Leaving the comfort of your couch cushions to lace up running shoes, dust off bikes, or snap on goggles, can be difficult; whatever the reason, a lot of people these days seems to be participating in endurance outdoor exercise.
So what are the benefits of endurance outdoor exercise? What would make a presumably sane person want to spend hours running, swimming, or biking? While this list is not all-inclusive, here are the top five benefits I enjoy as an endurance athlete.
1. Healthier Body
Endurance sports create a stronger, healthier body. Muscles, cardiovascular system, bones, joints, and lungs all learn to adapt to the new task of sustaining a strong pace for hours. Endurance athletes also enjoy faster metabolisms due to more lean muscle mass, so we can indulge our sweet tooth more without the guilt. Sustained exercise also reduces the risk of most debilitating diseases. I lost several immediate family members to cancer, so this was one of the primary reasons I began running.
2. Clearer Thinking
While ramping up the mileage too fast or overtraining can cause mental and physical fatigue, exercise done properly has been shown by researchers to actually help with cognitive function. It was also found to be a preventative to Alzheimer’s in older people. For anyone who has done endurance sports, the best thinking time may be on the road on in the water. Exercise improves circulation throughout the body, and the brain benefits from this.
3. Better Self Image
When I don’t exercise, I struggle with my weight and self image. When I train and participate in endurance races, a very nice side effect is that my clothes fit better. This improves my confidence and interactions with others. After being both fit and overweight at different periods in my life, I certainly would choose the amazing results of endurance training any day over sitting on the couch eating ice cream.
4. Better Mental Fortitude / Confidence
There is something to be said for surprising yourself and surpassing your perceived limitations. The great thing about endurance training is that you get back what you put in. When you train, you learn your body can do things you never believed possible. You also learn to push past pain and exhaustion to a whole new level of power. When I completed my first marathon, I felt I was invincible. That feeling spills into other areas of life. You learn that hard work and dedication pay off. So, you continue to push against all of life’s limits, not just the physical or fitness barriers.
5. Better Peace of Mind
Runners often joke that running is cheaper than therapy. There is truth to that. Many psychologists believe exercise works at the same level or better than antidepressants, and the studies back this up. It must be all those endorphin surges!
During my dark times, I turned to running and found mental relief from pain and depression. Even if you aren’t sad, running is also a great stress relief from the every-day emotional impacts of life.