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3 ways running improves your life that go way beyond fitness

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Photo: Dina Ivas, Amanda Butler, and Tamara Pridgett by Tim Gibson for Well+Good

The benefits of picking up running are pretty major—and they go far beyond getting in shape and earning a 26.2 sticker for your car.

Just ask Jen A. Miller; as the freelance journalist and five-time marathoner recounts in her new running-centric memoir, Running: A Love Story, the sport can be a catalyst for change in just about every part of your life.

Like most love stories, Miller’s passion for running came a bit out of the blue. As a young athlete, running was simply what she had to do to condition for games. It wasn’t until Miller picked it up again as a writer, looking for something that could help her focus, that she fell head-over-heels for the workout.

“If you need that time by yourself where no one else is bothering you, or emailing you, or calling you, or tugging on your sleeve, be selfish”

Since then, it’s helped her not only professionally, but also personally—yup, even when it came to dealing with heartbreak. “I lived through some tough relationships,” Miller says. “But believing in myself enough to know that I would be okay is what got me through to the other side.”

Whether you’re just starting out, or are looking to fall in love all over again, here are three reasons to run that have nothing to do with getting in shape.

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Tamara Pridgett by Tim Gibson for Well+Good

1. Running gives you permission to be self-centered

“Some people say running is selfish. Maybe it is,” Miller says. “But if you need that time by yourself where no one else is bothering you, or emailing you, or calling you, or tugging on your sleeve, be selfish.” It’s time to re-connect with yourself.

Unlike, say, a barre class, running is something you get to do totally on your own terms. Music/no music? Treadmill/outside? With fiends/solo? You decide. So get your miles in, Miller urges. When it comes to your physical and emotional health, a little “selfishness” can be a very good thing.

Focus-Set-Goals (1)
Photo: Kate Shill Gardner by Tim Gibson for Well+Good

2. Running helps you find focus and set goals

Another amazing running perk is that it’s so different for everyone, Miller says. Her own mind is only really quieted when she’s training super hard, which is why she likes marathons. “This may be the case for you—and if it is, sign up for a race as motivation!” she says. “But if not? That’s okay, too. You don’t need to run any races to get a benefit from running.”

Running, in other words, is kind of like a truth serum. You have to tune in to your body and ask yourself important questions about what’s working (and what’s not), and what your goals are. And it’s hard to be dishonest when you’re huffing and puffing midway through a run.

Photo: Katie Shill Gardner by Tim Gibson for Well+Good

3. Running reminds you that sometimes all you need is a bit of persistence

“Don’t get frustrated if starting is hard, or re-starting is hard, or if just getting out the door seems impossible,” says Miller. “I had a lot of days like that. I still do.”

Running challenges you to be consistent, no matter your level, and serves as a reminder that sometimes all you need in life is to put one foot in front of the other—literally. “Just putting on your running clothes may be enough. Just saying you’ll run one mile will be, too,” Miller says. “Often I’ll say that and end up running three, four, or five.”

Running is awesome, but injuries aren’t. Here’s how to avoid the most common injuries new runners face. Also: running shorts. They’re back!