To Your Health
April, 2010 (Vol. 04, Issue 04)
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Feel the Runner's High

By Dr. Perry Nickelston

For too many people, the only time they'll even consider running is if they're being chased! The truth is running can be easy and fun to do. It's inexpensive, readily available, can be done at just about any age, makes you feel years younger and has massive health benefits. (And if you ever do find yourself being chased for any reason, it would be nice to be able to outrun your chaser!) By implementing a few simple strategies, you can take running to heights never imagined. Let's take a look at some of the fundamentals of running and how to make it a regular part of your exercise routine.

What's the difference between jogging and running?

This distinction might seem obvious, but it's actually an important one: Running means you are moving at a faster pace than jogging. Technically, if it takes you less than nine minutes to complete one mile, you are running. If it takes you more than nine minutes, you are jogging. Jogging is harder than walking because it requires more muscle to go faster, breathe deeper, and maintain proper balance. Running requires more effort than jogging and is more intense. It requires stamina to go faster and endurance to go for longer periods of time.

It is always best to start jogging regularly for approximately one month before progressing to running; this will build up your body's ability to handle the additional stresses and pounding of the joints. Both jogging and running are considered excellent cardiovascular and aerobic forms of exercise that are beneficial to your heart, lungs, muscles and for burning body fat.

What are the health benefits of running?

Runner - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Running is one of the best forms of aerobic conditioning for your heart and lungs. It can significantly increase your metabolic rate and the amount of calories you burn, leading to loss of excess body fat. Running is also beneficial for slowing down the aging process. Those who run regularly are less likely to experience bone and muscle loss due to the body's positive response to additional physical demands.

Running can also have many psychological benefits. Most runners typically report being happier and feeling less stressed from the grind of daily life. Why? Because regular exercise has the ability to alter mood, attributable to a surge in hormones called endorphins. These hormones create a sense of euphoria often referred to as a "runner's high" and can result in an improvement in mood.

Running has also been reported to alleviate stress. One of the most obvious reasons is that the act of running allows the individual to focus on the task at hand (living in the moment), instead of being worried or stressed about work, family or other stressors of daily life. Additionally, running can be very challenging on the body, which can result in the individual feeling a sense of accomplishment by completing the run. It shifts the focus of attention from negative stressors to a sense of pride and accomplishment. In short, you feel good and you look good!

What are the health risks of running?

Running without adequate rest and recovery between workouts can lead to overtraining syndrome. This syndrome occurs when the body has insufficient time to repair itself from the physical demands placed upon it and subsequent "wear and tear" ensues. Your chance of suffering overuse injuries such as muscle tendinitis, joint aches, bursitis, and ligament sprains increases as a result. The most common injuries associated with running are: knee pain (aka runner's knee), hip pain, ankle pain, heel spurs, shin splints, and plantar fasciitis (pain on the bottom of the foot). Fortunately, most of these can be avoided with proper pre-exercise warming up, the right type of running shoes, post-exercise cooldowns, and smart preparation before intensive training.

Excessive running may also cause a negative hormonal response known as the "cortisol effect." Produced by the adrenal glands, cortisol is nicknamed the "stress hormone" since it is released when the body is put under too much physical or emotional stress.  You may experience fatigue, lethargy (a sense that you just can't get moving), depression and achy joints. It is also known as "belly-fat syndrome" because of its tendency to deposit body fat around your midsection. (We definitely don't want that.) Additionally, cortisol is a catabolic hormone, meaning it breaks down lean muscle tissue.

So you see, too much running could actually make you fatter because you'll lose muscle mass and retain body fat. You may look thinner in the mirror, but you'll be what they call skinny fat; skinny in appearance but with an increased total body fat mass. Due to subsequent loss in lean muscle, you will be more prone to injury since the body will have less anatomical support structure for proper movement. So, the key is to keep your running workouts intense, but in moderation and allowing for adequate rest and recovery.