Long term impact of a run

What benefits does running have long term?
26 February 2019

Interview with 

Christof Schwiening, Cambridge University, Jenn Gaskell, University of Nottingham


Person running, jogging and stretching


What benefits does running have if you stick with it? Why do so many give up? Georgia found out from Christof Schwiening from Cambridge University, before hearing again from Jenn Gaskell, about the joys of a runner's high...

Christof - So when you first start off running there are a whole load of changes that the level of the neurons in your perception of what running is about it's before the fatigue kicks in. So you start to feel very good, you get if you like after the very first run maybe a little bit of a runner's high, it's never happened to me but I hear it can happen, and then gradually the fatigue starts to build up. Whilst you run you do a little bit of damage to the muscles and that gradually accumulates. Then hopefully after a period of about two to three weeks things start to get better. Unfortunately, I think you got the flu just at the critical point and you stop running in fact you had a little bit of bed rest I think which is the worst possible thing you can do for run training. The real big change is they take a period of many weeks to occur. So a couple of months and then things start to get really a lot better. But the plasma volume expansion that you can get, that gradual thinning of the blood as you pull in more water from the extra cells space, that can happen very quickly indeed. So we were sort of hoping that that would happen after your last minute bout of running that you did over the weekend. Unfortunately it doesn't look like we were able to detect that maybe it wasn't quite intense enough. I don't know.

Georgia - I mean I said I do ten k a day and I did about four. That's probably why. And this Christof says is another useful lesson if you're training for a marathon or similar, last minute panic training does very very little. So if you can push past the two week mark and keep at it what is the long term impact on your health?

Christof - There are very very many long term benefits of running. Obviously the first thing is you're burning a little bit more energy which is generally a good thing to do because we live in an environment where energy is very easy to come by, so being a little bit more active is good. You tend to start off by lowering blood pressure, that tends to fall as well as you run. And then longer term of course you’re helping to build a more healthy heart, one with a greater blood supply and generally a more elastic circulatory system and that's all very good. So the long term effects of running and indeed the effects of loading the bones, so bone density tends to increase, everything tends to get a little bit better when you do a bit more exercise. To get a healthy life into old age, I think exercise is absolutely critical.

Georgia - So there you have it. It's good for our body, it's good for our brains and as Dan Lieberman said it's why we have such big beautiful bums. So we should really make use of them. I've definitely had enough to give it another go. So I asked Christof as a runner himself, for any tips to keep motivated.

Christof - Okay so the first bit of advice is don't get injured. There's nothing worse than getting injured, every runner has a story about injury and my story at the moment is very real to me. So one is take it sensibly, and exercise very sensibly, build it into a lifestyle as well. There's no point in making running something special that you have to make a special time for during the day, and running isn't something that you have to be particularly prepared or set up to do. You can add running into many of your daily activities. I do something that's known as a run commute. Building it into those times where you need to do some form of transportation. And I would also say take the intensity of your running down. Sure, add in some high intensity if you enjoy it. But there's a very nice social aspect to running a little bit more slowly, of taking a little bit of time. So doing that kind of social running is a very powerful way of enabling yourself to continue with the exercise through life. Don't get obsessed with it and also don't assume that the limits that you see now, are the real limits that exist. Everybody is capable of being a runner.

Georgia - And to add a couple from me find a running buddy who doesn't run faster than you, don't useless fat spaniel who will slow you down, and definitely definitely don't get the flu. Good luck. And if you run enough you might just experience the wonderful feeling known as runner's high. Back to Jen.

Jen - You might have just had the worst low of your life. You might have had absolutely no energy at all and then you eat a little bit, you drink a little bit and 20 minutes later you'll be running along through the storm, you'll be running up hills and you'll feel like if Usain Bolt turned up and wanted a 100 metre race against you, you’d definitely beat him. And everything is just fantastic. Like the views you just love everything, you love all your friends around you, you just absolutely love doing what you're doing and you never want to stop. So you just keep running.


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