The Science Behind How Running Elevates Our Lives

Photo by Seth Macey on Unsplash

As humans, we often have to struggle between our desire for instant gratification (that thing is there right now! And I want it!) and the adage that “good things come to those who wait.” We may know intellectually that if we don’t spend five bucks on a cup of coffee today, we could save for an amazing vacation in a year or that not smoking a cigarette will keep us from getting sick 20 years down the line. But we crave instant results. We want that instant jolt of happiness. So even when we know the better thing to do in the long run, we often lose the battle with our impulse control.

It’s the same when I decide to take up running and get healthier. I want to instantly feel better. I want to look in the mirror and be all toned after one 20 minute jog. I want to feel happier and less anxious right away. And I want to step on the scale and have it flash my magical goal number while a sound goes off like that of a slot machine when you win big as balloons fall from the ceiling.

“Who put those balloons in our ceiling?” my partner will ask. “Did someone break into our house?”

But I won’t care about those petty questions because I’m basking in all of my one-day success in running. I ran! I’m now instantly fit! Except….the reality is that running is hard at first. It makes us tired, out of breath, and sore. And even when you do it three whole days IN A ROW, the scale usually impassively shows the exact same number as when you started.

“It’s not working!” I’ll scream at the heavens, after less than a week of trying.

Inspiration to not only go for a run today but to continue to get up and strap on your running shoes every morning can be a challenge. We all know running is good for us in an abstract way. We all know that sticking with it will bring amazing results both mentally and physically, but doing it consistently enough to achieve our long-term goals is hard to do when we can’t see the benefit right now, in front of us.

And there’s a scientific reason for that. Researchers have found that when we wrestle with two choices that will affect us positively at different times, say: sitting on the couch and having a piece of cake now or going for a run that will help us later, different parts of our brain get activated as we wrestle with the short and long-term benefits. The emotional areas of our brain push for that instant “now” feeling of satisfaction, while the logical part fights for what will give us the greatest benefit. And when we make the ‘smarter’ choice, the logical part of our brain lights up.