3 Myths About Running and Your Health

December 10-24Every person who takes up running has been confronted by a “helpful” critic who is more than happy to reel off the reasons running will ruin your life. Here’s a look at three questionable claims about running and health:

1. Running will give you a heart attack or other heart problems. It is true that exercise temporarily raises the odds of a heart attack while you're mid-workout, but doing it consistently reduces that risk over the long haul, leading to a net benefit. Going for a run most days of the week is doing far more good than bad for your heart.

2. Running will ruin your bones and joints. A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found no evidence of accelerated rates of osteoarthritis among long-distance runners. Weight-bearing exercise like running helps stave off osteoporosis by maintaining bone mineral density.

3. Running will kill you before your time. According to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, running and other vigorous exercise in middle age is associated with a longer life. Not only that, it will make your later years more pleasant by reducing disability.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

I’ve been a runner ever since reading Dr. Ken Cooper’s book, Aerobics, back in 1968.  (Dr. Cooper was the Air Force physician who helped set up the exercise program for the astronauts, by the way.)

Interestingly, when Aerobics was first introduced, people who had a heart attack were put on six weeks of strict bed rest as exercise was believed to be harmful.  He was largely responsible for breaking this health myth about exercise, and has been one of my heroes ever since.

Dr. Cooper is perhaps the single most important contributor to raising exercise consciousness in the U.S.  I hope I can be as successful at increasing consciousness about natural heath.

For the last 40 years, my bias has always leaned toward running, which I do to this day, and as some scientists have discovered, the human body was most likely designed for endurance running.

And there’s no shortage of research corroborating the health benefits of physical exercise, such as running. Studies have shown that regular exercise can:

Running Away From Coronary Heart Disease

As mentioned in the article above, while strenuous exercise temporarily raises your odds of a heart attack while you're mid-workout, doing it consistently reduces that risk over the long haul, leading to better heart health.

Research also indicates that different types of exercise affect the structure of your heart in different ways. One such study discovered that endurance athletes, such as runners, have better overall heart function than athletes who focus solely on strength training.

Additionally, a large-scale 2002 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that running for an hour or more per week was the most effective form of exercise to decrease risk of coronary heart disease.

In that study, men who reported running had a 42 percent risk reduction compared with men who did not run.

This was followed by weight training for at least 30 minutes per week, which was found to decrease the risk by 23 percent. Men who reported rowing for an hour or more each week, or brisk walking for at least 30 minutes per day, were both found to have an 18 percent risk reduction.

The Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training

Exercise intensity --  which is something I’ve been discussing quite a bit lately -- was also found to play a significant role in reducing heart disease risk. Men who exercised at a high level of intensity decreased their risk of coronary heart disease by 17 percent, while those who exercised at a moderate level had a 6 percent lower risk as compared with men who exercised at a low level of intensity.

Not only does interval training decrease your risk of heart disease better than other forms of exercise, it also increases fat burning, and is therefore something you should definitely consider incorporating into your routine if you’re looking to lose weight.

That said, I don’t endorse running as your exclusive form of exercise.

I also firmly believe it is wise to do some strength training if you are to achieve a high level of overall fitness. I have many dozens of pages on my site detailing the benefits of various types of exercise, including those that maximize weight loss.

Build Strong Bones Naturally With Proper Exercise

Weight-bearing exercise like running actually helps stave off osteoporosis by maintaining bone mineral density, so you can safely discard the belief that running causes osteoporosis or increases osteoarthritis.

Previous research confirms this, however short, intensive exercise bouts have been found to build bone mass most effectively – again highlighting the superior benefits of high-intensity interval training, such as sprinting. And, when daily exercises are divided into two sessions separated by eight hours, the potential for bone production through exercise is further increased.

Although it’s been proven that exercise in your later years can slow down degenerative aging, starting while you’re young can go a long way to help you stave off later bone degeneration. 

Participating in athletic sports in your late teens will help you gain stronger bones; a benefit that can persist long after you stop exercising intensively.

This is because exercise has the greatest effect on bone mineral density during childhood and puberty. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology estimated that young athletes cut their risk of future bone and hip fractures in half by being active.

Running Can Slow Your Aging Process

While younger people are barraged with encouragement to lead healthier lifestyles, the health needs of older people are often overlooked. But running on a regular basis as you grow older has actually been shown to drastically reduce and slow the deteriorating effects of aging.

For example, the study published in the August issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine discovered that elderly joggers are half as likely to die prematurely than non-runners. They also enjoyed a healthier life with fewer disabilities.

Researchers tracked 500 runners (aged 50 and over at the outset) for more than 20 years, comparing them to a similar group of non-runners. 19 years into the study, 34 percent of the non-runners had died, compared to only 15 percent of the runners.

Both groups became more disabled with age, but for the runners the onset of disability started an average of 16 years later! And the health gap between the runners and non-runners continued to widen even as the subjects entered their 80’s.

These findings truly reinforce the importance that older people need to exercise regularly if they want to maintain optimal health into their later years, and increase longevity. Running not only appeared to slow the rate of heart- and artery related deaths, but was also associated with fewer early deaths from cancer, neurological disease, infections, and other causes.

At the beginning of the study, the runners ran an average of about four hours a week. After 21 years, their weekly running time had reduced to around 76 minutes, but they were still seeing health benefits from regular exercise.  

I agree with lead author Professor James Fries who said:  

“If you had to pick one thing to make people healthier as they age, it would be aerobic exercise.”  

It can help you stay mobile and independent far longer into your later years; ensure a healthy heart; keep weight and stress levels under control; and promote better sleep, which is essential regardless of your age.  

For great guidelines on how to go from sedentary to running in just five easy steps, please see the first article listed in Related Articles below.