Run for Your Life: Running Safety Tips and How to Maximize Your Routine

Dayna Dye

Remember the exhilaration of running on the edge of breathlessness through an open field as a child? The time to recapture that feeling may be now.

If findings from a recent analysis are an indication, any amount of running could lower the risk of premature death. The report, published on November 4, 2019 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, concluded that “Increased rates of participation in running, regardless of its dose, would probably lead to substantial improvements in population health and longevity."1


Is Running Good for You?

In general, running is a healthy activity, but there are specific concerns that need to be addressed when considering embarking on a running program. The most important among them are one’s current state of health and safety when running.

Is Running Good for Your Heart?

Running is among the type of exercises labeled as “cardio” that elevate the heart rate and benefit long term cardiovascular health when engaged in regularly by fit individuals. The heart, like all muscles, is strengthened when it is exercised.

People need to be in relatively good health to engage in running or any other vigorous sport. It is important to have a relatively healthy cardiovascular system, which includes the heart, lungs, veins and arteries. Smokers, people who are morbidly obese and those who don’t exercise may find themselves out of breath quickly when running. Anyone who decides to engage in running should already be in relatively good shape. To get there, start by walking several times per week, and gradually increase speed and distance. Always check with a physician before starting any exercise program.

Consider whether your day-to-day nutrition is optimal. Protein helps provide the foundation to support healthy muscle function. Make sure your intake of this essential macronutrient is more than adequate. Whey or pea protein powder supplements added to a liquid are an easy way to boost protein intake.

Historically, it was believed that people with heart failure (a condition in which the heart fails to adequately pump blood) should rest and avoid strenuous exercise. However, more recent findings indicate that heart failure patients can benefit from a regular form of exercise, and staying physically active is recommended.2 In fact, a 2019 meta-analysis concluded that patients with heart failure experienced improved functional capacity with regular treadmill exercise.3 It should be emphasized that individuals with heart failure should discuss their exercise options with their cardiologist before starting any new exercise program.

Running Heart Rate

It’s recommended to stop to take one’s pulse periodically when running, especially when feeling out of breath to the extent that carrying on a conversation isn’t possible. Fitness trackers can measure heart rate and transmit the information to other devices. Or, wear a watch with a second hand and measure beats per minute the old-fashioned way.

Average maximum heart rate and target heart rate zone decrease every five years after the age of 20, according to the American Heart Association, which has a heart rate zone calculator on their website www.heart.org.4 When starting a running program, aim for the lower end of the target zone, which is half of the maximum heart rate. If heart rate exceeds the target zone, try a slower pace. Regular running will help condition the body over time so that it’s possible to run faster and longer while staying within target zones.

Healthy people whose heart rate during exercise is lower than the target zone can try picking up the pace until the target zone is reached.

Is Running Good for Your Bones?

While running is a weight bearing exercise that helps increase bone density, people with osteoporosis are at risk of experiencing fractures during high impact activities such as running. The risk of being diagnosed with the disease can be lowered by engaging in regular physical activity throughout one’s life and maintaining optimal vitamin D and youthful hormone levels. Periodic testing for bone density, reproductive hormones and serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D is suggested.

It’s necessary to be free of injuries that can be aggravated by running, such as those of the knees, ankles or feet. Painful conditions, such as arthritis, tendinitis or plantar fasciitis, may make running difficult. Milder forms of exercise may be better for these individuals. Runners should wear supportive footwear with good traction and an ability to reduce impact to the feet.

Related Article: Keep Your Joints Healthy During Exercise

Running on a track designed for the purpose is ideal, but not everyone has access to one. Running on city streets exposes runners to careless drivers, vehicle exhaust and hard surfaces that increase impact to the joints. Avoid major roads, slap on sunscreen, wear running shoes and a hat, and run with a buddy for added safety. Or, if your living space permits, invest in a treadmill.

Benefits of Running

Not only does running benefit the heart, bone and muscles, but like all exercise, it can benefit the brain. In fact, regular, vigorous exercise may help improve memory in older adults.5

In the analysis cited in the introduction to this post, researchers pooled the results of 14 studies that evaluated the association between running or jogging and the risk of mortality among a total of 232,149 individuals who had been followed for 5.5 to 35 years.1 They found that any amount of running was associated with a 27% reduction in the risk of death from all causes in comparison with no running, as well as a 30% lower risk of cardiovascular mortality and a 23% lower risk of death from cancer.

Benefits of Running in the Morning vs Night

While running during the evening or night may feel cooler and result in less damaging ultraviolet (UV) exposure than running during other times of the day, runners and other pedestrians are more difficult for drivers to see. Consider wearing bright colors, a reflector vest, and not running near major roads.

Additionally, some people find it hard to wind down before bed after engaging in vigorous exercise.

Benefits of Running in the Morning

Running in the early light of morning avoids the excessive UV light exposure that occurs later on and its positive effects on mood and ability to handle stress can make it a great way to start one’s day.

If you’re in good health and you haven’t tried running, it’s worth getting out there and trying it. The runner’s high, caused by the release of brain chemicals known as endorphins, is no myth.

“Push the limits,” advised Sanjay Gupta, MD, in his book, Chasing Life. “Chasing life is hard work. Challenge yourself with some strenuous exercise.”6

At the end of the chase, longer life could be your ultimate destination.

About the author: Dayna Dye has been a member of the staff of Life Extension® since shortly after its inception. She has served as the department head of Life Extension® Wellness Specialists, is the author of thousands of articles published during the past two decades in Life Extension® Update, Life Extension Magazine® and on www.lifeextension.com, and has been interviewed on radio and TV and in newsprint. She is currently a member of Life Extension’s Education Department.

References:

  1. Pedisic Z et al. Br J Sports Med. 2019 Nov 4.
  2. “Lifestyle Changes for Heart Failure,” American Heart Association. 2017 May 31. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/treatment-options-for-heart-failure/lifestyle-changes-for-heart-failure
  3. Gerlach S et al. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2019 Nov 15. pii: S0003-9993(19)31370-X.
  4. “Know Your Target Heart Rates for Exercise, Losing Weight and Health,” American Heart Association. 2015 Jan 4. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/target-heart-rates
  5. Kovacevic A et al. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2019 Oct 30.

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