If your running routine consists of pounding the pavement in urban parks, recreational tracks or even arenas used to hold competitions, you may think that you’re giving your body the best workout possible, but it could surprise you to learn that your body, mind and sanity are getting short shrift.
Whether you run to escape the stress and pressures of life, you are passionate about competing, just like to stay fit and healthy or you run for all of these reasons, switching your environment to a natural setting not only makes each of your experiences more meaningful and satisfying, but you’ll receive all sorts of other benefits for trail running.
Benefit #1: Your muscles will thank you
Okay, so your muscles don’t hold conversations with you, but if they could, they would lavish you with praise for taking them on trails that work them harder than you do every time to subject them to cement and other hard surfaces.
Sure, it’s important to watch your step if you switch from streets to trails, but with every footfall on uneven, refuse-strewn trails you encounter, muscle groups that can become neglected by smooth surface runners kick in on trails. Because you automatically work hard to compensate for uneven terrain, your body’s balance improves and your core and arms benefit in subtle ways, too.
Benefit #2: Your joints will be grateful, too
According to Dr. Scott Levin, a New York sports medicine professional, despite the fact that trail terrain is littered with obstacles, your joints are treated more kindly on the trail than they are on hard surfaces.
When feet skim trails rather than tracks, the ground “gives” to accommodate the body so hips, shins, ankles and knees don’t take the beating they do each time they land on rigid surfaces. You might even go so far as to call trails “forgiving” in terms of impact on the body’s skeletal structure.
Benefit #3: Getting out of the city is therapeutic
Countless numbers of studies conducted by university sports medicine departments that run the gamut from Harvard Medical School to The University of Essex in the UK tout beneficial and therapeutic effects on the mental wellbeing of runners who choose trail running over asphalt and cement.
It’s easy to see why. Woods, mountains, valleys and meadows deliver solitude that is so powerful, there’s a name for the phenomenon: green exercise.
Emotions even out. Problems are solved. Clear thinking is commonplace—even for runners who carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. Essex researchers say that just five minutes of green exercise boosts a runner’s mood and self-esteem, which is why trail running is often associated with words like calm, joy and tranquillity.
Benefit #4: Give your lungs a respite
Even nations who assiduously work to maintain clean air standards report bad days when the air isn’t up to snuff, and it’s no secret that Singapore is working particularly hard to find creative ways to lessen carbon emissions throughout the land.
But if you substitute natural trails for city streets, you’ll likely find yourself running among trees that work hard on your behalf to clean the air, so concentrations of breathable air are more prevalent here than anywhere else.
You count on your lungs to keep you going, and one of the ways to assure their health is to get the freshest air possible into them as you run to benefit every inch of your body.
Benefit #5: Avoid potential accidents and injuries
We don’t have to tell you that Singapore motorists believe that they own the nation’s roads and have little patience for folks who take to the streets to accomplish their regular conditioning jogs.
But the amount of stress to which you subject your body when you run on city streets has the potential to undermine all of the good you are doing for your system if you’re continually worried about traffic swirling around you and accidents that can happen in a heartbeat.
By finding ways to run on trails, you will be much less likely to encounter potential dangers that surround you when you try to circumnavigate your daily run amid texting, distracted, irritated motorists.
Benefit #6: Get your creative fix
Without the intrusion of cars, pedestrians, cyclists and other city-specific distractions, something amazing happens to your brain. The process starts when you allow the trail to energise and invigorate you.
Before you know it, you switch mental gears and find that you’re able to be mindful of hazards in your path, but that doesn’t distract you from moving into a zone that allows for creative thinking. Once you’re “in the zone,” everything from figuring out how to arrange your new apartment’s furniture to coming up with ideas for how to recruit your colleagues for an upcoming marathon can be made clear.
For trail runners confident enough to unplug from technology while they allow their brains to function at their creative best, the rewards just keep coming.
Benefit #7: Maintain a healthy brain
You won’t be aware of it, but while you’re out running in the wilderness, your brain is busy healing and rehabilitating itself from the assaults of modern society.
If a scientist could hook you up to an MRI machine, she could watch neural activity in areas of the brain associated with mental illnesses change in real time. This transition to sharper thinking and mood improvement can happen when runners stick to pavement, but run trails and the transitionary experience is magnified dramatically.
Negative thoughts, worry and anxiety dissipate, says Dr. Greg Bratman of Stanford University. Bratman’s life’s work is studying brain function and while he’s still working on mapping factors that affect such changes, he believes that the final puzzle piece to naturally treat mental illness is found in our ability “turn off our evolutionarily-rooted stress response,” which is exactly what happens when a runner engages in trail running!
Can you think of a single reason not to make time in your schedule to run trails after reading this article?
Start trail running by registering your slot at the Salomon X-Trail Run now and we promise you’ll never look back.