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April 2017
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THE BENEFITS OF RUNNING

THE BENEFITS OF RUNNING

Any type of physical activity contributes to making us feel better and makes us live for longer.

The least expensive physical activity, and the easiest to access, is running.

It is extremely well known that running regularly is good for your health, it lowers the blood sugar level, it helps circulation, it causes weight loss and it stimulates good moods. The only rule to pay close attention to is not to go over the top and follow some simple and practical advice.

Running is good for you

Recent studies have shown that running is good for the heart, it improves cardiac and circulatory efficiency thanks to the emission of vasodilator substances in the form of sweat. These substances carry out their ‘jobs’ on muscles and arteries: the arteries, thanks to vasodilatation, increase in size and stay dilated even when physical activity ceases; the circulating blood meets less resistance in the blood vessels and all of this helps to lower aerial pressure. Arterial hypertension is definitely a risk factor for the onset of cardiovascular diseases however, running at a slow rhythm and without aggressive exertions, which is particularly important to remember for people with high blood pressure, helps to prevent heart and circulatory illnesses.
Constantly practising running is beneficial for the heart rate as it lowers it when resting, and the heart’s improvement benefits other sporting activities and every day life.
High cholesterol in the blood can cause heart diseases but running can help. Some American studies have shown that running for 6 months, for 45 minutes a day, 5 days a week can increase the amount of HDL (good cholesterol) in the body by 14-15% and reduce the amount of triglycerides. Good cholesterol removes LDL which is called bad cholesterol because it tends to deposit itself on the interior walls of blood vessels, blocking the vessel lumen and obstructing blood flow. Increasing the amount of HDL can therefore prevent hypochloremia and arteriosclerosis.

Those who run lose weight more easily compared to sedentary people and weight can be lost gradually by running for 1 hour, once a week for a few years. Losing weight is important for many reasons but especially for serious problems, like obesity: excess fat causes the onset of arteriosclerosis and heart, hepatic and circulatory diseases. Fat that has gathered around the middle of the body (around the stomach) is more dangerous than fat that has circulated around the hips or legs, however, fortunately, fat on the stomach is removed more easily when doing sports, especially when running. Weight loss also occurs when the fat content in adipocytes is reduced: fat cells are removed through a process called lipolysis, which is stimulated in the adipocytes when running; fat comes out of the cells and it is then used by muscles as an energy source. Body fat then diminishes and this is both an advantage both aesthetically speaking and heath-wise.

Another benefit that comes from running is the reduction in the sugar circulating in the blood. Research carried out on a group of subjects using insulin or other hypoglycaemic drugs and on another group of patients with high blood sugar levels, showed that a period of training involving running and walking coupled with a healthy food regime was more than beneficial: at the end of the period, 39% of the subjects were able to stop taking their medicine and 71% were able to alternate between periods of taking the medicine regularly and periods of not taking it at all. These results can be explained by the fact that sport gets the muscles used to taking on more glucose from the blood and this is extremely important for diabetics who live with hyperglycaemia. In summary, sport keeps sugar levels under control.

Stress and anxiety, and the problems resulting from these feelings, improve when you do sport. The gland which is involved the most with these emotions is the adrenal gland. It emits catecholamines into the blood and these are responsible for increasing the heart rate, arterial pressure and the characteristic reactions linked to anxiety. Running is also very good for dealing with stress and neutralising the resulting physical symptoms, maybe thanks to the fact that running stimulates the production of endorphins, substances produced by the body that make us feel similar feelings to those induced by morphine, amongst which is the important one of withstanding pain.

How to run

The approach to running, as with any physical activity, should be gradual and slow and you need to follow advice if you are a beginner. It is best not to run when you are overtired, when you have not slept enough, during periods of convalescence, or when you are suffering from illnesses, even mild ones like a cold or sore throat.
Avoid competing with your running partners/peers, especially at the beginning of training so you do not have any accidents, injuries or excessive breathlessness. During the first weeks it is recommended that you work on quantity, trying to gradually increase the number of kilometres run and avoid speed competitions. Do not run when it is very hot and sunny as this can easily bring on dehydration and heatstroke and avoid very cold days too. Do not run on bumpy roads so you do not damage your ankles but avoid only running on tarmac as this can cause tendon problems and, if possible, do not run in overly polluted areas. Running on synthetic surfaces causes overload on muscles and tendons resulting in inflammatory problems and, occasionally, micro-fractures in the feet.

Training 3 times a week and alternating the days allows the body to recover. Run with a basic rhythm for 5 minutes and then gradually increase both the time and speed and always perform stretching exercises after running. Everybody runs with their own style and thus there is no ‘standard’ position to assume when running, however following some rules certainly helps to avoid unnecessary risks. It is best to run with the neck muscles relaxed and keep the head in a steady position which is not too far forward nor too far backwards. The shoulders must be relaxed and the chest slightly forwards so you can run in a fluid way. You do not have to run on the tips of your toes, nor bring the knees up very high so try to push the knees forward rather than upwards. Your strides do not have to be particularly long and the feet should be kept as close as possible to the ground and try to synchronise the arms with the legs. When running up hill, you need to change some things slightly: the head, shoulders and chest need to be inclined forward slightly so that you can move with more agility and with less effort. Your strides should be smaller than when running on a flat surface and you should push off from the toes, levering on the ankles and anterior muscles in the calf and thighs. The arms should be synchronised with the movement of the legs, helping to push you forward, like the poles do when skiing downhill. When running down hill, the head should be relaxed and up right and the chest should remain forward but try not to arch the back to realise this. The strides should be short and the feet should stay close to the ground. Avoid running on your heels and bouncing as this can cause damage to the knee and Achilles and move the arms succinctly and fluidly but do not let them hang loosely down the body. Assuming the correct posture definitely helps you to avoid damaging or hurting your limbs however, running correctly does not mean you are immune from small problems: late onset muscle soreness, which occurs the day after in the calf and thigh muscles, disappears suddenly but improves quicker if the painful area is massaged after stretching. Cramps, which often occur in the calf muscles, the upper thigh muscles and feet, and which are caused by a lack of salt (lost through sweating), can be avoided by drinking mineral drinks and lots of water.

When you practise running, either at a competitive or amateur level, it is a good idea to check your heart rate so you can note any improvements. Before anything though, you need to establish what type of running you will be doing and, as a result of this, establish what level of heart rate you need to maintain. A theoretical maximum heart rate can be calculated as so: 200 – your age.

For slow running, the heart rate should be 50-60% of the maximum value and for a medium speed (when running to lose weight) the heart rate should be 60-70% of the maximum. Those who practise running at a high speed should have a heart rate of around 70-80% of the maximum heart rate, whilst 80-90% of the maximum heart rate is reached when competing in a sprinting race.

RECOMMENDED HEART RATE for RUNNING

Age years

SLOW run

Running to LOSE WEIGHT

FAST run

COMPETITIVE run

RECOMMENDED heart rate
(approximate min and max values)

MAXIMUM heart rate
(approximate value)

Running, therefore, is the simplest physical activity. It is accessible to everyone and it allows you to obtain good results with little effort.

THE BENEFITS OF RUNNING

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