The benefits and drawbacks of running

October 15, 2019

The benefits and drawbacks of running


The first marathon is said to have taken place in 776 B.C., where the very first event of the first-ever Olympic games was a foot race. The first notable marathon runner was a Greek soldier named Pheidippides, who is said to have run from Marathon to Athens to deliver the news of a military victory against the Persians in the battle of Marathon. Upon his arrival from a 24-mile run, Pheidippides collapsed to the floor and dropped dead in a heartbeat — which we will get into later.

In 1986, the Olympic organizers paid tribute to Pheidippides by hosting a marathon that spanned a total of 24.85 miles that started at the Marathon bridge and ended in Athens. Needless to say, that only 9 out of 25 participants finished the race. The rest? Only their doctors know what happened. This event inspired the Boston Marathon the following year. However, it wasn’t until 1908, when the marathon was first established as 26.2 miles at the London Olympics. Thirteen years later, the International Amateur Athletic Federation officially declared the marathon to be a 26.2-mile distance.

Today, running is a hobby, recreational activity, means of exercise, method of training for competition, and even the topic of lifestyle conversation. People put such high regard for running that it’s incorporated into their workout plans.

Cardiovascular exercises are essential to your heart health, and in a world surrounded by fast food and unhealthy habits, there’s no wonder why runners are so concerned about their health. Keep reading to find out the benefits and shortcomings of running for your body from a cardiological standpoint.


Why is running good for you?

A man and woman running

1. Heart rate increases

While you’re running, the muscles in your body contract. In order to do so, they require oxygen, glucose, ATP, and amino acids. Your muscles feed off these compound and contract themselves to create products such as lactic acid and carbon dioxide, which need to be carried away from the muscles. During the running process, your muscles will require both the addition of nutrients and elimination of waste products simultaneously. For your body to meet this demand, your heart rate will increase rapidly as it pushes and circulates blood throughout your body to flush out the toxins and replace them with fresh blood. An increased heart rate is a good sign of proper circulation.

2. Blood circulation increases

Pulmonary circulation is the process where fresh oxygen that we breathe in enters the blood and oxygenates it. In systemic circulation, the left ventricle pumps oxygen-rich blood into the main artery or the aorta. The blood travels from the main artery to larger and smaller arteries and into the capillary network. Exercise allows your ventricles to remove waste product from your body. Your blood tends to lactate in your legs while you’re running, however, to prevent your legs from swelling prematurely, your heart recirculates this blood to prevent it from causing any damage. Running keeps the blood in your system fresh, it drains out unnecessary elements and reenergizes your muscles.

3. Your cardiac muscles get stronger

Your heart is the most important muscle in your body. If it stays ambulatory all the time, it doesn’t get the exercise that it needs. Running makes your heart beat faster variously at different rates. The worst thing you can do for your heart is to stagnate it at a low rate because it won’t get the movement it needs. For your heart to be healthy, it needs to move and contract higher than the normal rate, which is the same case for all the other muscles in your body. You can think of the contractions in your heart as one jumping jack. For each jumping jack that your heart does, it increases the likelihood of plaque buildup in your arteries. One of the leading causes of middle-aged men worldwide is heart attack. You can reduce the risk of heart attack and plaque buildup by going on a 20-minute run three to four times a week.

4. Oxygen uptake increases

Our bodies are composed of 75% water and water's component counterpart to hydrogen is oxygen. When you run, two of the most vital organs of the body jump into action: the heart and the lungs. Your cardiovascular and respiratory systems work in unison to oxygenate the different parts of your body. Your lungs bring oxygen into your body, to provide energy for it to burn and remove carbon dioxide, the waste element created when your body produces energy. Your heart, on the other hand, pumps the oxygen to the muscles, via the bloodstream, that is doing the exercise.

When you exercise, and your muscles work harder, your body uses more oxygen and produces more carbon dioxide. For your system to meet this labored your body's coping mechanism is to your breathing — from about 15 times per minute — or 12 liters of air when you are resting to up to about 40–60 times a minute — or 100 liters of air during exercise. Your circulation process also speeds up to take the oxygen to the muscles so that they can keep moving.

