Is Running Good for Your Heart?
There has been tons of research done on the value of exercise and the beneficial list continues to grow and now includes slowing the onset of Alzheimer’s, reducing the pain suffered from arthritis and, in women, reducing the number of hot flashes during menopause.
The two most important forms of exercise are strength training and aerobic. In strength training the benefits come in the form of maintaining and building proper bone and muscle mass. If done for at least 20 minutes, 2 or 3 times per week we can reduce and possibly even reverse some of the body’s natural age related process.
Aerobic exercise, such as running, biking and swimming, stimulates the cardiovascular system and will boost blood flow to the heart. Many of the health benefits that we receive come from the increased blood flow throughout our body.
Studies show that those of us that exercise regularly will reduce our risk of dying prematurely by 25%. Most of that can be attributed to the fact that people who exercise will lower their risk of heart attacks and strokes.
According to Kenneth Cooper, M.D., “Our bodies should last us 120 years.” Cooper claims that we die soon because ‘we don’t take care of ourselves.’
But understand that exercise, in itself, is not the panacea of health and fitness. Exercise is the most desirable way to stay in great shape and to look years younger, but it cannot solve all of life’s medical problems.
The great Jim Fixx, a formidable distance runner during the 1960’s and ‘70’s, died prematurely of a heart attack. Researchers later added genetic factors into the health mix and concluded that eating a healthy diet plays an important role in longevity.
Running, in itself, cannot solve all of ones medical problems and it does not promise the ‘Fountain of Youth’, so why should you dedicate 30 minutes or more a day, 4 or 5 times per week?
Years of running can actually cause minor electrical changes in the heart and sometimes can produce arrhythmias. Running can also cause other changes in the body and unless you are seeing a medical professional that knows about sports medicine they can be confused.
Most medical professionals are accustomed to seeing ill patients rather than the seriously fit. After years of running, some of us can even develop what is called the ‘athletes heart.’ According to Vinod Kurup, M.D., who by the way is a marathoner himself, the condition is quite common in runners.
In sick people the increased ventricle-wall thickness can be an indicator to heart attack and stroke. But an enlarged heart in a runner can be a normal adaptation caused by years of running.
So, is running good for your heart? The benefits of running far exceed the risk associated with the sport. Each of us have to decide for ourselves, but for me the overall results clearly lead me to believe that it is the right thing to do.