Supercharge the Mediterranean Diet: The Benefits of Running

All this talk over the last several weeks about the Mediterranean Diet (and our terrific Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner with Julianna Sagitta on Thursday night) has got me thinking about running.

Not running away (although I have my days).

Not running for office.

I’m thinking about running for health.

Outdoor Life

One of the attributes that make the Mediterranean Diet so powerful is that it is usually accompanied by an active lifestyle. Outdoor physical activities often go part-and-parcel with the food plan. It helps that their climate is very similar to ours.

I suppose we could all just eat our Mediterranean-style meals out on the lanai and call it a day, but I think there’s a bigger opportunity here.

Running is one of those topics that people have strong feelings about – in both directions. Some of my friends wouldn’t run if a bear were chasing them, and some can’t wait for their next run.

No matter how you might feel about running, there are vaults of research that describe the immense health benefits of running. In fact, I just recently came across a terrific article that highlights 35 of them. That might be a good link to send to your friends who refuse to go running with you. You know…to try to convince them.

(No, seriously: don’t do that. Share it with your running friends. Your non-running friends will unfriend you if you pester them about it.)

Back to Basics

Sadly, running is one of those activities that have been over-complicated because of money. It seems like, every few months, another style of athletic shoe comes on the market that touts its unique design to improve the mechanics of running. There are conferences on running and focus areas in medical schools that deal specifically with running.

How on earth did we manage to run for 6,000 years without these advanced shoes and studies? It’s easy to get too technical with an activity that ancient civilizations practiced. One of my guiding principles is that we are at our best when we are most in sync with our original design.

I’ve never seen Nike’s in ancient cave paintings. I’m just saying.

Adding Running To The Mediterranean Diet

So, as long as we’re enjoying the nutritional benefits of the Mediterranean diet, let’s take the next step and incorporate some of the multi-faceted benefits of running along with it (not immediately after eating, obviously).

I was going to say, “the heart benefits” of running, but then I realized I also needed to add the “lung benefits,” “muscle benefits,” “brain benefits,” “skeletal benefits,” “digestive benefits,” and many more. Thus, “multifaceted.”

Burn Calories

We can start with the obvious benefits: running burns calories. The food you put into your tank becomes fuel for your body to burn. Of course, the quality of the food you take in determines how much benefit your body receives from the calories you burn. Some foods are more efficient fuel than others; the foods highlighted in the Mediterranean Diet are excellent in that regard.

Running flexes and relaxes all the major muscle groups in a way that burns calories very efficiently. If you want to shed the “spare tire” or slim down your arms and legs, running is a great way to start. It is also an easy way to help your body prevent type-2 diabetes and heart disease, which are closely associated with belly fat and a sedentary lifestyle.

Muscle Toning

I don’t know if you’ve ever paid attention to this, but marathon runners usually have very different physiques from weightlifters. While weightlifters’ muscles are thicker from doing fewer reps of increasing weight to build muscle mass, runners’ muscles are long and thin due to thousands of reps with minimal weight. So, it’s not just a matter of slimming down by burning fat, but of performing a different type of muscle toning.

Strengthen Your Core

As long as we’re working on slimming, running is a fantastic way to exercise your core muscle groups. Your core is an interwoven network of muscles that criss-cross your abdomen from your knees to your shoulders. Like a suspension bridge, the corresponding groups of muscles provide tension to balance and support your skeletal frame. (Incidentally, I did a series of videos with exercises that focus on specific core muscle groups in the context of balancing them all. You can watch them here).

When your core is balanced, your posture is straight, and you enjoy optimal stability, flexibility, and motor control. Running activates all of the major muscle groups in sync with each other, so they develop in balance. If your muscle structure is out of balance due to injury or years of poor posture, you might want to see a chiropractor (I know a good one) to help you get your frame and muscle groups in alignment.

Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t run until after your frame is perfectly aligned (that is a very common excuse!). It’s a good idea to get regular adjustments as you begin running, to make sure that your core develops good habits and corrects misalignments early on.

Exercise Your Heart and Lungs

Running also exercises the heart and lungs in powerful ways, by placing a demand for more oxygen to the muscles. The heart beats harder and faster to meet the demand, which in turn triggers the bronchi in the lungs to expand and receive more oxygen. A nice side benefit is that the increased flow moves carbon dioxide waste to the lungs to be exhaled out, and toxins to the lymphatic system for drainage. You might be amazed at how much better you feel after a run, as your body gets more of what it needs.

Mental and Emotional Benefits

That brings me to another important benefit of running. Many athletes describe a “runner’s high” that accompanies a good workout. Part of that high is the increased flow of endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that produce positive feelings. That’s why exercise, especially running are often used to help treat depression and mood swings. It’s also why, when I work with executives, pastors, and others in high-stress professions, I encourage them to begin a regular schedule of workouts. The extra flow of oxygen, endorphins, and the release of stress hormones help promote clarity of thought, creativity, and mood regulation.

Next Steps (sorry, I just had to…)

If you’re already running consistently and want to step up your game (no pun intended), I’m going to challenge you a little. Find a set of stairs or bleachers to run up and down in sprints. Any time you add resistance to an activity, you increase the benefits. You can run against the wind (like Bob Seger), run with ankle weights, or even run with a tire. But if you really want to see some transformative results, run against gravity. Running stairs or bleachers is a great way to do just that.

Give Yourself Time To Adjust

If you’ve never thought much about running, I want to encourage you to give it a try. And give yourself 30 days to make a decision. You might not like the first few times you run, especially if you’re accustomed to being sedentary. I also encourage you to take a few minutes to stretch before you run – each and every time. Just jumping off the couch and running out the door will make your experience…well…awful. You’ll end up stiff and sore and probably hate yourself in the morning. Take a few minutes to do some light stretches.

Thank you for spending some time with me today. Let’s work together to get the word out, and help people enjoy good health. Aren’t you tired of seeing people sick and miserable around you? Let’s make a real a real, lasting, positive difference in the world. Take a few seconds to share this article on your favorite social channel.

“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles is a PROMISE.”  — Eric Thomas

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