*Cycling is still second in the campaign for most popular endurance sport. Long distance running remains the undisputed champ. Forrest Gump ran for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours. The previous three U.S. President’s have used jogging photo ops to depict themselves as health conscious. Now, the Nike + Ipod sport kit has united two of the most recognizable commercial brands in the world and is touting a new ability to monitor the healthful effects of running (or is this just another gimmick to sell running shoes and iTunes).
*Given limited resources of time and money, you have to make important decisions about how and when you will exercise. Here are three questions to ask yourself:
(1) Can you afford a sport that requires $100+ running shoes every three to six months (how about a bike and bike maintenance), an iPod, sporty outfits, energy drinks, power bars, race entrance fees and travel costs?
(2) Do you have the time to properly train for: a marathon, a half-marathon, or a 100 mile day on your bike?
(3) Will this type of training actually improve your health?
*The last question is the most important one. Evidence shows that training for and participating in endurance sports are dangerous to your long term health. To save time and money and avoid permanent damage to your body, skip training for endurance sports. Instead, improve the effectiveness of your training and safeguard your health with sprints and focused 20m periods of steady exercise.
*The number one reason to avoid endurance sports is their tendency to result in death. High profile running related deaths include, Pheidippides, who dropped dead after running from Marathon to Athens to announce the victory over the Persians. Jim Fixx, one of the top promoters of running in the modern era, became famous in the 1970s for touting the health benefits of regular jogging. On July 24, 1982, after finishing his daily run, he suffered a heart attack and died. More recently, on November 3, 2007, Ryan Shay an amazingly successful distance runner, died during the US Olympic marathon trials in New York City. Five and a half miles into the race, he suffered a massive heart attack. High profile cycling death, November 2002, Edmund R. Burke, Ph.D., author of The Complete Book of Long-Distance Cycling: Build the Strength, Skills, and Confidence to Ride as Far as You Want suffered a heart attack and died while riding.
*Men’s Health cites a 1982 New England Journal of Medicine study showing that the chance for sudden death during exercise is not highest in couch potatoes, individuals that only exercise vigorously 1 to 19 minutes per week. Rather, the highest risk group is men who exercise vigorously for 140 or more minutes per week. It is pretty easy to crank out 2h and 20m (140m) of exercise over a week, when training for a marathon or long distance bicycle event. The sweet spot, with the lowest risk for sudden death while exercising, is the range between 20 to 139 minutes per week.
*Risk of serious bodily injury is the number two reason to avoid endurance sports. Stress fractures and damage to joints are obvious potential if not inevitable side effects from long distance running. But, recent studies of competitive cyclists show that they have significantly less bone density than active, but not competitive athletes. Putting cyclists at greater risk for fractures. Not a good thing when sitting well above ground level and traveling at high speeds.
*The real benefit of endurance sports is supposed to be improved cardiovascular health. However, one has to wonder about this claim, when the great marathoner Alberto Salazar, suffers two heart attacks, leaving his heart permanently damaged. At some point, the benefits to your heart from exercise level off and go negative.
*MSNBC and Men’s Health report that as measured by enzymes leaking through the heart membrane of marathoners, significant stress on the heart appears to be a side effect from running a marathon. Ultrasound and blood tests of 60 marathon finishers revealed that some runners’ hearts had difficulty refilling their chambers. Also, abnormalities were noted in the way that blood was pumped from the right side of the heart to the lungs. By the end of a marathon, there is a significant probability that your heart has been so taxed that it fails to function properly.
*This happens, because, as you pile up miles, muscles become damaged. Continuing to run causes your muscles to release enzymes which signal to the body that a significant injury exists. The body reacts to this information with an emergency response team. Your adrenal glands and brain release vasopressin and cortisol.
NOTE: Health risks associated with chronic stress and high levels of cortisol are well-known. The continuous release of cortisol, without a counter-balance of relaxation, causes damage to the body, including impaired cognitive performance, suppressed thyroid function, blood sugar imbalances such as hyperglycemia, decreased bone density, decrease in muscle tissue, higher blood pressure, lowered immunity and inflammatory responses in the body, slowed wound healing, and increased abdominal fat. Increased abdominal fat has its own set of associated health problems like heart attacks and strokes.
*Meanwhile, cytokines from your muscles signal your liver to start producing C-reactive protein, an acute phase reactant, levels of which rise significantly during inflammatory processes. The body is reacting to these muscle injuries, as it would to extreme stress due to a substantial traumatic injury. The result is significant inflammation and an increase in coagulation agents.
*These emergency systems are meant to be engaged rarely. They are not meant to be turned on repeatedly. The body may be willing to risk slight damage to the heart if it means averting death from a serious injury. But, imposing these types of systemic crises over and over again can create cumulative negative effects.
*Training for and running a marathon, as a personal challenge to be met and conquered, is an individual choice. But, like many other personal challenges, it is a behavior fraught with risks including death and serious injury. Contrary to pop culture marketing campaigns, habitual long distance running is not a good health practice.
*Now, let me give you three reasons to experiment with sprinting.
(1) Who would you rather look like?
(2) Who do you think is having more fun?
(3) How much time do you have?
Don’t like the track, then try the pool. Slice through your top 100 freestyle. Don’t have access to a pool, then try nailing ten double-unders with your speed rope. Now, tell me if you ever breathe like that while out for a jog. Rest. Now do it again. These are short bursts of maximum effort, which is what your body was designed for, rather than the constant stress from perpetual exercise.
* With 20m of steady training, you can get a solid total body workout. Throw in some Tabata work and you are getting plenty of cardio.
*Try a split between sprinting and days in the gym. Three days in the gym with a couple of days on the track, on a field, or on the court. Now switch three days on the track, with a couple of days in the gym. This sort of training lends itself to creative tinkering. It is not a grinding battle to endure a long workout.
*Stop wasting time damaging your body. Avoid endurance sports, work on sprints, and experiment with 20m workouts. Help yourself get fit and stay healthy. You will look good and feel good too.
—Are you running yourself to death? http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27460551/
—Is Bicycling Bad for Your Bones? http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/01/is-bicycling-bad-for-your-bones/
—Exercise and death: Am I safer on the couch? http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/exercise_fitness/exercise_death.html
—Art Devany’s Archive for the Death by Exercise Category http://www.arthurdevany.com/?cat=23
—Sprinting: The Purest Most Powerful Physique Shaper in an Athlete’s Arsenal! http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/par46.htm
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