Is running killing you

I'm about to slaughter the sacred cow of athletics. Running. In particular, long distance running. Oh, I can hear the hate mail rolling in already. Don't get me wrong I love runners, they account for a large portion of my patient base.

I used to be a runner, until I got tired of all the consistent injuries that I was dealing with. You see I was probably like most of the runners I see every day in my practice. was addicted to running. Any serious road warrior knows what I'm talking about. It gets in your blood. It becomes something you start to make excuses for. «Sorry honey, I'd like to be at your graduation but I have a 10K I have to run.«

I've also noticed runners are with out a doubt the hardest clients I have to deal with in regards to taking my advice to «lay off« their workouts. And I have a theory as to why. You see runners; I believe are addicted to their own brain chemistry.

You have undoubtedly heard of the runners high. This is caused by the secretion of mood altering chemicals called endorphins. A substance that has the same receptor sites in the brain as morphine. In other words; the body's natural painkillers. The question though becomes why is the body secreting painkillers when you run? Well, we've always known that running places a tremendous stress on the soft tissue structures in the body, hence the high injury rate seen in many doctors' offices. But recent research seems to indicate that long distance running may actually be deadly.

It may just be me but it seems every time I hear the results of a marathon lately someone has died. In fact I remember hearing that two police officers died in the 2006 L.A. Marathon, although one was a retired officer at age 60. Neither of these guys from what I heard were exactly couch potatoes. And the autopsy results of the recent Chicago Marathon death was deemed not heat related.

I know, the number of deaths related to the number of actual runners is still «statistically« low but according to Dr. Al Sears MD, «doing sustained running at the aerobic level isn't a smart way to exercise, and it doesn't build your lungs or breathing capacity as the name implies. In fact, aerobics actually shrinks your heart and lungs- making you more vulnerable to fatal heart attacks.«

Aerobic exercise is low to medium output held for an extended period. This kind of exercise trains your body for endurance and efficiency. Sounds good but it also causes «shrinkage«- smaller muscles, smaller heart, and smaller lungs (just look at the bodies of your typical long distance runner, and compare theirs with a sprinters body).

This has been verified by doing what's called a PFT, Pulmonary Function Test. What researchers saw was a decrease in Reserve Capacity. Reserve Capacity is what your lungs use to deal with sudden increases in stress or high exertion activity (by the way, I'm also a licensed Respiratory Therapist, so this kind of stuff gets me off). The media doesn't pay much attention to this but lost lung capacity is far worse than you might think.

In the 80's a doctor named Ward Dean working with the Framingham study, (the 50year study looking at heart disease), discovered something remarkable. It found that lung capacity is by far the best predictor of longevity - hands down. Simply stated, the bigger your lungs, the longer you live. This is why reserve capacity is so critical.

However, a different kind of exercise builds reserve capacity...and it gives you many other health benefits. It's been termed by Dr. Sears as Supra-Aerobics. It's also been called interval training and it's not new.

Supra-Aerobics crosses over into the anaerobic threshold.

Anaerobic means «without oxygen.« The anaerobic system converts carbohydrates and some fats into energy without using oxygen. When you're using your anaerobic system you are training your high-energy output system. You're successfully building up reserve capacity in your heart; expanding your lung volume, triggering the production of growth hormone, and melting away fat.

A Harvard study revealed that participants who utilized this type of training principal reduced their risk of heart disease by 100 percent more than those who practiced ordinary aerobic exercise. And a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that men and women who exercised with supra-aerobic methods had, lower blood pressure, lower triglycerides, higher HDL, and less body fat.

To workout in the anaerobic range, you have to create an «oxygen debt« by asking your lungs for more oxygen than they can supply at that moment.

You do that by exercising at a pace you can't sustain for more than a short period. Here's were the obvious common- sense legal warning about not beginning any exercise program without first consulting with your physician bla, bla, bla comes in.

For instance, a program I like to use is to climb onto one of those stationary incline bikes. I like these because I can monitor numerous factors like my heart rate and resistance levels.

I start by pedaling at a rate of 70 rpm for 2 minutes at a low resistance level, say for instance level 6. At 3 min. I increase the resistance level to 15 and increase the rpm's to over 100. I do this for 1 min. Then I lower the resistance back to the original level of 6 and bring down the rpm's to 70 again and I go another 2 min.

At the end of the two minutes I repeat. I do this for 20 minutes. On a 20 minute routine you'll end with a 2 minute cool down. That's all it takes. Of course at the end of 20 minutes I look like a drowned rat. But I know I've gotten the best cardio workout there is.

Keep in mind you can apply this method to sprinting, swimming or a treadmill. You're only limited by your own creativity.

For those of you who must continue running, great I need the business. Actually, I'm just kidding. I know better than to try and talk someone who loves running to give it up and really, you should do what you have a passion for.