It truly is a miracle cure.
If I were to get you a drug that could keep the heart stronger, the blood vessels more supple, lessens chronic inflammation, help memory, lose weight and reduce the harmful effects of stress, would you buy it?
You may answer, and I hope you do, with another question – what would be the side effects? This no doubt, should be answered first.
I am talking about running and walking. The scientific evidence is huge, of course we are designed to walk but did you know that most of us are designed for running as well. From special ligaments, hairless skin (almost) to muscle fibres, we can out run , hence catch and eat nearly every animal on the planet.
The recommended amount of exercise is 2.5 hours of moderate exercise a week or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. Around half the population in the UK meet this guideline. Often this phrase (light, moderate or vigorous exercise) is bounded about and yet, most people I ask, have no idea what the difference is and say they walk the dog which counts as their exercise.
For me and I take this from exercise science, a light walk with a dog, stopping for it to sniff around (at least that’s what my dog does), puts little effort on my heart or body. It is just what I would expect normal movement to be during the day. Meaning most dog walkers do not get moderate exercise unless walking quickly and getting out of breath etc.
Let me help by explaining what light, moderate or vigorous exercise is. We can measure in something called METs, this stands for metabolic equivalent and is basically a sum, saying when we are sitting doing nothing we burn a metabolic equivalent (MET) of 1 unit per Kg of body weight. At light exercise, we would burn 3 MET and vigorous exercise 6 METs, but for now, lets keep to the basics.
- Light exercise is a stroll (2 METS)
- Moderate is a brisk walk (enough to put you out of breath a bit) 3 METS
- Running (a brisk walk or slow run is similar), so here I mean a faster run 7km/ hour or 4.5 mph, so about a 12 minute mile. 6 METS
A study in January 2020 looked at first time marathon runners who, after training and the race, found a 4 year equivalent reduction in age of the cardio vascular system or even more in older runners compared to before running. That sounds pretty good already right?
Is more running or walking better?
Studies show the biggest health benefit from running to be about 60 minutes per week. Compared with walkers (16,000 walkers compared with 33,000 runners), runners had 38% lower risk of high blood pressure and 71% less risk of type II diabetes. However, this can be a bit of a Daily Mail headline and misleading. Once data was compared and when walkers used the same energy (so longer and quicker walks) to equate to the same energy of a run, (slower or shorter) the benefits were about the same.
Another study of 400,000 people showed 15 minutes of light exercise a day, or 5 minutes of running i.e a vigorous exercise, reduced risk of death by 10 percent compared to more sedentary people of similar age and other variables. So if you are short of time, 5 mins a day gives huge benefits.
It is the amount of energy you use that counts, and if you are short of time, running is a miracle.
I am often asked will I lose weight by running. I have another muse about weight in another article, and it is not all about exercise. However, we do know that runners weigh less than walkers (on average), and certainly less than sedentary people. Another study showed and you won’t be surprised, that reduction in weight was greater in runners than walkers, so the short answer is yes, running will help you lose weight. This may be also because of the increased metabolic rate AFTER exercise. A subject I will get into next time as well and similar to the information I shared in our paper on muscles.
Of course the other miracle here is that despite stereotyped old women and men warning you that running will wear you out (as if we are a non rechargeable battery) and you can bet these people have never exercised. Iowa state uni showed if someone between age 44 and 80 runs 2 hours a week, that is 0.43 of a year running in total. This would provide an extra 2.8 years on average to your life. In other words, 1 hour running adds 7 hours to your life.
Injures and running , more importantly will I hurt myself running ?
One great study at The Royal National Orthopaedic hospital in London studied 82 first time marathon runners. They scanned the knee 6 months pre a marathon and again a few weeks after the event. The result, stronger knees after the event. The knee cap actually showed signs of damage….But wait.. after 6 months this repaired and cartilage was stronger. Running improved your knees health…wiping away the old wives tale of the 1980’s that running causes knee arthritis. (The same was true of the hips, when looking at runners who worked at a total 560km in prep for marathon training ).
To be clear more running or brisk walking reduced the risk of pre arthritis in the hip and knee. It real terms , an average runner has a 3.5% chance of osteoarthritis in their knee or hip, and a sedentary non runner a 10% chance. However, elite runners beware, you may increase your risk and need more bespoke advice, you guys have a 13% chance.
So good news for joggers and brisk walkers. Even better news for walkers is a lower risk of injuries compared to runners.
Roughly, a novice runner will get 18 injuries for every 1000 hours of exercise. Risks include previous injury and running style.
Here is the warning, the benefits of running drop off at 4.5 hours a week, I know this only effects a few of you and you know who you are! However, the risks from any amount of running are always lower than doing no running at all.
Common running injuries I do see, are the classic runner’s knee, plantar fascia issues and a whole host that we discuss in our talk with the expert series (see youtube link).
In short and to cut a long story short (I know… too late), get out there and run.. or at least walk quickly.