8 Reasons Why Running Is the Easiest Exercise

Public Domain. Franklin D. Roosevelt Library

As counterintuitive as it may seem, here's why running is perfect for the lazy exerciser.

According to polls, one of the most common resolutions is to exercise more. To which I say, who needs motivation to exercise? And not because I’m an athlete at heart (I am not), but because I learned the magical secret to exercising more and I don’t need resolve to encourage an otherwise languid me. The secret is running.

To everyone who thinks that running is hard and awful – I hear you. I once thought that too, but when approached properly, it is easy and so wonderful (as long as your knees and other body parts are in compliance, of course). Seriously, I detested it – but after a proper introduction to it I succumbed to its charms. Fifteen years, nine marathons, and one running book later and I still love it, especially notable given my propensity for restlessness. Here’s why it is such an easy activity to start and stick to.

1. It can be as easy (or hard) as you want
Many people start running by going out and running as fast as they can for as long as they can. That is so not fun. It hurts in the moment – it's awful! – and can cause injury in the long term. But easing into it is a whole different story; starting with a slow pace and short distances and gradually working your way up can be virtually pain-free and actually wonderful. Starting at a running track is a great way to begin; increasing in slow increments adds up quickly and before you know it, you can do multiple miles without a thought. From there, you can push as hard, or not, as you want.

2. You can do it on your own schedule
Classes at the gym are great because of the structure and group motivation factor; but they always end up never working for me. With a busy life, it can be hard to accommodate a class schedule – and if your life is already too structured, the pressure of another specific commitment can be daunting. On the other hand, with running, you just need to carve out the time whenever you can, here and there, and change it around as your schedule changes.

3. There is no commute
Sometimes you may want to drive to a particular place to run, but ideally you open the door and voila, there you are. If you have a 20-minute drive or ride to the gym, you can do a 40-minute run in the time it would take you just to commute. So, you save time, save wear and tear on your car, and the planet thanks you as well. Additionally, some people can actually run to or from work, turning the whole commute thing completely on its ear.

4. The gear is simple
It is important to have proper running shoes – and that doesn’t mean cute, but appropriate for your stride and how your feet strike the ground (most running stores offer advice on this). However, that’s really just about all you need. There is no equipment, and expensive sport-specific clothes are available but not required – saving you money and storage space. If you become very involved, you may decide you need specific seasonal running clothes or hydration accessories, etc, but even still that will be cheaper than bike gear or other equipment.

5. You can do it anywhere
You can run in the city, you can run in the suburbs, you can run in the country. You can run on a track, in a park, on trails, on the street or even at the beach, like the members of the Women's Army Corps stationed in North Africa in 1944 pictured above – see how much fun they are having? You can run at home, you can run when you travel. And in fact, running around new cities when traveling is one of the most wonderful ways to get to know a place.

6. There is loads of support
I’m not the only one who has acquired an undying devotion to running. In 2015, over 17 million people in the United States completed a race, and that’s not accounting for runners who don’t run in events. So many runners means a lot of support – there are books, magazines, web sites, virtual coaches, real coaches. And many areas have amateur running clubs which offer group runs and are a good place to meet running buddies if you want to make your running more social.

7. You get a lot of bang for the buck
Running has too many health benefits to list here, but rest assured, there are many. How does it compare to other forms of exercise may be hard to tease out specifically, but one easy assessment is in its calorie-burning potential. Of the 36 exercises listed on the Mayo Clinic calorie-burning chart, running comes in first to fourth, depending on the pace, for burning calories. A very comfortable pace of 5 MPH (12-minute miles) for a 160-pound person will burn 600 calories per hour; that’s more than 100 calories per mile. For a 200-pound person that goes up to 755 calories per hour – and bumping up the speed has even more of a dramatic effect.

8. It's undeniably green!
I'm not sure if being sustainable makes it any easier on the runner, but it sure makes it easier on the planet. Many of the reasons above also make running a very green choice. I wish race organizers would pay more attention to the waste created at running events, but as far as a personal discipline, I'm not sure I can think of an exercise that has a lower impact on the planet. Aside from a pair of good sneakers, all it takes is you. How easy is that?