This article is from a series of health-related essays sponsored by ZocDoc, an app which makes it easy to find and schedule appointments with local doctors and medical providers. It’s funny and charming, but it is not written by a doctor or medical expert. Please explore the scientific literature or consult with an expert before making any serious decisions about your health, even the simple decision of quitting running.
For years, some of us have suspected that running for exercise may be far less healthy then we’ve been lead to believe. Now serious scientific literature suggests our suspicions might be correct, and in some cases, running can be detrimental to our health.
As a veteran of the high school cross country circuit, I can assure you that this notion has crossed the minds of many a young runner. Believe it or not I found stray moments of intense pleasure while practicing the sport. Imagine if you will, a young Ezra Lefko, the perfect song queued up on the ipod (International Players Anthem by UGK featuring Outkast of course), light rain and slogans from Nike commercials playing in his head, visions of a chiseled and glistening physique – a well deserved reward for his exemplary perseverance. But more often than not, the monotonous slog of suburban running was a special brand of melancholy, endured mostly because, at 17, I truly believed this was good for my health. After a general step back from fitness I was thrilled to have some friends introduce me to free weight training and a whole new world of fitness that centered around short bursts of exertion rather than repetitive pavement pounding. I haven’t looked back at running until recently when I felt some enormous vindication after reading scientific literature about the pitfalls of the sport.
One group of researchers, who reported their findings in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, say studies found that many competitive athletes show signs of injury to the heart muscle and cardiac abnormalities after they exercise for long periods of time. Adding to the sinister effects of running, runners may believe that they’re healthy and at times ignore heart-related symptoms leading to serious coronary issues, states the Medical Science of Sports and Exercise journal.
Right about now you might be asking yourself, “so if running is so bad should I just give up and eat Trader Joes brand soy ice cream while watching Hannibal’s NBC on my laptop?” The concept is tempting, I had the exact same idea, but it turns out that no exercise at all is likely worse then the heart-punishing process of running. Likely, the best things you can do for your body from a fitness perspective are weight-training and running.
Resistance training with free weights may seem like a lot, especially if you were raised to believe that running is the end all and be all of fitness. However, free weight-training has the least injury rate of any competitive sport in the United States. Soccer is remarkably dangerous by comparison.
Swimming is commonly regarded as the best overall cardiovascular activity. Unlike running, or even cycling, the environment is much easier on joints and causes less injuries and sore muscles. Additionally, workouts that leverage short bursts of energy like sprinting, rather than distance running that puts sustained strain on on one’s heart, can yield positive results as well.