Everyone wants to be healthy – that’s no surprise. It’s the one thing that can directly impact our lives, and the enjoyment we may (or may not) get out of it. Most of us know as well that being active is a major contributor to that. So how to exercise for better health? Well, today is your lucky day, because that’s exactly what I’m going to talk about – with a focus on running and why you might (if you are indeed a “runner”) want to do it less.
Western society is a land of extremes. The “more is better” attitude is everywhere. We want to own big houses; we want to drive fancy cars, eat super-size meals, buy tons of clothes, toys, things, and more things, etc. etc. Problem is, this sort of behaviour is starting to have a negative impact on the world around us, AND on our own well-being. Yes, we do the same when it comes to exercise.
Gone are the days of moderate but consistent physical activity. Think of it – less than a hundred years ago, we spent most of our time working around the house and in the garden; we walked to town and/or to school; we built things with our bare hands. Nothing to make us really sweat buckets – for the most part – but we were moving frequently nonetheless.
As we progressed into the twenty-first century however – as computers and machines started doing a lot of that same work for us and the majority of people have become increasingly sedentary – we’ve changed our movement practices to counteract this fact.
Many of us have adopted a “I’ve sat all day and now I have to do something” tendency. We blast ourselves either before or after work with a sweat-inducing, body shaking hour (or two) of high intensity activity – whether it’s in a gym or on our own. It could be running 10k’s on the daily, to crazy weight-training routines, HIIT workouts, Crossfit, spinning classes, Insanity, you name it, we just want to go until we drop. It’s not a good workout otherwise, right? How else [insert sarcastic tone] are we going to get that “beach body”?
But just like we are discovering that our planet doesn’t like having so many cars and factories and other pollution-producing entities, it seems that our bodies may not really like these crazy intense workout sessions either – at least, not every day and over the long term.
Cardiologist Dr. James O’Keefe – a professor of medicine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Director of Preventive Cardiology at the Mid-America Heart Institute of St. Luke’s hospital – believes that our modern, fast-paced, technology-driven lifestyles (with the addition of an over-processed, fast food diet) is what’s responsible for a lot of the disease and disability that we suffer from today. I tend to agree.
In his TED Talk, he discusses the ramifications of extreme exercise, mainly in the form of excessive running. He says, “We are not born to run [over long distances]. We are born to walk. We need to be walking more today. We need to be strolling.” Sure, he agrees that we should be moving rather than sitting, just not at such high intensities and for prolonged periods of time.
According to Dr. O’Keefe, prolonged high-intensity exercise can do bad things to your heart, causing enlargement and the development of scar tissue.
But that was back in 2012.
More recent studies on the topic seem to suggest that while plaque build-up in the arteries does occur (with a higher incidence in men), the composition of these plaques (which appear to be predominantly more calcified in runners), makes a difference. Their stable nature could mitigate the risk of plaque rupture, and acute myocardial infarction.
So what should we believe? Just hang on…
Also, there are lots of other people who argue the opposite of Dr. O’Keefe. Points that suggest we ARE born to run include the fact that as humans, we can keep cool when exposed to the sun compared to most other mammals because we sweat and are bipedal – by standing upright, a large percentage of our body surface is shielded from the sun compared to most other animals.
Other runner proponents have also cited the fact that humans have flat faces and teeth set far back in our heads which gives us a better centre of gravity and which allows us to run easily. Also, it has been noted that our Achilles tendons (Chris how does this help?) and that we have nervous systems that produces pain-killing endorphins – something that helps to make those long distances bearable.
If you think about our ancestors, or even toddlers and other animals – with their (shall we say) “untainted movement patterns” – you can get some incite into what is truly a “natural” way of living. Do little kids and animals sit most of the day and then run or jump around for an hour straight? Typically no. It’s more of a “rest (in different modes – note that reclining is not the same as sitting is not the same as squatting is not the same as standing still), move moderately fast, rest, move, rest, move really fast, rest, move” sort of pattern – none of the segments lasting for a particularly long time.
OK, now let’s talk about running for a minute, shall we? Lots – and I do mean LOTS – of people do it, to the exclusion of all other things. They are “runners” – it is part of who they are, and they train day after day, year after year, competing in 5, 10k’s, marathons, etc.
Even if I believed that humans were MADE to run (and I’m not even going to say they are or aren’t – and this is to answer your question from earlier), there is still a BIG problem that I see with doing so on a regular basis, and that comes from my experience dealing with overuse injuries.
As I said before, runners like to run. Often times, that’s all they like to do. And I see many, many injuries because of it.
The most common running-related injuries that I see in clinic include shin splints, achilles tendinopathy, plantar fasciitis, patellar tendinopathy, iliotibial band syndrome, tibial stress fractures, and patellofemoral pain syndrome.
If all you are doing is running, you probably aren’t stretching and working strength and mobility to counteract its affects. Because if you were, then you likely wouldn’t have time to run every single day.
Consider this: your body is a machine that is vulnerable to having its parts worn down. If that is the case, why would you subject it to the same stresses day in and day out if you didn’t have to? Wouldn’t it be smarter to change it up, and work that machine in a variety of ways over time?
But you just LOVE to run. I know.
An athlete who does any sport exclusively – especially at a high level where they train often – will suffer from overuse injuries. Working through and preventing them is an integral part of what they do.
Knowing that, I think it’s really, REALLY important to ask yourself, what ARE you training for? If you want to be a “runner” per se because you just love it so much and you MUST run daily and compete often, then I’m telling you to expect to have problems. That is your choice.
If on the other hand, you just want to be fit and live an active and healthy life, my suggestion? Try to incorporate more frequent but natural movement patterns into your day. You know, take the stairs, work in the garden, go for a hike, play road hockey with the kids, etc. Try to add movement and activity wherever and whenever you can – the little things count. Use the rule: DECREASE THE INTENSITY; INCREASE THE FREQUENCY.
Also, when you are working at your computer throughout the day, take short activity breaks often, like every fifteen to thirty minutes or so. Set a timer to get into the habit if you have to. These breaks don’t have to be anything more than getting up and stretching and moving around a bit. You just want to get the blood flowing again and work out whatever kinks have set in. When we talk about “sitting disease” in another video, you are going to see just how important doing this is.
Now, when you DO workout, try to think of it from an injury prevention standpoint. Include a variety of strength training modalities, make sure to include flexibility/mobility work, do different types of workouts all the time. As for cardiovascular training, intervals are great because they give you a lot of bang for your buck without the time commitment and without putting undo stress on the body.
In the end, in order to exercise for better health, if you move often throughout the day, you won’t need such crazy intensity when you actually go to do something in the first place. And working in a variety of ways will save your muscles and joints, keeping you going strong for as long as possible. Isn’t that what we all want? Finally, if you pay attention to your diet – by eating whole foods, and cutting out all the processed crap – even better. Getting that “beach body” (though it shouldn’t be your focus) will happen just the same.
Reminder: you can’t exercise away a bad diet, but that’s the topic for another post as well.
That’s been a word from me (Dr. Chris) – #notyoureverydayortho 🙂
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