How Running Lessens Risk of Heart Disease

When running, or jogging became a nationwide fad in the 1970’s the fitness revolution was led by a runner by the name of Jim Fixx, who wrote the book The Complete Book of Running in 1977. In 1984, while running on a trail by his home in Vermont Fixx tragically passed away at the age of 52.

While many people I know used this to explain to me running did not, in fact, lead to a longer, more productive life if the movement’s leader died of a heart attack at such a young age. It was later determined during his autopsy that Fixx was genetically predisposed as his father died of a heart attack at 43 and Fixx himself had a congenitally enlarged heart.

Studies have proven not only does running improve your overall health but provides a significant benefit to your heart health; and, the best thing is you don’t have to put in very many miles for this benefit to accrue.

In fact, a study done by the American College of Cardiology determined that those who ran for just one hour per week (that’s less than 9 minutes a day) saw the same mortality benefits as those who ran for more than 3 hours per week.

Consistency, however, plays a key in how much benefit you will derive; in this study, it was determined those who persistently ran over a period a 6 years saw a 29% lower risk of death for any reason and a 50% lower risk of death from heart disease or stroke.

One of the key drivers for those who were able to maintain their running for longer periods was the time it took to attain these benefits. While other forms of moderate intensity exercises can generate similar benefits, the time commitment can be as much as 2 or 3 times longer to get these benefits.

So, what are the health benefits of running?

Here are some ways running on a regular basis can significantly improve your heart health:

Running lowers your blood pressure

    Your risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) increases with age, but getting some exercise can make a big difference. And if your blood pressure is already high, exercise can help you control it. Regular physical activity makes your heart stronger. A stronger heart can pump more blood with less effort. If your heart can work less to pump, the force on your arteries decreases, lowering your blood pressure. 

    Becoming more active can lower your systolic blood pressure — the top number in a blood pressure reading — by an average of 4 to 9 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). That's as good as some blood pressure medications.

    Running improves your cholesterol levels. 

      Cholesterol has a bad rap, but there are two types…LDL, which is referred to as bad cholesterol and HDL, which is referred to as good cholesterol. Having high HDL and low LDL puts you at risk for building up plaque in your arteries and greatly increases your risk of heart disease. 

      The good news is running can help you lower your LDL, while increasing your HDL…a win win for your heart health. The journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise published a study in 2001 that found that aerobic exercise (including jogging, running, and cycling) increased HDL by 4.6% while reducing LDL by 5%. And a study published in Sports Medicine in 2015 concluded that longer runs yield more health benefits; in other words, among other things, longer runs increase HDL and lower LDL at higher rates. 

      Running helps you maintain a healthy weight. 

        Those who are overweight or obese are at a higher risk for heart disease and running is a highly effective exercise for those who need to shed a few extra pounds. If you’re new to running or just haven’t been able to make the running routine stick, read our 5 Ways to Make Running a Lifelong Habit

        Running strengthens your heart muscle. 

          Most of us know that muscles get stronger with exercise. When we exert ourselves, little tears form in our muscles and are then repaired during periods of rest, with muscles coming back stronger than before. Because your heart is a muscle, the same rule applies. Just like your other muscles, your heart needs time to recover. Experts recommend alternating hard runs with easier workouts in order for your heart to grow stronger. 

          Running minimizes your heart’s workload. 

            Because runners have stronger hearts, they typically have a lower resting pulse rate and intake a higher amount of oxygen. As a result, the organ can handle pumping a larger amount of blood per beat, which helps the heart perform its job easier while your running and even when you aren’t. 

            Running reduces your risk for heart disease. 

              As mentioned at the beginning of the article, running consistently over long periods of time can dramatically reduce your risk of dying from heart disease by 50%; the keys are to make it a habit, mix up your runs and train for longer runs and better endurance. Combined, this will help you live a longer and more fulfilling life. 

              Whether you prefer the environment of an athletic club or wellness center, the comfort of your home or the great outdoors, there are many locations compatible for running. Plus, the only pieces of equipment you need are yourself, a pair of athletic shoes and some motivational tunes.

              Be Safe and Keep Running!

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