running and health

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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.

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4 thoughts on “running and health

  1. “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.”

    Unfortunately, more money can be made on selling us food and diets than can be done selling us exercise, meaning that more advertising goes to those items, and that causes more and more people to have those things in mind.

    “Beyond physical benefits, exercise is preventative medicine for mental and emotional health, as well.”

    So true. Unfortunately, with the way our health system works, preventative medicine is not the focus that it should be. They want us to be sick in order to make money off of us. But the information is out there (that exercise is a perfect form of preventative medicine) for those who take the time to research it. And there is still some attention devoted to it as you pointed out by mentioning that New York Times article.

    “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.”

    I’m the same. I’m not sure if it’s due to genetics, but, regardless of the cause, it’s been there my entire life to varying degrees. However, exercise does absolutely help me grab a much better level of control over it.

    “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. … Whether or not running will add years to my life, it certainly adds quality to the years as they pass.”

    This reminds me of all the people who say they don’t have time to exercise, neglecting the very valid point that you bring up here, that exercise absolutely “adds quality to the years as they pass.” Any amount of time you spend exercising is more than made up in current quality of life and also by increasing the sharpness of your mind and your ability to put out quality work in a timely manner. Bottom line, the time you put into it is more than returned to you in a variety of healthy and helpful ways.

    • Thanks for sharing, Matt! I enjoyed your reflections.
      Blue Scholars have this song called “Southside Revival” and one of the lines is “you got time to take a sh*t, then you got time to read a book.” Your last thought reminded me of that! 😀

      • And you just reminded me of my younger days working in a mall when I was repeatedly told, “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.” 😀

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