Which keeps most people going

The benefits of jogging

Our society seems obsessed with the fear of getting old. After the anti-aging wave of the 1990s with its anti-wrinkle creams and cosmetic surgery, the future laboratories in California's Silicon Valley are currently hoping to be able to “cure aging” - and are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the development of Therapies and medicines to alleviate or even reverse the underlying biological processes.

What makes running healthy?

As a runner, one can really only be amazed at such actionism, because it is well known that there has long been a means that does exactly what people long for: Running protects against diseases of all kinds, mitigates the consequences and even reduces the tell-tale outward signs of aging. You don't need newfangled fantasies like biohacking or investments worth billions to make this spring of youth usable for you. All you have to do is lace up your running shoes and start running. As leading geriatric researchers and dozens of studies repeatedly confirm, running is one of the most effective rejuvenating agents out there. It strengthens the heart and lungs, helps with weight loss and figure keeping and even gives us legal intoxication. When you consider that it also helps keep you mentally and physically fit and helps prevent many of the most common age-related illnesses and ailments, it becomes clear that running is pretty close to our dream of a miracle cure for aging. Our favorite sport not only increases our life expectancy by an impressive three years, as a study published in the journal “Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases” in 2017 shows, it also makes life more worth living in old age: runners are more vital, happier and more satisfied than non-runners, and it shows in small everyday things as well as in very elementary things, without which it would be completely pointless to live a hundred years.

We are born to run

If you imagine the planet earth in the distant past, it is hardly surprising that running keeps you young and fit. For around two million years, the lives of our ancestors depended on their running skills. "Evolution has made us runners because otherwise we would have starved to death," says anthropologist David Raichlen, who researches the evolutionary development of physical activity at the University of Arizona (USA). “The fact that we always had to keep moving gave us bigger hearts and wider capillaries,” he says. In a specialist journal in 2014, Raichlen explained how running caused Homo sapiens to reach such an old age.

Thousands of years ago, according to the expert, humans had two variants of a gene in their genome that lead to a greatly increased risk of Alzheimer's and cardiovascular diseases. Nevertheless, humans began to grow older than other mammals even at this time. He sees the main reason for this in the fact that humans had to walk so much - to eat and not to be eaten. He believes that running a lot reduced the risk of these diseases, despite the genetic make-up. For Raichlen it is also no coincidence that nowadays, since we only walk a little (if we move at all), our risk of chronic diseases has increased extremely. “Physical activity has a large part in making people who they are,” he says. "Not walking contradicts our evolutionary destiny."

The positive effects of running on the heart, brain and for the general prevention of age-related diseases are independent of the age at which you start. According to health experts, people between the ages of 45 and 60 benefit the most from it, as this is the phase of life in which age-related diseases first appear or visibly increase.

Running strengthens the heart

Put your right palm on the left side of your chest. Do you feel the strong heartbeat? This is precisely where the greatest benefit of running in the fight against old age lies, as heart disease is the number one killer worldwide. The older we get, the stiffer and more rigid our arteries become. The result: you can no longer dilate as well to cope with increased blood flow. This is especially true of the aorta, the main artery that carries blood from the heart into the circulatory system, and the carotid arteries that run from the chest to the head. If these gradual changes occur, a cardiac complication is not far away. In addition: "Today we know that the decline in mental abilities with increasing age is mainly due to an increasing impairment of vascular function," says Douglas Seals, professor of integrative physiology and expert on vascular aging at the University of Colorado Boulder (USA). “The disposition to diabetes, which increases statistically with age, is also significantly influenced by the condition and functionality of the blood vessels. There's even a strong correlation between arterial health and kidney disease. ”Regular running can protect against all of this, Seals says, because running not only maintains the elasticity of the arteries but also rejuvenates and strengthens the blood vessels.

From the first step onwards, all muscles - not only in the thighs, calves and buttocks, but also in the back, shoulders and upper arms - need more oxygen. To provide them with this, the breathing rate increases, the heart beats faster and pumps oxygen-rich blood to every fiber of our muscles. This process is more than just a transport operation: it keeps our arteries strong and healthy. This means that - regardless of whether you join a running crew at the age of 40 or run after your grandchildren as a pensioner - you will rejuvenate your heart by years. And last but not least, scientific studies show that healthy arteries are usually associated with a good general physical condition, including beyond the cardiovascular system. For Seals, who co-founded a community project for healthy aging in Boulder, endurance sports like running are therefore the decisive factor in the fight against old age. "It's more important than anything else, even more important than eating a healthy diet or reducing stress."

Running strengthens the lungs

There is another measured value for determining our biological age, which tells us how fit and healthy we are: VO2max, the maximum amount of oxygen that the body can use per minute in a state of stress. This value hardly plays a role in everyday running and it is sufficient to know that it increases the more often you push your limits in training, especially in interval training. But a higher value is not only helpful for setting a new marathon record, it is also good for your health. "For reasons as yet unknown, low VO2max values ​​are associated with an increased risk of chronic illness," says Frank W. Booth, professor of physiology at the University of Missouri and a specialist in the relationship between physical fitness and susceptibility to disease. “If your VO2max falls below a certain level, chronic illnesses increase dramatically.” But don't worry: you don't need to do a lot to get your VO2max up to a good level. It is sufficient to run short intervals once or twice a week with a load of 85 to 90 percent of the maximum heart rate. “It's a factor of getting older that you have a great deal of personal influence on,” said Booth. "If you want to stay fit and healthy as long as possible, you should do everything possible to keep your VO2max as high as possible."

