"I always loved running ... It was always something you could do by yourself and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sites just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs!"
Not only that, Jesse, but it is good for your lungs as well. Some poo-poo running as "hard on the knees" or "damaging to joints" and there is some truth to that over the long haul. But, we are all destined to deteriorate at some point. Joints, bones, arteries, organs, skin, hair--these things will let us down eventually. We are all human and will break down over time. Using computers strains our eyes, hands, wrists, and back. It happens. Smart running that includes moderation, stretching, and ample recovery, hydration, and rest will help reduce some of the risks and keep us physically active for a long while.
In general, running does more good than harm for most people.
--One burns about 100 calories per mile, regardless of how fast one runs. Heavier folks burn more than lighter folks, but most of us burn about 100 cals/mile. Therefore, it works as a great weight-control activity.
--We are not mechanical, we are biomechanical. So, unlike a piston or an axle in a car, repeated use does not automatically lead to excessive wear. Gradual training of the body makes it stronger, not weaker (in general). Lifting weights does tear down muscles--hence, the soreness. But when they heal, a person can lift even more than before. The same rule applies with running. Of course, anyone can overdo it, so runners should start small and build up.
--Running leads to an increase in the production of endorphins which are nature's little fatigue and depression fighters. These little critters are neurotransmitters with pain-relieving properties. They get credit for supplying that "runners high."
--Running is a weight-bearing activity which strengthens bones.
--Running has been shown to increase blood vessel elasticity, raise HDL ("good cholesterol"), lower blood pressure, and relieve stress among many other health benefits. In fact, the farther and more intense the running, the greater the increase in HDL levels.
Get the kiddos out running, too. For the first time in American history, they may have a shorter life expectancy than we do. That is largely due to lack of physical activity and poor dietary habits. If you have a Run for Good program in your town, take advantage of it.
*Information for this piece was taken from Vanderbilt University's Health Psychology home page. For more on how running impacts HDL levels, see Paul T. Williams, "High-density lipoprotein cholesterol and other risk factors...", New England Journal of Medicine, 16 May 1996, Vol. 334 Issue 20, 1298-1303.