everything is open to you. It’s a thrill that only endurance sports such as running can teach you.

Running Creates Confidence

A friend recently asked me, “Why do you run?” I said, “In a given day, sometimes I hate the one hour that I spend running. But I love the way that one hour makes me feel for the rest of the day.”

There is a mysterious quality that running adds to your life. I don’t know if it’s the way it sculpts your legs or the knowledge that you’ve cleared seven miles before most people wake up. I think true runners walk a little taller. They hold a confidence that doesn’t come from anything else. They’re strong and they know it.

If you’ve never considered running, go to your doctor to make sure you’re physically fit and then, with a physician’s okay, hit the trails. It’s free, easy to learn and will lead you on the long road of being healthier and happier.

Jennifer E. Jones is the Beliefnet Inspiration Editor who is training for her first full marathon… and not nervous at all about that.

Article courtesy of Beliefnet.com. Beliefnet offers daily inspiration with news articles on faith, religion, politics, health, family entertainment, sustainable living and more.