Running is a polarizing form of exercise. Some find it mind-clearing and almost addictive; others loathe it with such a passion that they would only agree to run when chased. No matter your position, there's no doubt that running a few miles a few times a week can have enormous benefits on your cardiovascular health, energy levels, metabolism, and mental health.
Though many of us possess a general knowledge that running is a healthy habit, fewer have a solid understanding of what the exact benefits are and how long you have to run regularly for them to show up. To get a clear picture of what happens to your body an hour, a day, a week, a month, and more after you start regular running, we spoke to Dara Bushman, a clinical psychologist with a background and expertise in health and fitness. Bushman broke down a precise timeline of the benefits that running three to five miles three or four times a week can have on your body and mind. Keep scrolling to find the amazing things that can happen after you start running.
After an Hour
Just an hour after you start a running routine for the first time, you'll already start reaping the mental and physical benefits—one of which, says Bushman, is a surge of euphoria and empowerment. "Prior to running, it is 'awfulized' to do it and it felt impossible," she says. "When finished, there is a sense of relief. The mind knows it was good. A fist pump is generated physiologically from the endorphins, creating a sense of euphoria and a mental fist pump of 'Yes, I did it.' Even a feeling of 'I can do anything now.'"
After a Day
A day after you run for the first time, that same sense of ambivalence from before kicks in. "For a moment, all the superwomen syndrome feelings of being invincible get forgotten!" says Bushman. Then you talk yourself into doing it again, and you feel another rush, another sense of calm, and that motivates you to continue. At this point, you already may feel a reduction in stress and anxiety.
After a Week
You're inspired to start seeing food more as fuel for your running practice. "You notice you desire more water and subtly quench for more fruits and vegetables," says Bushman.
Also at this stage, running begins to seem like more of a habit and less of a physical and mental chore. "You still notice your labored breath but begin to feel a sense of pride during the run as you create a tempo and get your own timing with it," says Bushman.
After a Month
A month into running regularly, it is officially a habit. "It is part of your groove. Your running shoes have a special place in your house and your running clothes have their own space. You have a routine. You have begun prioritizing your runs and all else gets planned around it," says Bushman.
Physically, running also starts to feel easier after a month. Your muscles become used to the stresses of running, and you notice yourself being able to run a little faster and farther. Perhaps you even notice that you've lost a bit of fat. "Your body feels stronger, and you notice greater gratitude for your body's capabilities and functions," says Bushman. "You begin contemplating whether you can push the limits and do more times a week or even longer runs. … Mentally, you feel clear when you are running, and you no longer focus on your breath or feeling like you are going to die! You look forward to the space you have in this zone."
After a Year
Running has become an antidepressant for you now. "It is a necessary part of your life for breathing and relaxation. It feels as if it is medication and a time to connect with yourself," says Bushman. Your body also feels much stronger. You can run at least three or four times as far as when you started—and that strength and endurance help you look forward to your runs. "It is often a spiritual experience and described as a time to connect with your higher power," Bushman continues. "The sunshine alone and fresh air is cathartic or the motion of the breeze on a treadmill. It is part of your routine as much as brushing your teeth."
Your cardiovascular health is also now improved and your heart can pump more blood more easily, lowering your blood pressure. Your sleep has improved. Your general emotional state is more relaxed.
After 10 Years
According to Bushman, somewhere between year three and seven running becomes part of your identity. "You are a runner," she says. "You categorize yourself as living an active lifestyle. … You feel as if your chemicals are off when you don't run." Running becomes a necessary part of your energy-boosting routine, your alone time, your meditation.
Your muscles have strengthened, keeping your metabolism boosted and your weight easy to maintain. Some studies also show that running over many years can reduce your risk of certain cancers and keep your mind and memory sharp. You have probably even lengthened your lifespan.
Next up: This is what happens to your body when you start doing yoga.