Running makes you smart

Sure, you can also strengthen your heart and increase your VO2max by getting on your bike, swimming or walking your dog. The special thing about running, however, is its effect on mental performance. Researchers at the University of North Carolina, for example, attest runners literally a “more youthful brain”. And at the University of Arizona it was found that running has similarly positive effects on the brain as activities that require good fine motor skills, such as punchball sports or making music. Actually surprising, since running is not counted among the mentally demanding activities, after all you basically just have to put one foot in front of the other and be careful not to stumble. "In fact, running is cognitively demanding," explains Raichlen, "you just don't notice it." The tree roots on the ground, the traffic light that is just turning yellow, your own dog zigzagging in front of you on a leash - all that are challenges that have to be mastered in a matter of seconds. ”If we look back at our ancestors, we will find the explanation for this in evolution. “As hunters and gatherers, we moved back and forth quickly and always had to know where we were and how we got back to the starting point. To do this, we needed spatial imagination and the ability to plan decisions in advance, ”explains Raichlen. "We believe that such cognitive abilities have been linked to physical activity in the course of evolution."

Regardless of how old you are - with a relatively small amount of running you can bring about physical changes from the muscles to the heart and brain to the immune system, with which you turn your biological age back by years.

Running keeps you young

A look at the legs of the top runners at the start of a marathon is enough to prove that running makes for lean, muscular legs. The biggest advantage of running, however, is not in that, but in its invisible effects on a cellular level. Just as it keeps our arteries healthy, running regenerates and rejuvenates our mitochondria, the power plants in our cells. This enables the muscle fibers to convert energy into contractions more efficiently. This is important because the efficiency of the mitochondria in providing energy decreases with increasing age. "Roughly speaking, more and more oxygen is escaping through the mitochondrial membranes, so the muscles consume more oxygen," explains Justus Ortega, Professor of Movement Science and Head of the Laboratory for Biomechanics at Humboldt State University in California. "Fascinatingly, the dynamic movement of running seems to stimulate the repair of the mitochondria, so that the energy supply is again as efficient as in younger adults." In 2014 Ortega was able to prove this with a study that showed that older runners not only healthier, better functioning As non-runners, mitochondria have even been able to keep up with younger people in terms of energy efficiency. "Running makes the muscles work as well as they do in much younger people," says Ortega. “The best thing about it: If we manage to keep the mitochondria young by running, this enables us to lead a more active, fulfilling life all round, which in turn lowers the risk of typical aging symptoms such as heart disease, diabetes, bone loss and obesity. Not only does running cause immediate and permanent physical changes that make us “younger”, researchers believe that its greatest benefit is the positive effects it has on life as a whole: running gives us strength, vitality and energy. While our society is looking for miracle drugs that promise eternal youth, we have known the formula for a long time: running does exactly what we hope for from these drugs. “The positive effects are not limited to improved muscle efficiency or strengthening of the heart or bones,” says Ortega. “Running enriches life in many ways. You can't take that many pills to do all of this. "

Is jogging good for losing weight?

Jogging is the calorie killer among endurance sports. If you are very overweight, it is advisable to first lose a few kilos by cycling to protect your physical health and thereby strengthen your stamina. In principle, there is nothing against practicing running for weight loss. However, running alone is not enough. There should still be a calorie deficit, even if it doesn't have to be quite as big as when you lose weight without exercising.

Conclusion - these are the positive effects of running

Even with a small amount of running you can bring about physical changes. These are the most important:

  • brain
    Runners have more "gray cells" and thus a better, faster memory, which makes them feel more alert and significantly smarter. Running in challenging surroundings such as lively city centers or rocky trails also strengthen skills such as anticipatory action, multitasking, body awareness and motor skills.
  • heart
    Endurance training makes the arteries as elastic again as they were at a young age. This reduces the risk of kidney disease, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases and inflammation of the arteries.
  • lung
    The maximum amount of oxygen that can be consumed per minute under stress is more than just a statistical parameter for number freaks. The older we get, the further the value usually goes down. This increases the risk of chronic diseases. One of the best ways to keep your VO2max high is with regular interval training to push your heart and lungs to their limits.
  • immune system
    Have you ever noticed that you have flu and cold significantly less often than your friends and acquaintances who are not walking? It's not a coincidence. Regular running has been shown to strengthen the immune system and may even prevent age-related sickness.
  • Muscles
    With every step you catapult your body weight into the air. This strengthens muscles and bones and is extremely important for staying young.
  • Wellbeing
    Running in a running group as well as participating in competitions create opportunities to establish important social ties or friendships and acquaintances. This becomes more and more important with increasing age, when people threaten to become lonely.
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