Worshipers of strength and stamina may find in marathon runners their ideals for veneration, but what they perhaps do not realise is that distance running is also associated with superior mental health. The therapeutic/remedial effects of running extend far beyond physical benefits, say experts.
"Recreational running has dual benefits -- it rejuvenates the mind and recharges the body. Many people find running a therapy where they can push back negative emotions, get time to reflect, de-stress, plan ahead and enjoy their own company," Pradeep Moonot, an orthopaedic and podiatrist at Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre in Mumbai, told IANS.
Raju Easwaran, Senior Consultant at Max Super Speciality Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, New Delhi, agreed.
"Marathon running offers both physical and mental health benefits. The physical benefits include losing weight, becoming fitter and eating better. Your heart beats more efficiently and in time you manage to achieve a reduction in basal heart rate that translates into less work done more efficiently by the heart. In a nutshell, with all the above benefits you will lead a longer and healthier life," Easwaran said.
"On the mental front, you feel more energetic, you start looking better (that may take a while) and, most importantly, you get your stress reduced," he added.
Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California recently discovered that the same bodily process which helps fuel the body efficiently may also have a role in improving memory and learning.
The study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, went on to suggest that the two skills -- running and memorising -- are not so different after all.
If you find these suggestions inspiring enough to ditch the couch and register for the next marathon -- wait.
For, running a marathon without adequate training and preparation under the guidance of an expert may cause grave injuries to your body, warned Rishabh Telang, a fitness expert and level-2 crossFit trainer with Bengaluru-based Cult fitness chain.
"Because marathon involves running 42.2 km, which is a lot, you need to have a lot of strength in the body. For building that kind of strength, you need to do weight lifting. You also need to learn how to leverage the posterior part of the body. That's why resistance training is important. It can help you use the right muscles," Telang said.
"If you want to take part in a marathon, it is also important to have a recovery strategy which should be aligned with physical training. Marathon runners should also be very focused. Meditation and yoga, in addition to physical training, can help provide the mental strength that they require. A balanced diet is just as important," Telang said.
Good nutrition gives energy, enhances performance and reduces muscle soreness.
"To optimise your running goals, when you eat is almost as important as what you eat. Hence a good breakfast at least two hours prior to running or a fruit at least half an hour before the run should be a must-do," Moonot said.
Running a marathon without proper training may lead to various injuries including those of the knees and joints; but if the training is done in a programmed way, the benefits will always outweigh the potential risks, said Puneet Girdhar, Director- Orthopedic Spine Surgery, BLK Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi.
"Running is healthy for our back, joints and makes our body flexible. At the same time it gives better cardiac reserve for the heart, that is, it provides the best pumping ability, improves our agility and vital capacity," Girdhar added.
But just as marathon running may provide mental health benefits, one also needs to have a strong mind to be able to do it.
"With running added to your fitness regime, you can burn a lot of calories which can lead to weight loss. But there are two aspects to marathon running -- a fit body and a strong mind, because running by itself may be mentally strenuous," said Shwetambari Shetty, a fitness expert with Cult and a Zumba Master trainer.
For how long should one prepare to be able to run a marathon?
Experts suggest that is is better to go slow and steady -- starting with 5 km and 10 km running, then a half marathon and finally graduating to a full marathon.
Those with no physical activity should at least train for three months before going for a distance run, Shetty said.