Inactivity and obesity plague the U.S., and college students aren’t immune. In fact, fewer than half of all college students exercise at least three times per week.
While your school likely doesn’t mandate PE or exercise, that’s no excuse to live a sedentary lifestyle. Running can improve your physical and emotional outlook during those undergrad years.
This list of benefits will convince you to get on your feet, lace up your running shoes, and hit the pavement.
The most impressive benefit of running is its unseen impact on the brain.
Scientists now believe that jogging improves blood flow and increases the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain which controls learning and memory.
Long-term, these benefits translate to improved memory, focus, and problem-solving skills.
Anxiety is one of the top reasons college students seek counseling. It’s no cure, but running may lower your mental tension to a more bearable level.
Here are some of the stress-reducing side effects of running:
- A reduction in cortisol, the stress hormone
- Feelings of euphoria (we’ll talk about this more in the next section)
- Reduced impulsivity
- Energy boosts and increased feelings of productivity
If you’re struggling with a heavy load or finals, try a two-mile run to clear your mind before sitting down and cramming.
The so-called “runner’s high” is far from a myth. But it has nothing to do with the enjoyment of running; it boils down to the body’s chemistry.
As you run, your body releases endorphins into the bloodstream. Often called the “feel-good” hormones, endorphins trigger a sense of euphoria. This rush of chemicals provides a natural mood boost.
A relaxing run might just inspire you to crack open a textbook, socialize with your roommates, or find the joys in little moments.
As it turns out, a jogging routine can also lessen your junk food cravings and temporarily silence feelings of hunger.
After an hour of running, one study found that the brain is more likely to crave water and low-calorie snacks than junk food like burgers and fries.
Running causes a fluctuation in hunger hormones, decreasing the ones that say “I’m hungry” while increasing the ones saying “I’m full.”
If the dining hall buffet or nearby fast-food chain is your vice, lace up your running sneakers when those cravings hit. You might just change your mind.
Insomnia is all-too-common during those college years, especially with caffeine-fueled all-nighters and the stress of upcoming exams.
However, running is one of the best natural fixes for poor sleep.
There are a few reasons for that.
One, it can increase serotonin levels, which regulate the sleep-wake cycle. After a run, your core temperature will also drop, signaling the need to sleep.
A regular running routine can help you fall asleep quickly, experience higher quality rest, and encourage you to wake up feeling refreshed.
The connection between exercise and school performance is well-studied in younger age groups, particularly elementary-aged children.
Yet, most of this research centers around the “developing brain,” a process that typically continues until age 25.
Research suggests that problem-solving skills could climb as much as 10% after half an hour of jogging.
Improved focus and oxygen flow to the brain.
When you’re facing writer’s block or struggling to nail down a microbiology concept, hit the pavement before trying again!
Running burns somewhere around 100 calories per mile. That’s about the calories in a cup of milk.
While this may not seem like much, it’s the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption — EPOC — that links moderate-intensity running to weight loss.
This “afterburn effect” could burn an extra 150–200 calories in the next few hours as your body recovers from the run.
The faster your metabolism, the more calories you burn at rest, and the more likely you are to maintain a healthy weight.
Running won’t just benefit you during college; if you continue to jog post-graduation, the perks continue well into adulthood.
That’s because running can lower your risk of diseases like:
- Respiratory diseases
- Heart disease
- Some cancers
This one simple thing can also add years to your life. In fact, research shows that runners could live three years longer than those who don’t run.
Like virtually any exercise, running strengthens your muscles and bones.
The quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves contract as you launch yourself forward with each step.
This alone strengthens the lower body muscles, particularly when you challenge yourself on your runs (i.e., hill running, jogging faster).
Experts also consider running a “weight-bearing activity” due to the impact of your feet on the pavement or trail below.
Running can improve your bone density and lower the risk of fractures.
Although your semester-long schedule is jam-packed, there’s also plenty of downtime where boredom inevitably kicks in.
Running is among the healthiest ways to defeat this feeling.
For one, it’s a far better use of your time than partying or watching Netflix in your dorm room.
But it can also pull you out of a slump. A jog could boost your energy levels, re-awaken your mind before an all-nighter, and motivate you to study.
The mental health benefits of running are two-fold:
It can lessen symptoms of depression and anxiety while increasing confidence and self-esteem.
Running can help you feel more confident in your own skin.
Setting and meeting running-related goals (i.e., a 9-minute mile) can create a sense of resiliency as you progress.
As you build muscle and shred fat, you’ll also feel more confident with the reflection in the mirror and the number on the scale.
Long-term, this confidence will help you put yourself out there, take healthy risks, and persevere when the going gets tough.
The most common excuse for not exercising is a lack of time.
But you don’t have to commit to running 5Ks and marathons to experience any of these benefits yourself. According to the Mayo Clinic, even jogging five to six miles per week can maximize heart health perks.
Choose two or three of your less busy days each week, set aside a half-hour, and run at your own pace!
Adam Marshall is a freelance writer who specializes in all things apartment organization, real estate, and college advice. He currently works with Copper Beech Grand Duke to help them with their online marketing.