5. It boosts brain power

Running, especially when done outdoors, helps keep your brain full of pleasure-inducing hormones. Exercise, or running in particular releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins. Additionally, like numerous antidepressant medicines, running stimulates your brain to hold on to mood-boosting neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine.

In addition to limiting or reversing age-related brain shrinkage, running affects brain chemicals in such a way that sets runners up to live with healthier-than-average brains later in life. One study measured the neural markers and cognitive function in middle-aged athletes and non-athletes. While the cognitive function scores were similar, the researchers found out that the athletes' brains showed greater metabolic efficiency and neural plasticity.

6. Reduces stress and anxiety

The proven mental benefits of aerobic exercise have a neurochemical basis. The happy hormones released by running not only wash you over with a sense of calm but dramatically reduces your stress and anxiety. Exercise significantly lowers the levels of the body's stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Take note that adrenaline isn't necessarily bad, in fact, your body produces more adrenaline during your "bursts."

It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that is the body's natural painkillers, and mood elevators. This feeling is also called the "runner’s high."’

7. Strengthen muscles

Running strengthens your muscles, not grows them. The reason why you gain muscle mass when you lift weights is that your muscles produce microtears that heal and expand the size. Running, on the other hand, keeps you lean and strengthens your muscles through repetition. Any exercise will strengthen your muscles through repetition, but running, in particular, engages your entire body and uses your own weight and the gravitational pull to yield results. Not only that, it promotes lubrication production in your joints by allowing the synovial fluid to flow freely through the crevices of your joints. Some studies have even shown that running increases your bone density.


When does running become detrimental for your health?

Running is comparable to an amazing drug, which means there is an ideal dose range. If you don’t get enough of it, you don’t reap the benefits. And if you take too much of it, it could be harmful or maybe even fatal to your heart.

Woman hydrating after a workout

1. If you overdo it

You can’t have too much of a good thing, otherwise it becomes bad. The same principle applies to running. Your heart can only take so much fluctuation and exercise.

When you overdo it, scar tissue may build up in the heart muscle, which can lead to sudden death. Marathon runner's cardiomyopathy is not related to age, gender, degree of conditioning or speed but rather the excessive amounts time you spend running. Like we said earlier, there’s only so much exercise the body can take and process. While the odds of dying at a marathon are 1 out of 100,000, you don’t have to wait until you’re exhausted and about to go tachycardic before you decide to moderate your running habits.

Another condition that excessive running can cause is hardened arteries. MRI’s of long distance runners showed elevated calcium deposits in their arteries, which eventually make them stiffen out. The healthy amount of calcium deposits is 0% but some marathon runners have shown a 1800% calcium deposit amount in their arteries — which is harder than bones!

2. If you’re not using the correct technique

Runner's knee is the common term used to describe any one of several conditions that cause pain around the kneecap, also known as the patella. These conditions include anterior knee pain syndrome, patellofemoral malalignment, chondromalacia patella, and iliotibial band syndrome. Runners tend to bang on to the ground without thinking that their knees are their primary shock absorbers. If you don’t roll through your foot, you’re asking for an injury.


The Heart rate tachometer

Your heart works differently at different rates. Low intensity workouts are ideal for fat burn and high intensity bursts ignite the fight or flight reaction in your system which is present in most competitive athletes.

A smartwatch that can monitor your heart rate

The rates are as follows:

First gear (55-65% MHR)

Low intensity

Fat burning

Ideal for foraging

Based on your basic heart rate

Second gear (65-75%)

Moderate intensity

Fat and glucose

Ideal for hunting

Third gear (75-90%)

Anaerobic (lactate system)

Near maximal output

Fight or light survival benefit


Running has its fair share of benefits and disadvantages. As long as you do everything in moderation, you should be fine. Also, before you start a new exercise program, consult with your physician or healthcare provider. They will point you in the right direction on how to start and how fast you should progress.

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