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25 Reasons Running is Better than the Gym

More of a gym rat than a pavement pounder? Here are all the reasons you may want to become a runner.
25 Reasons Running is Better than the Gym

First, a disclaimer: We love the gym. We love strength training with free weights and workout machines. And there's tons of reasons you should do it whether you're looking to build muscle, shed fat and calories, or simply amp up your overall health. But, there's a slew of benefits specific to running that together make a pretty strong case for any guy to consider becoming a runner. From the aesthetic benefits to the mental perks, there's a reason why 19 million people finished races in the US last year. While we're not saying you should quit the gym (please don't), we are saying you should consider taking up running, too. Here's 25 reasons why.

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Runners live longer than those who don’t. In one Archives of Internal Medicine study, researchers followed about 1,000 adults (ages 50 and older) for 21 years. At the end of the study, 85 percent of the runners were still kicking it, while only 66 percent of the non-runners were alive. Yikes.

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The runner’s high is real: Mounting research, including one study published in Experimental Technology, shows that when we run, our brains pump out endocannabinoids, cannabis-like molecules that keep runners happy—and hooked. 

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Sure, your gym workout might only take an hour, but getting to and from the gym takes another 30 minutes. But the second you step out of your front door, you can be running, says Moen. After all, you spend enough of your time in the car. What's more: Running can be your commute!

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As you age, pounds just have a way of gluing themselves to your stomach. But in one Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise study of more than 100,000 runners, those who ran 35 or more miles per week gained less weight in their bellies throughout their mid-life years than those who ran less than nine.

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The human body gets most of its vitamin D from sun exposure, but since people spend all of their time indoors, well, you know how it goes. That explains why 41.6 percent of Americans are deficient in the vitamin, according to research published in Nutrition Research. Taking your run outside can help boost your levels to ward off depression, prevent type 2 diabetes, and strengthen your bones.

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“An average one-hour weight-training workout at the gym burns about 300 calories. The typical hour-long run burns about twice that,” explains American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer Tammie Dubberly, a running coach with Whole Body Fitness in Portland, Oregon. Meanwhile, in one study from the Medical College of Wisconsin and the VA Medical Center, researchers found that the treadmill (used at a “hard” level) burned an average of 705 to 865 calories in an hour. The stair-climber, rower, and stationary bike all burned far fewer cals.

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“If you’ve got shoes, shorts, and a shirt, you are good to go,” Fitzgerald says. “You can’t say that about many other workouts.” No machines, dumbbells, or even mats required. 

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Running will take you a heck of a lot farther than the four walls of your gym. “You can run anywhere in the world. There are literally races in Antarctica and the Sahara Desert,” Fitzgerald says. OK, most guys won’t go that far. But a weekend away won’t wreck your workout routine. 

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The trail is never closed. Whether you want to get in a workout at 2pm or 2am, you can go for it, says Erik Moen, P.T., founder of Corpore Sano Physical Therapy in Washington. 

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Dogs typically aren’t welcome in the gym. But they are right at home on the trail. They even get endocannabinoid-fueled runner’s highs similar to those of their two-legged friends, according to research from the University of Arizona.

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“Running is such a great cardiovascular workout that it makes it so that you don’t get tired as easily from any given workload,” Fitzgerald says. “For example, if I’m helping a friend move, I can carry boxes all day long and it’s not a big deal.”

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Unlike every other aerobic workout you can crank out in the gym, running is high impact, meaning it loads and remakes your bones along with your muscles. “Swimming, cycling, and working on the elliptical don’t train your bones,” says Jason Fitzgerald, a USA Track & Field-certified coach and the founder of Strength Running. “If those are the only things you do, you’re at risk for weak bones and osteoporosis.”

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“Running makes you very goal-oriented. You’re always trying to achieve new PRs, and you know that you can’t just beat your goal in a day. It takes time, work, and consistency,” Fitzgerald says. That mindset, and practice working toward running goals, can pay off in helping you reach other career, financial, and personal goals.

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“Running builds a tenacity and mental toughness that translates into every area of your life,” Fitzgerald says. If you can handle getting through 26.2 miles, you can handle anything. 

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“If you’re starting to feel sick, an easy 30-minute run can stimulate the immune system to help fight off a cold before it has a chance to take hold,” Fitzgerald says. In one British Journal of Sports Medicine Study, people who performed aerobic activity at least five days a week suffered from upper respiratory tract infections 43 percent less often than those who got in less aerobic activity. Plus, when runners did catch colds, their symptoms were much less severe.

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You might not be able to just jump into Olympic weightlifting. But you can just wake up one morning and decide to go on your first run, Janet Hamilton, C.S.C.S., exercise physiologist with Running Strong in Atlanta. Plus, decades later, you still won’t have outgrown it. You can customize every running workout so that you never plateau.

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“These days it seems that gyms are quieter than libraries,” Dubberly says. But on the trail, everyone’s chatting. Whether you run with one buddy, or join in a running club, the sport is all about community. And post-run happy hours.

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More of a solo exerciser? That’s cool. “Running can be a time to zen out to your own thoughts,” ultrarunner Sarah Evans, C.P.T., a personal trainer and running coach in San Francisco.

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Contrary to what non-runners might think, every run is different, and it doesn't have to be boring. You can mix it up so many ways, from running hills, going on tempo runs, performing intervals, or mixing it up between the road and the trail, Evans says.

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“Running is the best workout because it's the most basic human form of exercise, using your own body, weight, and two legs to propel yourself forward,” Evans says. It’s as functional as workouts get.

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All runner’s highs aside, running can help your disposition all day long. For instance, a 2012 study out of Switzerland found that running for just 30 minutes every morning for three weeks significantly improved subject’s sleep quality as well as mood and concentration levels throughout the day. 

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And not just whole grain “healthy” carbs. We are talking refined pasta, white bread, and cookies. Simple, fast-acting carbohydrates are a runner’s best fuel, and upping your intake—strategically—can help you run better, and recover faster, per research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. Some runners even eat Skittles on their long runs to stay energized, Hamilton says.

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No, running doesn’t wreck your knees. It does the exact opposite. Research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory shows that running (even marathoning!) decreases the risk of knee osteoarthritis. That may be because running increases the flow of nutrients to the cartilage in your knee while also strengthening the ligaments around the joint.

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“First and foremost, running is an aerobic sport,” Fitzgerald says. By training your body’s aerobic (oxygen-sucking) metabolism, it strengthens your heart while lowering your resting heart rate, blood pressure, and cholesterol. And guess what? Aerobic exercise is, by far, the most time-efficient form of exercise for improving your heart health, according to research published in The American Journal of Cardiology

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When most guys think about exercise benefits, they probably don’t think about their vision. But 2013 research published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise shows that people who run an average of five miles or more a day have a 41 percent lower risk of developing cataracts, the leading cause of age-related vision loss and blindness. While the exact reason is yet to be known, it could have to do with the fact that running reduces the likelihood of developing high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes, both of which can contribute to cataracts.

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