Running does wonders for your body—it lowers your risk of heart disease, boosts brainpower, helps with weight loss, to name a few. But one lesser known benefit is what running does for your looks. Not only does running have you looking your physical best, but it gives you soft and beautiful skin that may fool people into thinking you’ve shaved off a few years.
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You don’t need to zoom like a marathon runner or buy the latest athletic wear to start running. Erin Beck, a personal trainer and the director of training and experience at STRIDE Fitness based in California, says a 30-minute run at least three times a week is enough to notice results on your appearance. If that sounds too much for you, Beck recommends starting with a slower workout like a walk or brisk jog that still gets your heart pumping. “You can absolutely still get the benefits even if you’re at a lower intensity.” The key is to remain consistent and eventually challenge yourself to run longer or at a faster pace to see results sooner. Your hard work could pay off with a major glow-up.
1. Rejuvenate dull skin
As you run, your heart rate increases compared to when you’re sitting. Exercising places stress on your muscles, and that requires having enough oxygen to keep them moving. Your cardiovascular and respiratory system responds to the increased demand in oxygen by pumping more blood through the body and at a quicker pace. Blood vessels in the muscles then enlarge to receive more of the oxygen-rich blood. Beck says that as your body pumps more blood, it’s simultaneously flushing out toxins from your bloodstream when you sweat. “It’s great for your veins, your arteries, and especially your capillaries,” says Beck.
Capillaries are small blood vessels that carry blood all over the body. Some run right underneath the skin and help with regulating body temperature by expanding or contracting when exposed to heat or cold. Dilated vessels cool the body down by increasing blood flow to the skin surface, which allows heat to escape into the environment. Beck says the increased blood circulation during a run gives the skin more opportunity to get nutrients from oxygen-rich blood. Better oxygenation of the skin helps with the regeneration of new skin cells, leaving behind supple and glowing skin.
2. Channel luscious locks
That increased blood circulation in your skin during a run also helps with the appearance and growth of your hair roots. Lindsey Bordone, a dermatologist and assistant professor at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, says running works similar to a regularly prescribed hair growth medicine called minoxidil. They both dilate blood vessels so that when blood is delivered to the tiny vessels in your scalp, there is more oxygen-rich blood making its way to feed hair follicles.
[Related: Rosemary is the secret to long and healthy hair. Here’s how to use it to grow luscious locks.]
3. Tone down acne and breakouts
Bordone says running can help lower hormones that cause acne. The secretion of “stress hormone” cortisol and testosterone increases oil production in skin glands, making you prone to clogged pores and acne breakouts. Running long distances can help with reducing cortisol levels and as you lose weight, you’ll reduce the risk for conditions that cause imbalances in testosterone levels, such as polycystic ovary syndrome.
Another obvious benefit to running: sweating. Sweating opens up clogged pores and flushes out acne-causing bacteria and dirt. Though Beck warns that if you’re not washing your face before and after workouts, the dirt and sweat lingering on your skin can dry it out and create more opportunities for acne breakouts.
In general, your post-workout routine is also important. An indirect benefit of running is that your brain makes healthier decisions after your workout: Running increases brain flow to brain areas involved in emotions and higher thinking—and that includes choosing what you eat. “Typically, when you’re treating your body in a healthy manner, your body reacts by craving healthy things,” says Beck. “Those urges to get more sleep, drink more water, and eat less unhealthy meals will help with clearing up acne.”
4. Reduce the appearance of cellulite
Cellulite occurs when fat attaches beneath the skin. The more fat cells you have in your body, the more likely cellulite will appear. This is because as fat cells accumulate, it pushes up on the skin before being pulled back down by tough connecting cords between your outer layer of skin and the fat underneath.
“Think about it like bubble wrap,” says Beck. “Those connectors surround air pockets in between your skin and the fat cells. When those connectors pull too tight they create that bubbly-looking effect on your skin the same way bubble wrap has a bubbly texture on top.”
[Related: Pilates can improve your posture and balance. The killer body is just a bonus.]
Once you create a fat cell, it cannot be destroyed. But with exercise, fat cells shrink and your skin tightens. Cellulite, in turn, becomes less visible.
5. Give your face a lift
The increased blood flow and oxygen to your face help with cell turnover, nourishing healthy skin cells and regenerating new ones. The blood circulation flushes out free radicals as well—unstable molecules accidentally made during cell metabolism that damage cells and contribute to skin aging.
A run can also decrease cortisol levels and increase the production of endorphins, which help relax the face. “Having tension in our jawlines, for example, can lead to wrinkles,” explains Beck. “But with running, you’ll have less tension in your face and that can prevent you from deepening out those wrinkles.”
However, outdoor runners should be aware of repeated exposure to UV sun radiation. Without taking precautions like using sunscreen or wearing hats, UV rays damage the DNA in skin cells and make them unable to carry out their jobs. Damage to the skin can lead to premature aging, such as wrinkling and leathery skin.
But no matter whether you enjoy running in the park or on a treadmill, both experts agree the best thing is to get your heart pumping. Even if it’s a short run around the block, over time your small efforts will make a big difference in your health.