What the heck am I talking about? How could running possibly kill you? I’ll tell you.
Conventional wisdom has us believing running is good for us when it really isn’t. We naturally think running is one of the absolute best forms of exercise for both weight-loss (or maintenance) and our cardiovascular health.
In reality, running can have serious long-term adverse health effects. I know that wonderful feeling while running; when you zone out, switch off, and feel high, allowing you to push on. That’s your endorphins playing games with your mind. This sensation distracts from how your body is feeling, allowing you to push harder and further, causing even more damage.
As a former professional skier, running was a big part of my training routine. We ran everywhere, on the streets, mountain trails, and even up and down the bloody mountains. It was all crazy stuff and extremely damaging to the knees, ankles, and lower back. As if hardcore skiing wasn’t already bad enough on the same joints!
Thanks to those unscientific and excessive training methods, today, I have a full titanium knee after my knee exploded during a crash in 1990. I can’t complain, it could be worse.
There are 2 main problems with running:
- Joint and muscle injuries
- Risk of cardiovascular disease
Joint and Muscle Injuries
Running is a high-impact activity, and over time, any high impact activity will cause joint damage in the form of arthritis or torn and inflamed ligaments. The longer, faster, and more often you run, the more likely these injuries will occur. I doubt there’s a serious runner out there who can claim not to have had any such injuries.
Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
This one may come as a surprise to some of you, especially as conventional wisdom tells us to run often to build a robust cardiovascular system. This paradox is precisely the reason so many folks world-wide collapse and even pass away from heart disease caused by overtraining or overrunning. Heart damage often occurs due to a long
Excessive running may thicken the heart tissue, causing fibrosis or scarring, and this may lead to atrial fibrillation or irregular heartbeat. Prolonged exercise may also lead to “oxidative stress,” a build-up of free radicals that may bind with cholesterol to create plaque in your arteries.Heart co-authored by cardiologist James O’Keefe
And what can happen when there’s plaque build-up in your arteries? You guessed it, a heart attack or stroke!
Here’s a small list comparing running and walking and the effects both have on your body.
A small but painful example below:
The causes of shin splints are clear. Shin splints happen from overuse with too much activity or an increase in training. Most often, the activity is high impact and repetitive exercise of your lower legs. This is why runners, dancers, and gymnasts often get shin splints.Venturaortho.com
Have you ever suffered from shin splints? I have; it’s painful and can take up to two months to heal with the proper rest and recovery!
Cortisol – Fight or Flight?
Our warning system! If we are in danger or stressed, our bodies immediately release cortisol, our Fight or Flight “stress hormone,” which is a built-in mechanism to warn us of danger and to take action. Unfortunately, we also release cortisol when training in an anaerobic state.
That goes for any fast or stop and go sport, such as running, football, tennis, basketball, gym workouts, any activity that causes us to be short of breath. Our brain doesn’t differentiate between real danger or self-inflicted stress, such as anger, arguments, or sporting activities. Either way, cortisol is released, which can over time cause:
- Anxiety and depression
- Heart disease
- Memory and concentration problems
- Problems with digestion
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight gain
How Does It Work?
Your hypothalamus and pituitary gland — both located in your brain — can sense if your blood contains the right level of cortisol. If the level is too low, your brain adjusts the amount of hormones it makes. Your adrenal glands pick up on these signals. Then, they fine-tune the amount of cortisol they release.Harvard Health
Are you guilty of this? I used to be. You know when you see those people running fast or pumping weights hard in the gym, with their faces all scrunched up and looking like zombies? Guess what’s happening in their bodies? Tons of excess cortisol is being pumped into their bloodstreams, causing damage to the heart, day after day.
I’m sure you also know the sights of guys or gals posing in the gyms, looking at their muscles in the mirrors, or even worse where I live in Bali, walking or driving around topless on scooters, showing off their bulging upper bodies.
Besides being ridiculous, these people think they are the bee’s knees, super cool, and all the rest of it. In reality, inside, their organs are fed up and getting sick of the abuse. The result can be premature death, due to a heart attack or stroke, induced by massive overtraining, at any age! That’s not a great way to go, folks.
What else to do then if you enjoy running? Walk!
Walking is one of the most underrated yet most valuable and practical activities that promote excellent health and longevity
Walking is probably the most natural, healthy, and longevity-promoting activity available to us that our genes require daily to function healthily. This is always true, no matter how old, but especially the case as you age.
A UCLA study of the elderly showed that walking more than 4,000 steps a day creates a thicker hippocampus, allows faster information processing, and improves executive function. Conversely, sedentary older people were found to have thinner brains, lower overall cognitive function, and increased disease risk.
Building your base fitness with a sensible structured daily walking routine is going to boost your health, as long as you keep your heart rate at or below 180 BPM minus your age. If you can jog slowly, keeping your heart rate at the same level, that’s great. However, if your “jogging” routinely drifts above that critical cutoff, you could be endangering your health.
But again, once you are jogging or “running slowly,” you are increasing the pressure and wear and tear on your ankles, knees, and lower back, especially if you happen to be overweight.
Therefore, the question begs itself, why jog and risk injury or disease when you can walk as much as you like, pretty much eliminating all risk of injury and or disease?
The Stress Factor.
These days it’s commonly understood that excess stress can cause heart disease and be a killer. Constant stressful behavior such as shouting, anger, rushing, pushing to meeting after meeting, overworking, overeating, undersleeping, and so on, all cause stress. What does stress do? The same thing, it alerts you that you are in danger by pumping cortisol into your bloodstream and thus heart.
Running fast and often, continuously above your ideal aerobic heart rate zone, does the same. Because of the continuous stress placed on your heart during a run, cortisol is released and pumped into your bloodstream, causing slow but definite damage to your heart. The “cortisol rush” is also the reason you feel you can achieve more under stress. Cortisol stimulates and keeps you alert until it doesn’t, and you break down.
Building the Blocks
To achieve the absolute best results healthily and safely, combine low-impact and aerobic activities, such as walking, biking, or swimming with brief twenty or thirty-minute strength training sessions, two to three times a week. Strength training using only your bodyweight is the safest way to go. Gym weight training methods create unnatural body movements increasing the risk of injury.
The best bodyweight exercises:
Master these exercises, build a routine, and in combination with fast walking, you will burn fat and build lean muscle in no time!
You can read about the best strength training methods here; “10 Simple Steps to Efficiently Building Lean Muscle.”
If you are up for the challenge, another great and safe way to improve your heart health, strength and lose weight is sprinting. But please, if you decide to try sprinting, please do this:
- Sprint only once a week.
- The session shouldn’t last longer than 10 to 15 minutes.
- Please read up on how to sprint here; “Why Sprinting is the Best Way to Burn Fat.”
Thank you for reading, and please feel free to ask any questions in the comments section. Happy running, or should I say, happy walking!?
Writer, Former Olympic Athlete & Certified Health Coach
“It is my mission to help people regain control of their health by building a healthy, strong heart, body, and mind, supporting a longer life.”