Will a Running Habit Support Heart Health?
Exercise does a body good. There is also a ton of research to suggest which specific exercises may be better (or worse) for certain health goals. For example, we know that for weight loss, a combination of aerobic exercise to burn calories plus weight training, which builds muscle mass (which has more thermogenic cells) is a winning formula. If you have joint pain, yoga or tai chi may offer range of motion exercises that are more forgiving in terms of load on painful areas. Swimming or water-based exercises might be better for morbidly obese individuals. There is data to suggest that certain individuals may sustain a sudden cardiac arrest event during running and the news has covered some cases of this phenomenon in past years. So is running a good match for cardiac health?
Let’s start with current exercise guidelines that the World Health organization recommends. Adults ages 18 to 64 should aim for 150 minutes of “moderate” exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise weekly. More is better in this case, except if you overdo high intensity exercise. You can stop reaping the benefits if you engage in prolonged daily sessions of high intensity exercise daily, over-working your body, and putting yourself at risk of lower immunity response and injuries. Individuals should aim for daily exercise and cross train, meaning do different activities to maintain challenge and to avoid overuse injuries.
Based on the recommendations, a “light runner” could run several miles weekly and aim for a nine minute per mile pace to meet the moderate recommendations. Individuals who may be training for a 10K competition or marathon might triple or quadruple the number of miles and the pace of the mile. There’s no doubt that moderate to intense running puts a strain on the heart muscle, but if you are in good health or introduce running slowly, building up your miles and speed gradually, you should be fine. Some people do have undiagnosed heart disease or a family history of certain types of heart disease that may put them at greater risk of an event during exercise – but that would include any type of vigorous exercise – not just running. Others at higher risk for a cardiac event during high intensity exercise are individuals who are not experienced exercisers and start a challenging regimen without easing into the new fitness routine. The key is to heed signals from your body. If you feel any discomfort you should back off and decide if you need a medical evaluation.
SCA or sudden cardiac arrest is not common, though there is a slight increase of risk during high intensity exercise. Individuals who meet the WHO (world Health Organization) guidelines, have a decreased risk of death compared to sedentary individuals. Research also suggests that meeting exercise guidelines can lower the risk of death, specifically from heart disease, by as much as 40 percent, compared to individuals who don’t exercise at all.
Despite the guidelines, any exercise is better than NO exercise!!