Effects of Running on the Female Body (by a Medical Doctor)

Women run to stay fit, compete in races or for the sheer love of running. There are records as old as 700 BC, where females ran to honour Greek goddess Hera in ancient Greece.

As a woman what should you know about running?

To get most from your running, whether it is for fitness, fun, race performance or weight loss, it is important to expand your knowledge with regards to proper training, health and of course nutrition. Frequent running can give many beneficial effects and make changes to the female body.

What does regular running do to the female body?

A study done by the Mayo Clinic found that running about 6 miles a week may add up to 3 to 6 years to your life. While regular running can increase your life span there are many benefits of running to the female.

  • High intensity anaerobic running is one of the most potent stimulators of growth hormone. Growth hormone contributes to stronger muscles which enhances performance. By frequent running and proper training you will gain strength and speed which is similar to the effects produced by steroids.
  • Running helps to burn calories. Fast running burns more calories than slow running. This helps to lose weight and can make you closer to your dream body.
  • An American study found that female runners produce a potent form of Oestrogen hormone much less than their sedentary counterparts. This will protect female runners from developing uterine, breast and colon cancer by reducing the risk by around 50%.
  • Running helps you get healthy skin by stimulating circulation. Running can help to transport oxygen and nutrients to the skin while flushing out waste products and byproducts of oxidative stress. You will notice that your skin will be clearer with a healthy glow.
  • Running keeps you physically active while helping you to fight effects of ageing because it reduces stress.
  • Osteoporosis is often considered a “Woman’s Disease” as it is prevalent among many post -menopausal women. Osteoporosis can lead to fractures in women. As frequent running strengthens your knees and muscles as well as increase in bone density, you will be better protected from osteoporosis related fractures. Running also helps to protect joints and reduce inflammation. When you have a stronger body your metabolism will increase, bone density will improve as well as your overall health will be increased.
  • Running releases endorphins which are “feel good” chemicals. Even just 30 minutes of running can improve your mood and fights stress and anxiety. A peaceful state of mind will definitely show in your outer appearance as you become more lively as well as physically fit.
  • Running improves the sensitivity to insulin and fights against insulin resistance. By increasing the insulin sensitivity, running reduces the risk of getting type II diabetes by a significant percentage.
  • Heart disease and strokes are the main causes of premature death in women. Regular running is found to reduce the risk of heart disease and strokes in females. Running is also known to reduce your blood pressure. Running boosts health of your vital organs such as heart and lungs by improving circulation. This will improve your overall health.

How does running change the physical appearance of a woman?

Your physical appearance is largely dependent on your body composition. Body composition means how much of your body consists of water, bone, fat, lean muscle and organs. Increasing lean muscle and decreasing subcutaneous fat is a key benefit which you gain with regular running.

However your genes and your diet play a major role here.

To have a healthy body you have to have a healthy amount of fat in your body too. Fat helps to balance your hormone levels and gives you energy. So our muscle/fat ratio should be balanced. Your body weight is determined by the energy you consume and the energy you burn.

If you have a regular balanced diet, you can use running to create a calorie deficit, which means running can cause energy expenditure and promote fat loss.

What does running do to your calves?

Running works well on toning your calves and shins. Calf muscles are constantly in motion while running. Running will give you toned calves. Make sure you do dynamic stretching before you start running to enhance these effects and to prevent injuries.

Does running affect your thigh muscles?

Front of the thighs are formed by quadriceps and back of the thigh by hamstrings. Both these muscle groups are well worked out while running. This allows fat burning and increasing lean muscle mass in your thighs, giving you a toned look.

Does running make your butt bigger?

Running can help you to sculpt your backside depending on which type of running you do. Your butt is mainly formed of pelvic bones, gluteal muscles and fat.

Running targets mainly your legs and butt. The muscles which are used to power you through your run are quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and glutes. Regular running will definitely get you a toned, fit body including a firm butt. However running per se will not make your butt bigger unless you specifically work out on your glutes.

