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10 Benefits of Running That Make You Healthier (and Happier)

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    Running Is Good for Your Heart

    Running is the king of cardio. Running even five to 10 minutes a day, at slow speeds (how does a nice 12-minute mile sound to you?) is associated with a drastically reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, according to a landmark study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Compared with never-runners, regular runners have half the chance of dying from heart disease. Every time you run, you decrease your resting heart rate, so your heart doesn't need to work as hard, says exercise physiologist Greg Justice, founder of AYC Health & Fitness in Kansas City.

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    Runner's High Is Real

    When you run, your brain pumps out two powerful feel-good chemicals, endorphins and endocannabinoids, explains Justice. The latter sounds a lot like cannabis, right? That's for a reason. Chemically, the endocannabinoids your body produces during a run aren't all that different from marijuana's mood-altering chemical, THC. The most studied mid-run endocannabinoid, called anandamide, was actually discovered when scientists were trying to figure out how pot gets people lit.

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    Running Strengthens Your Joints

    A Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise study of nearly 100,000 runners and walkers found that, nope, running doesn't up the risk of osteoarthritis—even people who cover 26.2 miles on the regular. In fact, the study showed runners were half as likely to suffer from knee osteoarthritis compared with walkers. Surprised? Every time you pound the pavement, you stress your bones and cartilage, just like your muscles, causing them to spring back stronger, explains Janet Hamilton, CSCS, an exercise physiologist with Running Strong in Atlanta. Low-impact exercises like walking, or even spinning or swimming, don't have that same bone-building benefit.

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    Running Torches Serious Calories

    Running requires a lot of fuel (aka calories). In fact, the average 150-pound person will burn about 12.2 calories per minute running a 10-minute mile, Hamilton says. Not too shabby, eh? And that's on flat terrain. Head outside where wind and hills up your effort and you can expect to burn even more.

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    Running Is a Killer Leg Workout

    Your body's biggest muscles are all in your legs, and running benefits all of them: your inner and outer thighs, your gluteus maximus (get ready to turn some heads with your backside!), quads, hamstrings, and calves, Justice says. It's like a dozen leg workouts in one.

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    Running Works Your Core Like Whoa

    Running works not only your six-pack rectus abdominis, but also the deeper core muscles including your obliques, erector spinae, and transverse abdominis, which are responsible for sucking in your gut, stabilizing your spine, and transferring power between your swinging arms and legs, Justice says.

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    You Can Always Fit It In

    Traveling for work? Don't belong to a gym? Have only 10 minutes to work out? Whatever your workout constraints, you can still run, explains Hamilton. "That's an extra advantage for busy women who can't seem to make other workouts or classes fit their lifestyle." And remember: The best workout is the one you'll actually do.

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    Runners Are Awesome

    The running community is a strong one. "I can't think of a better place to find wellness-focused people than a running group," says Debora Warner, founder and program director for Mile High Run Club, a running-only fitness studio in New York City. Whether you join a running club, a charity's running team, or just take a look around during your first 10K, you'll be amazed at all the support and good vibes you get.

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    Running Counts as Meditation

    "Many runners find that the time alone allows them to think and problem solve," Hamilton says."Taking a run-break from a stressful project can help you return feeling refreshed and insightful." A mounting body of research shows that meditation can boost your gray matter, improve focus, and fight depression and anxiety.

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    You Can Do It Right Now

    "With running, there's not much of a 'learning curve' like there might be for other fitness activities like group dance classes, Olympic lifting, CrossFit, or yoga," Hamilton says. "Running's also not as form-dependent as swimming, and because running is a such a natural motion, if you don't overthink it, your reflexes will just kick in." And away you go!