8 Daily Healthy Habits That Will Better Your Runs and Lengthen Your Life

These upgrades will improve your performance both in races and at the doctor’s office.

Trevor Raab

At the start of a new year, many runners set big goals—new distances, increases in mileage, personal best times. Dreaming big can motivate you, but research shows your chances of achieving your goals increase when you break them down into smaller process goals or daily and weekly behaviors that support your bigger ambitions.

To that end, practicing daily healthy habits are key to reaching your larger running goals, as well as to living a healthy, happy, and long life.

How Daily Healthy Habits Help Running and Add Up to a Long Life

Many process goals not only improve running performance, they also align with expert-recommended daily healthy habits that lead to better wellbeing and a longer life. In other words, the same tweaks to your routine that support you in running stronger and faster will likely also enhance your overall well-being.

Let’s say you want to run faster in 2024, for example. To achieve that goal, you might schedule a weekly workout focused on speedier intervals so that your overall pace will increase over the course of the year. Intervals also support your health by improving your cardiovascular system.

“Consistency—small, steady steps—makes a huge difference, not only in terms of improving your health, but also improving your running,” Alex McDonald, M.D., a family and sports medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente in California and a former pro triathlete, tells Runner’s World.

Think of it like a bank account, he says. Each small shift represents an investment in your health and performance. As the months and years pass, the benefits continue to accrue, and in the future, you will have better health and fitness.

To gain those rewards, here are eight daily healthy habits to try in 2024, and why you should work them into your schedule.

1. Set a Bedtime

Count at least eight hours back from the time you have to wake up. That’s your bedtime; do your best to turn the lights out at that time.

In the half-hour to hour beforehand, create a calming routine to wind down, recommends Mireille Siné, a certified run coach based in Los Angeles. Read a book, listen to chill music, or do some yoga poses or mobility moves.

How this helps running: Sticking to a schedule is one of the best ways to promote adequate sleep, one of the best recovery tools available, McDonald says. During sleep, your pituitary gland releases a compound called growth hormone, which promotes muscle repair, which also helps you adapt to your training and reduces your risk of injury.

How this helps overall health: Getting enough sleep serves as a foundation for health and well-being, McDonald says. “There are so many metabolic processes that go on during sleep, I don’t think we even fully understand the myriad of benefits,” he adds.

So far, per the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, seven to nine hours nightly has been shown to improve mood, cognitive abilities, heart and brain health, and metabolic function.

2. Find Running Buddies

Hook up with a running group in your area—search online, on social media. Or simply reach out to a friend or neighbor and ask if they’d like to meet up for some kilometres.

How this helps running: Especially if you’re struggling with motivation, recruiting a partner or two can help you stick to a running plan. “It makes it more likely for you to stay consistent if people are expecting you to show up at a certain time in a certain place,” Becky Kuypers, L.P.C., a mental skills coach with 26.2 Coaches, tells Runner’s World.

How this helps overall health: Loneliness and isolation contribute to depression, dementia, heart disease, and stroke. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., recently raised an alarm about the risks of disconnection—and recommended deeper relationships as a cure.

The running community can be particularly powerful for runners who already have health problems, says Siné, who has lupus and specializes in coaching other athletes with autoimmune disorders. Chronic conditions can feel isolating and alter your self-perception. Joining a running group allows you to define yourself outside of your diagnosis. You’ll strengthen your identity as an athlete and a friend, rather than simply as someone who’s sick.

3. Lift Some Weights

Many runners would much rather be out on the roads or trails than in the weight room. But this year, it’s time to work in at least two weekly strength-training sessions.

How this helps running: The stronger your muscles, the lower your injury risk, Anh Bui, D.P.T., a marathoner and physical therapist at Run Resiliently in Oakland, California, tells Runner’s World.

“Incorporating strength training just two times a week can make you a more durable and resilient runner,” she says, which means you’re able to handle more mileage and hard sessions. That, plus the ability to push off the ground with more power, improves your performance.

How this helps overall health: Strength training also improves your cardiovascular health and longevity, according to the American Heart Association. Even if you’re already running regularly, adding in strength training further reduces your risk of early death, per a 2022 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

4. Stretch and Roll

Mobility describes the movements you need for both life and running, including strength, balance, coordination, and range of motion. Set aside a few minutes at least a few times a week—and ideally, daily—for a quick mobility routine, Bui says. Include yoga poses like cat-cow, child’s pose, or the open-book stretch.

For optimal results, pair them with foam rolling. Aim to roll each major muscle group in your lower body once or twice weekly, Bui recommends. That includes quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

How this helps running: While strength training makes your muscles more powerful, mobility allows to you unlock a greater range of motion. This places your hips, knees, and ankles in the proper alignment for healthy, efficient running.

