Monday 11 December 2017

Is running for exercise really any benefit for you?

Ahead of Monday's Mini Marathon, a look at the pros and cons of pounding the pavements

Last year's mini marathon
Last year's mini marathon

John Costello

Dublin's city streets will see a stampede of runners, ranging from zippy teenagers to superfit grannies, taking part in this Monday's Mini Marathon.

With over 41,000 women involved, the country is firmly in the grip of a running renaissance.

Indeed it seems, in these economically challenging times, the simplicity of running is one of its major attractions. It is a cheap, efficient way to work out, keeps you fit and slim, and gets you out and about.

But while runners will bore you to death about the benefits of their hobby, the question remains is running really that good for you?

We decided to talk to the experts and review the latest evidence to find out just how healthy it actually is to run.

Is it good for losing weight?

Any exercise is good when it comes to a healthy lifestyle, but for weight loss it is hard to beat running.

Last year the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California compared weight loss in thousands of runners and walkers who took the same amount of exercise over a six-year period. The result was that while both groups shed weight, the runners lost 90pc more.

"I've seen some of my clients achieve amazing results," says Tina Murphy, founder of Run With Tina. "However, it needs to be combined with a healthy diet."

Is it bad for your joints?

Every runner at some point or another has had someone wag their finger in their face and say: "You'll destroy your knees." However, despite the general consensus among couch potatoes that running is bad for your joints, scientists have struggled to find any conclusive link between the exercise and osteoarthritis.

Indeed, many believe running offers the best protection for joints.

"The quick answer is you don't develop arthritis by engaging in running," says Grainne O'Leary, head of Education and Support Services at Arthritis Ireland. "Running helps to increase your strength and improves your cardio, so it is recommended as long as you start gradually and wear the proper footwear."

Research has even found there is no difference between the impact of walking and running on the joints. A study at Stamford University, California, tracked nearly 1,000 running club members and non-runners over 21 years and found no difference in the state of their knees.

Can running cause heart problems?

With stories of marathon runners dropping dead from cardiac arrest mid-race hitting the headlines every so often, the belief that running is hard on the heart has become entrenched.

However, while there is evidence that endurance runners have elevated levels of brain natriuretic peptide, a substance secreted by the heart that indicates cardiac dysfunction, and higher levels of cardiac troponin, a protein that can indicate damage to the heart muscle, only 59 runners suffered heart attacks among the 10.9 million participants in marathons and half-marathons in America from 2000 to 2010.

Indeed, the benefits vastly outweigh any risks.

"We know exercise provides a wealth of benefits," says Dr Jenni Jones, of heart disease and stroke charity, Croi.

Research has shown running strengthens the heart muscle, improves blood flow, reduces high blood pressure, raises HDL cholesterol ('good' cholesterol), and helps control blood sugars and body weight.

"If people have chest pain, palpitations, a history of high blood pressure or heart disease in the family they should seek a medical check up before engaging in any exercise," says Dr Jones. "However, it should not be a case of looking for reasons not to exercise, but rather look at reasons you should."

Does the type of running shoe you wear really matter?

The increasing popularity of barefoot running has had many asking do they really need to be spending so much on trainers. The answer, it seems, comes down to two things – your natural running style and how long you have been running.

"There has been a lot of lighter shoes and five-finger shoes coming out recently," says Dr Ian Kenny, a lecturer in Biomechanics at University Limerick. "But I am quite sceptical of people changing to them without having how they run diagnosed. This is because it is important to understand how their feet will cope with them."

He also says people are most prone to injury in the first six months so they should be more focused on their footwear and slowly build up their training.

Is running good if you on the wrong side of 40?

While working up a sweat running may seem like something that should be avoided as we age, research actually suggests otherwise.

In fact, it is the high intensity and high impact nature of running that those over 40 have most to gain from.

When running club members aged 50-plus were compared with healthy non-runners, the boffins at Stanford University found running not only strengthened and improved bone mass, but was particularly effective at protecting against osteoporosis of the hips.

The study also found that runners were less likely to die earlier. In fact, over the 20-year period the study was carried out, 34pc of the non-runners died compared with just 15pc of the runners. And the surviving joggers were, in general, in better overall health.

Irish Independent

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