Could all those miles you’ve been logging be the reason your face sags?

“Runner’s face,” as it’s been called, is a term some people use to describe the way a face can look after many years of running.

And while the appearance of your skin can change due to a variety of factors, running doesn’t specifically cause your face to look this way.

To separate the facts from the myths, we asked two board certified plastic surgeons to weigh in on this urban legend and give us the real truth about runner’s face. Read on to learn more.

If you’ve been around the running community for any length of time, you may have heard the term “runner’s face.”

What your buddies are referring to is not the face you make when you cross the finish line. Instead, it’s the look of gaunt or saggy skin that may make you look a decade older.

The reason, according to the believers, is that all the bouncing and impact from running causes the skin on your face, and more specifically, your cheeks, to sag.

Some people also point to low body fat, or too much sun exposure, both of which are more realistic culprits than the bouncing theory.

If you’re dealing with runner’s face or you’re worried that your skin will suddenly go south if you put in too many miles, don’t worry.

According to Dr. Kiya Movassaghi, an avid triathlete and nationally recognized board certified plastic surgeon, running doesn’t specifically cause your face to look this way.

That said, he does point out that the combination of having a lean body and experiencing long-term sun exposure, regardless of how it comes about, will lead to a gaunt look through the face.

“Slim gardeners, skiers, construction workers, surfers, sailors, tennis players, cyclists, golfers — the list could go on — often have the same characteristics,” he says.

So, why the rumor that running causes your face to change?

“People are simply confusing causation with correlation,” Movassaghi says. “What we call ‘runner’s face’ does indeed often correlate with a runner’s body type and lifestyle, but running does not specifically cause one to have a gaunt face.”

The urban legend that’s coined this look is actually caused by loss of volume and skin elasticity.

“As we age, our skin produces less collagen and elastin, and exposure to UV rays speeds this process,” Movassaghi says.

That makes sense; the aging process and sun exposure do affect our skin. The good news? There are steps you can take to slow this process.

Even though runner’s face is an urban legend, you still need to be diligent about caring for your skin, especially if you’re exercising outdoors.

Dr. Farrokh Shafaie, a board certified plastic surgeon, says to take these critical steps to protect your skin:

  1. Always apply sunscreen before running. Staying protected with the right SPF sunscreen can help decrease your exposure to harmful ultraviolet radiation and decrease your chances of sunburn.
  2. Always moisturize after using an anti-aging or lifting/plumping day cream to rehydrate skin.
  3. Make sure you drink plenty of water. Poor hydration is responsible for the maximum percentage of skin-related illnesses.

Additionally, wearing a hat or sun visor at all times can help protect your skin and eyes from the sun. Plus, it soaks up the sweat!

Now that we’ve dispelled the myth and heard the facts, it’s time to consider all of the reasons you might want to take up (or continue) running.

While not an exhaustive list of benefits, here are some of the more common reasons to hit the pavement.

Running burns calories and may help you lose weight

One of the top reasons many people lace up their shoes and head outdoors is to maintain or lose weight.

This makes sense, especially when you consider that 30 minutes of running at 6 mph, according to Harvard Health, can burn:

  • 300 calories for a 125-pound person
  • 372 calories for a 155-pound person
  • 444 calories for a 185-pound person

Running may help reduce the symptoms associated with anxiety and depression

Running and other forms of physical activity may play a key role in reducing the symptoms associated with depression and anxiety.

Physical activity may also prevent or delay the onset of different mental disorders, according to a 2013 review of studies.

It’s important to note that exercise isn’t a replacement for other forms of therapy, such as counseling or medication.

Rather, it can be part of an overall treatment plan for depression or anxiety.

Running is good for your heart and helps protect against certain diseases

Running and other cardiovascular exercise can help protect you from heart disease, hypertension, and stroke, among other related conditions.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute reports that regular physical activity may lower your risk for:

  • certain cancers
  • diabetes
  • coronary heart disease

Plus, regular exercise can:

  • lower blood pressure
  • raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels
  • reduce triglycerides

Just like any other form of exercise, in addition to the many benefits, running also comes with some potential risks.

While many of the risks depend on your current health and physical condition, some are fairly universal to most runners.

Running may lead to overuse injuries

Overuse injuries are quite common in runners of all levels. It’s partly because of the wear and tear on your body from pounding the pavement, but also from muscles, joints, and ligaments that aren’t prepared to take the load.

For example, these injuries can happen with new runners who do too much too soon, or seasoned marathoners who don’t cross-train or allow adequate rest to recover.

Running may cause certain conditions or injuries to worsen

If you’re currently injured or recovering from an injury, or you have a health condition that could worsen if you run, you may want to find a new form of exercise.

Certain injuries, especially to the lower body, need to fully recover before you put in some miles. Some of the more common running-related injuries include:

Also, running could make the symptoms of arthritis worse without certain precautions. To avoid worsening arthritis symptoms, the Arthritis Foundation recommends:

  • going slow
  • listening to your body
  • wearing the right shoes
  • running on softer surfaces, like asphalt or grass

The lean, hollow cheeks you may see on some runners aren’t directly caused by running, contrary to popular belief.

Lack of sun protection may be the culprit, or simply weight loss.

Regardless of the reason, don’t let this urban legend keep you from experiencing all of the amazing benefits that come with running.