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By Dr Izzy Smith

We all know running is good for us.

Studies have demonstrated regular runners have decreased rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression and even live longer!

However, science also tells us it may not just be the running that’s behind all these health benefits.

Humans are social creatures. Our brains and DNA have evolved over thousands of years to make us crave being part of a community and experience meaningful social engagement.

Why is our biology so strongly wired towards being accepted and part of something bigger than ourselves?

Because our survival as an individual and race literally depended on it. As hunter gatherers we depended on our tribe to secure food and protection so our genetics literally changed to make us value and thrive from social connections.

Fast forward to the present day and in the last hundred years or so, we have lost this survival requirement to be social. We live in an ever individualist society that almost prides itself on not needing anyone!

Running Group at NightThe problems with this? 

Our DNA and genetics haven’t had time to catch up with the rapid change in behaviours and social isolation is now a major risk factor for heart disease, depression, dementia and even premature mortality.

Studies show that social isolation can increase your risk of a heart attack - by as much as smoking ten cigarettes a day!

Continuing to fast forward to the present day and anyone who has been part of a run group will know how positive, friendly and accepting they are.

Young or old, fast or slow, shy or outgoing, different genders or religion, none of it matters when it comes to a run group.

The only criteria is being enthusiastic about getting outside for a trot and supporting your fellow runners. It’s a community, not just a run group.

For this reason, running can help forge some of the most unlikely friendships.

People who start as strangers and on the surface have nothing in common, within weeks are sharing all things from their bowel habits to how they use running to cope with the various stressors in their life.

These friendships develop so easily as the mental and physical challenge of running exposes a raw and vulnerable side of people that makes it hard for bonds not to form and acquaintances to become friends.

Add in post-run beer and parma nights, trips away for trail runs and friendly faces cheering you on at events and it’s clear why running and run groups are rapidly growing in popularity.

Connections like these are all that are needed to prevent the negative impact of social isolation. The exact mechanisms behind this are unclear, but what isn’t in doubt is that regardless of who you are, being part of a community has endless benefits for our physical and mental health.

So the next time your doctor congratulates you on excellent routine physical and blood results, maybe you should also thank your run group buddies and let them know first rounds on you at post-run beer and parma night!

We've been following Dr Izzy Smith on Instagram for a while and approached her about writing an article for us after being so impressed with her straight talking insights in to all things sports & health. We highly recommend you follow her too @doctorizzyksmith