How this helps overall health: Mobility moves also alleviate pain and stiffness and improve function. This, along with strength, helps you stay independent as you age.

5. Take Mindfulness Moments

Many pro runners swear by meditation—but going from zero to 30 minutes of silent contemplation can feel intimidating, if not impossible. That’s why Kuypers recommends what she calls micro-mindfulness moments. Take a few brief periods throughout the day to set distractions aside and tune in to what’s going on around you.

When you’re walking, for example, put away your phone and take off your headphones. Pay attention to each of your five senses: the feeling of the ground under your feet and the air across your cheeks, the sound of birds or traffic, the sight of other pedestrians, and smells and tastes like exhaust fumes or garlic wafting through the air from a nearby restaurant. “Those little teeny micro-moments enable you to have a mindfulness practice without having it be overwhelming,” Kuypers says.

How this helps runningMeditation and mindfulness—the practice of staying in the present moment, without judgment—can improve your mind-body connection in a way that enhances performance. For example, a program that included two 30-minute mindfulness training sessions per week improved results on a treadmill test after five weeks, according to a study in the journal Neural Plasticity.

How this helps overall health: Research suggests mindfulness and meditation can improve your overall quality of life. It also helps to ease specific conditions like anxiety, chronic pain, and potentially even substance abuse disorders.

6. Eat More Plants

Rather than aiming to restrict your diet this year, think about what you can add instead—specifically, plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

How this helps running: These nutrient-dense foods provide your body the fuel it needs to run well and the building blocks to recover afterward, McDonald says.

Research suggests that plant-based diets are beneficial for endurance performance. Whole grains, fruits, and starchy veggies provide carbohydrates to replenish muscles’ glycogen stores. The antioxidants in fresh produce can buffer cell damage caused by the stress of exercise. And plant-based diets decrease inflammation, which can speed recovery from hard workouts.

How this helps overall health: Many of the same mechanisms protect you from conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and you don’t have to go completely vegetarian or vegan. According to a 2020 study in the BMJ, getting 3 percent more proteins from plant-based sources—think beans, lentils, and tofu—instead of animal products reduced the risk of early death by 5 percent.

7. Fuel Long Runs

Speaking of fuel, another habit many runners overlook is consuming enough of it during long training runs. If you’re on your feet for longer than an hour, it’s a good idea to take in carbohydrates, McDonald says.

Currently, many sports dietitians recommend aiming for up to 60 and even 90 grams of carbs an hour during long races like half and full marathons. Practicing this during training makes it easier to stomach on race day and helps you get the most out of your training runs.

How this helps running: Replenishing glycogen stores helps you avoid the dreaded bonk, powering you to your athletic potential.

How this helps overall health: If you don’t fuel while you’re working out, it’s harder to stay on top of your energy needs throughout the day, McDonald says. This can lead to conditions like low energy availability and relative energy deficiency in sports (RED-S). RED-S can stall your performance and lead to short- and long-term health consequences like mood disordersstress fractures, and other injuries, heart problems, and fertility issues, according to a 2023 International Olympic Committee consensus statement published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

8. Keep a Journal

Your GPS watch or phone app may track metrics like mileage or pace. But for a true picture of what’s happening in your running—and your health—add some extra notes, Siné recommends.

One approach is to jot down how you felt during your run immediately afterward. You can also set aside time in the evening or the next morning to free write and reflect on your day.

Write down not only your emotions and experiences but also the factors may have contributed to how you feel. If your legs felt extra heavy on your easy run, for instance, could it be because you overdid it the day before or you skipped your warm up? If your mood was low, did you sleep poorly or skimp on self-care? Be sure to note any small aches and pains that pop up, too, Bui says.

How this helps running: Journal for a while and you’ll notice patterns—trends in how your thoughts and behaviors affect your training, Siné says. Once you do, you can use that information to set new, personalized process goals. For example, you might notice that you run much faster and feel better when you fuel before a morning run—that can help you commit to your prerun snack.

Plus, you’ll notice when small niggles are worsening enough to seek treatment. When you do visit a sports medicine doctor or physical therapist, you’ll be able to tell them more about when the problem began and how it developed, Bui says. That can help them treat your injury effectively, so you’re back on the road more quickly.

How this helps overall health: Journaling may improve mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. And again, spotting patterns allows you to tweak your routines to support your overall well-being. For instance, you might notice that drinking alcohol disrupts your sleep and makes you feel anxious. You might choose to set a goal of cutting back.

Overall, treat each small tweak as a chance to stay curious about how your behaviors influence both your running and your health. And while January represents an ideal time to focus on healthy habits, don’t fret if you’re reading this later in the year. “You can start whenever you want and do a little bit each day,” Kuypers says. “Every step in the right direction is still moving you forward.”

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