Image description: Green vegetation in the woods surrounding a narrow dirt trail.
One of the benefits of a well-established running practice is regular exercise. Exercise does not have to be this special ritual that involves 2+ hours a day, driving to the gym, or even buying special clothes. Exercise is not reserved for people who look a certain way or have certain abilities. While our society obsesses over foods and diets (even a regular trip to the grocery store feels like sensory overload), we do little to promote daily exercise. An article recently came out in the New York Times touting the benefits of running, including the evidenced connection between running and increased life expectancy. Beyond physical benefits, exercise is preventative medicine for mental and emotional health, as well. Next time you are frustrated by something at home or work, take a brisk walk for 20-30 minutes (preferably in a place surrounded by natural beauty) and revisit the source of stress. In my experience, the big hairy problems suddenly become more manageable after a walking or running break.
I am a big proponent of sustainable lifestyle choices. For me, high impact Crossfit type stuff is not sustainable. Yes, I could do it for a time, and, knowing my competitive spirit, it would likely draw me in. However, eventually, the time in my day would reduce. Getting to the gym would be a barrier. I would start to feel the impending litany of obstacles to getting started. I would, eventually, quit. In my experience, walking for exercise and running have been the complete opposite. Like reading a little each night, or making a cup of tea in the afternoon, these are tools and choices always available to me. Fresh air is a panacea. As a person who is genetically and mentally wired to experience more anxiety and worry than some of the other people in my life, exercise provides a safe and welcoming outlet to process. Regardless of my cardiovascular health or cholesterol levels, exercise brings me calm, joy, and at times, sheer euphoria.
I also find that there are human ecological benefits derived from the way I prioritize intentional locomotion, whether that is walking, running, swimming, or dancing… In my work with students, our shared passion for the outdoors is a wonderful way to connect. As the days grow longer, my family takes full advantage of after-dinner walks, routines that have a way of mitigating the typical witching hour between dinner and bedtime by taking us out of our familiar and thrusting us into the appreciation of natural beauty. As an introvert, I love using walks as a way to connect with colleagues or friends. The feeling of momentum gifts us with a shared journey, there is no shortage of details to focus on, and moments of silence no longer feel threatening when they are punctuated by birdsong or wind-rustled branches.
I have written this many times on my blog before, but I continue to relish and admire the ways that a regular running practice improves my life. Running is not a chore to be avoided, but an invitation to find peace. In our constantly connected, over-saturated-with-information, sedentary and over worked reality, springing into nature hungrily is a radical choice to reverse course. It is the best act of selfishness, one that inevitably connects me to the larger world of which I am a part, and reminds me of my own persistence and strength.
Whether or not running will add years to my life, it certainly adds quality to the years as they pass. This is health, and a health I treasure very dearly.