Running the (Short) Distance for Your Health

People searching for answers about which physical activities net the greatest health benefits now have a helpful resource to inspire them to get moving.

A recently published review of four large studies shows that people who run a total of 51 minutes a week achieved health benefits that were similar to those enjoyed by people who run for longer amounts of time and distances greater than six miles in a week.

At first glance, this information seems to discredit the American Heart Association’s recommendation for 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity – walking, jogging, swimming or biking – for most adults. However, the results shared in this latest evidence only pertain to running. So, the Heart Association’s recommendations for these different types of moderate physical activity still remain valid.

“The biggest takeaway of this report is that physical inactivity is the greatest threat to our health,” said Michael Swartzon, M.D., a Baptist Health Medical Group physician who specializes in primary care sports medicine at Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute. “It’s not surprising that these large studies prove that physical activity helps reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease and other potentially fatal conditions.”

In fact, the latest published information confirms that people who ran a minimum of 51 minutes a week decreased their body fat and waist circumference and lost weight. (Waist size and body fat are indicators of risk for developing cardiovascular disease.) Additionally, researchers discovered reductions in incidence of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes, high cholesterol, heart and lung conditions and certain types of cancer, such as kidney cancer, in these individuals.

Moderate runners also had a lower risk for osteoarthritis and the need for hip replacements, and for disability with aging, compared with nonrunners. Further, the authors reported a reduction in death and cardiovascular death of 30 percent and 45 percent, respectively. And they reported that running at this lower dose has the potential to add three to four years to your life.

Dr. Swartzon cautions that running may not be for everyone and urges people to speak with their doctors before starting any exercise regimen. But, he says that increasing physical activity contributes to one’s daily dose of exercise and significantly improves one’s health overall.

He also warns against drawing any conclusions about the researchers’ findings that extreme endurance training, like that associated with marathons and triathlons, maybe harmful to one’s health.

“Marathons and triathlons are tests of endurance,” he said. “These events require proper training, muscle strength, cardiovascular fitness, as well as bone and joint health that supports the repetitive high impact. Plus, mental focus has to be there.”

Dr. Swartzon says that these prolonged strenuous physical activities do take a toll on the body, as the studies suggest, but recovery is an important and necessary part of any training program. “Other studies have shown that cell damage and stress on the heart and blood vessels after an extreme endurance event is temporary,” he said. “Competitive athletes, who have been properly trained, know they must allow their bodies to recover.”

While running may not be for everyone, Dr. Swartzon notes that this latest research also supports increasing your physical activity in general, with the added benefit of improving your quality of life.

“This review article suggests that physicians should recommend mild-to-moderate exercise to patients who are able,” he said. “People don’t have to reach marathon-level training to get a great benefit. We suggest adding at least 30 minutes of physical activity to your daily routine,” he said. “There’s a cost to living a sedentary lifestyle that you can minimize by focusing on moving your body regularly.”

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With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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