Marathon runners do not have big butts, when compared to sprinters. Sprinters train their glutes by means of weight training to improve performance.

Can you lose arm and shoulder fat by running?

As running causes fat burning in the entire body, your arms will also get slimmer with time. However you cannot spot reduce the fat in your arms.
If you swing your arms while running, you can help more fat burning and toning of arms and shoulders. Weight training combined with running can help you to achieve more toned arms and shoulders.

Does running affect your belly fat?

Running helps to reduce fat from entire body, provided there is a calorie deficit. Belly fat reduction is the most difficult and last to go. When you run regularly, you may notice while you lose fat from your body, your belly fat is reducing gradually too.
Make sure you stick to a proper diet plan where you maintain that calorie deficit. Do exercises to work out your abdominal muscles to have a toned belly.

Does running affect your chest and breasts?

Running doesn’t shrink your breasts. If you do regular running and have a balanced diet with a calorie deficit, you may notice that your chest area will also become smaller with time, while you continue to lose fat from your body.
Work out on your pectoral muscles, if you want a fuller look to your breasts.

What can you do to enhance some of these effects?

Running increases the lean muscle up to a certain point. Increased running will not increase your lean muscle beyond this point. Therefore running should be combined with weight training to achieve the desirable level of muscle/ fat ratio and gain the shapely toned body you always dreamed of.

What is weight training or strength training?

Weight training is physical training which involves lifting weights. This will help you gain a certain amount of muscle mass while reducing body fat.

According to American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), exercisers aiming to improve strength and power should perform exercises for 8-12 repetitions. If you wish to improve muscular endurance, perform 10 -15 reps of each exercise using a lighter weight. It is important to rest for 2-3 minutes in between weight lifting.

Running is the most popular and effective method of aerobic training. You can start slowly and increase intensity and go for longer distances with time. Aerobic training is the optimal mode of exercise for reducing fat mass.

If you practice poor dietary habits, however much you run will not help you to lose weight or achieve a slim body. Aerobic exercises such as running also control your appetite thus helping you to maintain a regular balanced diet.

What is meant by a good running technique?

Maintain upright posture and a slight forward lean – The female runner should maintain a relaxed frame and it is essential to have an upright and a stable posture. When the body is not tense or rigid, it helps to prevent injuries. As a runner, you should not tilt your chin up or scrunch your shoulders. Use the core of your body to maintain a relaxed and an upright posture.

By leaning slightly forward, the female runner can place center of gravity on the front part of the foot. This can avoid landing on her heel. This posture facilitates the use of the spring mechanism of the foot. This also prevents the runner from landing her foot in front of the center of gravity which can result in a braking effect.

Learn how to breathe while running. Deep breathing will enhance your lung capacity.

What are the negative effects of running on the female body?

Many injuries can occur if you are not careful with your running, especially if you don’t maintain the proper running technique and not warming up prior. Repetitive stress on tissues without adequate recovery time is one of the main reasons for injuries.

How to reduce some of the injuries which occur to the female body while running?

  • Warm up before running
  • Focus on the correct running technique
  • Perform strength training exercises
  • Allow time for recovery
  • Apply ice on sore muscles
  • Eat a regular balanced diet with essential nutrients
  • Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration while running

Female runners will notice that their thighs and calf muscles are more toned and lean whereas your arms may look flabby. To prevent flabby arms or batwing appearance, focus on exercising and toning your arm muscles as well as stronger upper back. You may achieve this by practicing dumbbells, push- ups, triceps dips, planks, punches and wall push offs.

You can get help from a physical trainer on how to do these to get toned arms.

Tips to gain a bigger butt

Uphill sprint

As you lift your body weight up a slope, uphill sprints build muscle mass and power, thus making your glutes bigger. Speed training employs a technique called sprint loading, which increases the resistance in running workouts.

