Running. Yes, you sweat, you get tired, eventually you struggle to feel your legs.
But what happens inside the brain & body when we are running? What’s happening that we can’t see?
You “feel the burn”.
Right this second, in a natural state, your body will be turning sugar into energy through your breathing, in science they call this aerobic respiration. Yet, when we run the body struggles to get enough oxygen for this process.
Fortunately, there is another process called anaerobic respiration whereby sugar can turn into energy without oxygen. Lactic acid and other acids are consequently created in this process as a result. These acids activate pain nerve cells sending signals to the brain which causes people to “feel the burn”
So yes you feel the burn, but running doesn’t just cause feelings of pain and ache (otherwise nobody would do it surely?!).
Running can have positive effects on the mind.
Long distance running releases brain chemicals called endorphins which promote feelings of euphoria.
Running is also argued to be a natural anti-depressant, it releases the neurotransmitter dopamine which fuels a feeling of pleasure. This also activates serotonin which has been linked to regulation of mood, giving that “energy buzz”.
Research has found this activity to be a protective factor for mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
The body burns calories, how exactly?
By our metabolism a.k.a chemical reactions in the body working 24/7 that turn food into energy.
This energy releases oxygen that helps keep the body working, whether this is by keeping our heart beating or our lungs breathing. Running is considered an effective way to burn calories which activates our metabolism to do so.
As I’ve already mentioned, you sweat. It makes you smell and doesn’t look the most appealing either.
Why though? Running increases the heart rate and body temperature which causes the body to sweat as a consequence. This happens by activating the eccrine sweat glands, releasing a salty mixture of water, sodium, chloride & other electrolytes. This in turn, helps to regulate the body temperature and keep the body hydrated.
You may get a “stitch” through the sides of your body. This is caused by your breathing.
Running causes ligaments to stretch, this can cause strain to the diaphragm causing pain. To reduce the risk of this, it is recommended to slow down and to take full deep breathes when exercising.
The body shakes perhaps. This is particularly prevalent with new runners when the muscles aren’t familiar with such an intense movement. If you also work “too hard” the body can be depleted of electrolytes and glycogen, the body shaking is a natural response to this.
Yes some of these effects are not the most desirable, but there are practices people can follow to help prepare the mind and body for exercise;
Warm up. This reduces the risk of injury as well as aches and pains. Warming up helps to activate the muscles preparing them for whats ahead.
Breathe. Something many people don’t focus on (probably because we do this naturally all this time). Breathing through the mouth whilst running is proven to be most effective to allow oxygen to the lungs and muscles. This also helps runners perform to their highest level.
Stretch. This is recommended both pre and post run. This helps to keep the muscles flexible and activates them to their fullest range of motion.
Keep hydrated. Water can help in regulating the body’s temperature and support the joints that are active. Lack of hydration whilst running can cause unwanted side effects such as dizziness, tiredness and feeling faint.
Have protein. This can help the muscles recover after a workout and helps with glycogen replacement.
Yes, some of the effects are unpleasant, but the positives outweigh the negatives.
Running is recommended by various health professionals due to the impact this has on an individual’s health and well-being, reducing the likelihood of ill-health.
At the end of the day, it may be tough in the moment, but afterwards it will make you feel SO good.
I'm Aimee creator of 'Aims On Health'.
Here you'll find things all health and wellness but my main interests lie in public health.
My work experience involves working with vulnerable groups in society, providing health eduction and promoting positive behaviour change. I have also just completed a Master of Public Health degree at the University of Liverpool.
Feel free to contact me for advice and support by clicking on the contact page!