(seen here: Lata Bhagwan Kare, 61-year old winner of a 3Km road race! Check out this link !)
“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
― John Bingham, No Need for Speed: A Beginner’s Guide to the Joy of Running
“Be careful about your knees, Kanna!” Paatti might say when you tell her about your weight-loss plans involving long-distance running. “Besides, why do you have to lose weight? Is some girlfriend telling you that?” she might add sympathetically, ignoring the fact that your forty-eight inch waist is stretch-fitted onto a five-and-a-half foot-tall frame!
While a tolerance of “plumpness” and an exaggerated fear of injury may inappropriately dominate the mind-set of many well-meaning non-runners, the marathon fanatic’s belief that running is the panacea for all ills from bunions to bed-sores is also an exaggeration. The truth is somewhere in between, surprisingly closer to the fanatic’s POV than to dear Paatti’s!
Long distance running is an excellent way to lose weight. Though we have always been told that weight gain bears a simple numerical relationship to the difference between the calories consumed as food and the calories expended during exercise, we now realize that this is too simplistic. All forms of exercise are not equal and the intensity of the process has strong implications on extent of weight loss. Running, as the most common form of vigorous exercise, is far more efficient than, say, walking an equivalent distance. Additionally, runners find it easier to maintain their weight loss. In a study of middle-aged recreational runners, the rate of the weight gain that is commonly seen with aging was slowed down by nearly a half in those who maintained about 50 kilometres of running in a week.
The health benefits of weight loss are myriad mainly by directly influencing blood pressure control, preventing the development of diabetes and by effects on cholesterol levels that contribute to overall cardiovascular fitness.
Running also prevents weight-related wear and tear on the hip- and knee-joints and plays a pivotal role in reducing the risk of degenerative arthritis. Paradoxically, Patti’s concern about your knee is misplaced, as running actually reduces your risk of crippling joint problems! Interestingly, this reduction in arthritis (and subsequent joint replacement surgery) seems to be more pronounced in runners than either walkers or individuals who indulge in other (non-running) high intensity sport.
Even lean individuals benefit from running. Independent of its strong effect on weight loss and maintenance, running has benefits in thin people too. Thus the favourable effect on blood pressure is as prominent in thin people as it is in the obese runner. Similar effects have been reported in the development of diabetes where a threshold distance of greater than eight kilometres a week reduces the incidence of the disease in middle-aged men by about 85%. Recent studies suggest that the longevity of patients with breast cancer is increased by running. Most of these health benefits are seen to increase in proportion to the distance run.
However, this does not mean that unlimited running is harmless! As any runner will tell you, injuries (even to the Patti’s proverbial “knee”) are common when you overdo the exercise. These injuries are often not serious or permanently crippling and occur in the muscles, tendons and soft tissues of the legs. Systematic stretching and strengthening exercises can minimize such injury but a logical limitation of your running, keeping your physical capacity in mind will keep you from unnecessarily hurting yourself.
Yes, I too dream of sharing the podium with Meb Keflezighi, but given my physical prowess, age and lack of talent, I would seriously hurt myself attempting to do so. If I want to enjoy a lifetime of injury-free running, I should rather be encouraging Patti to be my running partner, while watching Meb’s exploits from a safe distance on the television!
Competitive running is for the talented few; but recreational running is for all! There are far too many benefits to running to give it a pass in this life!
This article is penned by Dr. Ram Rajagopalan
Ram is an Intensive Care Specialist and recreational runner who is passionate about his job and his hobby. He regrets the fact that many who are admitted to his intensive care unit have been unlucky not to have recognized the health benefits of dedicated exercise at an appropriate time in their lives. He doesn’t want to miss the boat too!