You can load a sprint by running hills or a staircase. Uphill sprints will make the demand on your gluteal muscles equal to an Olympic lift. Use a 6-10% grade hill and perform 1-2 ten second sprints at the end of an easy run.

Run on the beach

When you run on sand, it is equal to running with ankle weights; as it boosts the load of a run. This will build up your glutes making your butt bigger. Your gluteal muscles have to work harder to plant your feet, displace the sand and then lift the feet up again. Therefore, you have to spend more energy to run on a sand surface than on a hard surface.

Since running on sand is on an unstable surface, it increases the intensity of your work out. This activates your core musculature and glutes stronger.

If you feel that your butt is too small, try doing these glute exercises to develop your gluteal muscles, while continuing your usual running.

Ex: squatting, lunges, hip thrust, barbell deadlift

However, training our glutes 2 -3 times a week should be optimal as this gives the glutes plenty of muscle building stimulus and adequate time to recover and grow.

How can you reduce the size of your butt?

Your butt is not only formed by gluteal muscles but also fat. The recommended time for an adult is 30 -40 minutes of moderate running a day for 3 – 4 times a week.

However if you perform longer runs such as more than an hour a day on a daily basis, it can help to burn excess fat all over your body. It is important to know that you cannot focus only on reducing the size of your butt by running for longer periods. For weight loss you cannot target a particular area of your body. However to lose body fat you have to combine your running with a proper dietary plan in order to create a calorie deficit.

Ex: If you create 500 calorie deficit a day, you can lose approximately 1 pound a week, not only from your butt but your entire body.
Females have a higher percentage of fat than men. This will come in handy for women during long distance running. This additional storage of fat will provide more fuel from slow burning fat.

Female runners and menstrual periods

Many female runners skip their running routine during their periods. However, running during your periods is actually good for you. It is found that running helps to ease symptoms of menstruation such as abdominal pain, cramps and backache because of improvement of the circulation.

As running releases endorphins (feel good chemicals) it will help you to elevate your mood too during your period.

If you are a runner who suffers from menorrhagia (heavy menstrual flow) or severe abdominal pain it is better to avoid running during your period. However, if you feel comfortable enough, watch your intensity of running and do not over do. Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. Stretching before you run will help relieving abdominal cramps during your period.

Most women have 28 day menstrual cycle which is divided in to 2 phases.

The phase before ovulation (release of egg from your ovary) is called follicular phase. During this time oestrogen levels gradually rise.

The phase after ovulation is luteal phase. Here the progesterone levels are high and body temperature also increases. The period occurs when the egg is not fertilized. Then the oestrogen and progesterone hormone levels drop rapidly, which breaks the endometrium (lining of the womb). This leads to bleeding/ period.

Raising your body temperature during your luteal phase may affect your running especially if you run in warm and humid climates.

The stored glycogen in the body is broken down to give you energy while you run. Follicular phase is more comfortable for female runners because the body temperature is low. Also when oestrogen levels are gradually rising, the glycogen breakdown occurs quickly to release energy.

If you do intense running for prolonged periods, your oestrogen levels can become low with time leading to irregular or scanty periods.

Take home message….

Most advertisements which feature female runners are actually models. If your expectation of running is only to gain that ideal body, you may actually not receive the true happiness of running.

Any woman can run despite their age. While aiming to gain a shapely body, your main focus should be to stay fit and healthy. All women who run will not end up with a slim body.

It is more important to be satisfied with who you are and be happy with the results you achieve by running.

Stop comparing yourself with others and simply get that self-boost and post work out feeling of accomplishment.

Running will not give the desired results immediately, but definitely will, if you give it time.

(also don’t forget to check our selection of the best running shoes for women)


References:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Running
https://www.theactivetimes.com/run-race/road/how-running-changes-your-body
https://www.chatelaine.com/health/fitness/health-benefits-of-running-for-women/
https://livehealthy.chron.com/running-make-butt-bigger-smaller-10243.html




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