Column: What running is about

Benefit – it’s a relatively simple word. Only seven letters, defined as an advantage gained from something.  

In a recently published New York Times Well blog post by Dr. Carl J. Lavie, a medical director of cardiac rehabilitation and prevention at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans and lead author of a recent review investigating the connection between running and health, was quoted saying, “It seems like the maximum benefits of running occur at quite low doses.”

The review found that with just five or six miles per week runners have lower risk of obesity, high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, strokes, certain cancers and arthritis. Wonderful. 

I truly think it is wonderful that just a small amount of running – about one hour spread out over an entire week – can cause such amazing health benefits. Identifying activities that can help lower the risk of a wide variety of chronic diseases, especially those pertaining to obesity, is critical in the world today. However, I want to return to that word benefit. 

A benefit is an advantage gained from something (in this case running). 

According to Lavie, it would appear that the only benefit to running is reduction in chronic disease risk. 

What? 

For the hundreds of people I have run with over the past six years, to the hundreds more whom I have spoken to about running, to the many more who I have seen post about running on social media, I would like to defend our sport. 

Running is not about losing weight or reducing cholesterol. Running is not about preventing diabetes or even cancer. Running is not about transforming your body into the perfect body – whatever that means.

Sure some of those things might happen (not the perfect body bit), but dozens of other benefits also come from running. Benefits like friendship, stress relief and joy that simply cannot be as easily studied as blood pressure, but are, nevertheless, important.

To be told that meeting one of my best friend’s in college because we were both bouncing around the dorm at 6 a.m. the first day of freshman year looking for a running buddy isn’t a benefit is baffling. To be told that being able to sit through class and hours of studying because I took the time to run eight miles – yes, eight, and all at one time, not two miles three times a week – before class started is not beneficial to my academic success is ridiculous. To be told that the smile of pure joy that spread across my face at the end of my first ever 20+ mile run is not a benefit just doesn’t make sense.

If you ask a runner “why do you run?” I can guarantee you they will give you at least one reason that has nothing to do with the fact that they may weigh a little less than if they didn’t take the time to exercise.

Running is about a lot of things. From exploring new places to pushing yourself to your physical and mental limits to attaining the pure happiness that comes with the completion of a race. But there is one thing running has absolutely never been about, which a non-runner who looks at all joggers as health nuts may find as a shock. 

Despite how much I love efficiency, getting the maximum benefit for the minimum effort is not what running’s about.


Julia Werth is news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at julia.werth@uconn.edu. She tweets @jboelwerth.