Running is a great way to get outdoors and grab some exercise, but running on a road can only do so much for your body, mind and spirit. You’re thinking about traffic lights, cars, pedestrians, and other distractions that keep your attention off of your body’s relationship to the environment. You’re also breathing in city air full of exhaust, air pollution, and tar particles from the road; listening to noise pollution or your MP3 player; and worrying about what time you’re going to get back home. And that’s assuming that you run outdoors in the first place – running at the gym, on a closed track, or on a treadmill are even more diluted versions of trail running. All of this can change with trail running, and the additional health benefits are overwhelmingly positive. If you’ve ever even considered trail running, keep reading to find out more about why your body will thank you for hitting the trails instead of the road.
1. Have More Fun
You don’t have to worry about your form, how much sweat you’ve gotten onto your running outfit, what people will think of you, or how many more songs are on your clever “Running Track” playlist. You get to play in the dirt, tear up the trail, and run through the woods like you’re crazy. Doesn’t that sound like more fun?
2. Strengthen Critical Joints
Trail running helps you strengthen important joints like your ankles and knees, which will allow you to continue to remain active even decades from now. The challenging nature of a trail forces you to learn agility through quick decision-making and follow-through with your body, which helps you build muscle where it counts the most.
3. Reduce Stress on Your Body
Since you aren’t running on asphalt, your body will be absorbing much less of an impact than it did when you ran on roads, gym floors, or even tracks and treadmills. Running on packed dirt reduces impact stress, and there are usually parts of the trail that are even softer – portions that have been overtaken by vegetation or sections of looser dirt.
4. Decrease Overuse Injuries
Because you aren’t making the same robotic movements over and over, you’ll be able to reduce the number and severity of overuse injuries sustained while running. Trail running means constantly adapting to the terrain, so your body is moving a different way with each step. This is especially helpful if you have problems with your running form and are easily injured as a result.
5. Challenge Yourself
Running on a trail requires you to consistently watch five to ten feet ahead of where you are, making split-second decisions and commanding your body to follow orders. You want to keep your pace up and aim for consistency, which is difficult when you have to adapt to sudden changes in terrain, but it’s a great challenge for your mind and body.
6. Improve Your Balance and Proprioception
Proprioception is your sense of your body’s balance and placement in space, which is improved by making the constant physical adjustments required by trail running. When you spot a large boulder ahead and decide to scale it, you identify placement points for your feet – and your success depends on your ability to move your feet to the exact position needed to navigate the terrain at your current pace. Eventually, you’ll develop a heightened sense of exactly where each part of your body is at any given moment.
7. Enjoy the Scenery
This one is pretty self-explanatory: nature is beautiful, so enjoy it while you’re out there. Taking a break from the daily grind is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
8. Build Strength Faster
Trail running involves some intensive movements that aren’t usually achieved in road, gym, or track running. Because you’re constantly adapting to unpredictable terrain, your body is required to keep up by supplying bursts of power and energy whenever they’re needed. You’re also working your muscles harder overall by navigating this terrain.
9. Exercise Your Core
The precise movements that result from a heightened sense of proprioception extend from your core outward. You’re constantly trying to find a state of balance, and this requires you to use almost every muscle in your body, especially the ones in your core.
10. Focus on Your Body
When you’re running on the trail, you can focus on your body’s relationship to the environment and the way it responds to every thought that goes through your head. You don’t have to be entertained while you run – sometimes, just learning more about yourself is more than enough.
Helen is a freelance writer and the resident blogger for Go College.com, an informational website offering tips about online college sites.