For years I hated running. The impact was painful and I felt challenged to stay motivated over a long distance. I have a hard time sticking with exercise that I don’t enjoy, and frankly I was bored.  It turns out I was going about it wrong. Like many things in life, more is not always better.  We all know that distance running puts us in danger of injury, but new research suggests it may not be the most efficient form of exercise for weight loss.  In addition, there are many negative effects of distance running, from impact on your joints, to wear and tear on your heart.

Interval Training: Faster Weight Loss

According to fitness researcher Wayne Westcott Ph.D. of Quincy College the more distance you run, the less weight you lose over time when running or jogging at a steady pace. This means over time your progress will plateau.  The idea that jogging and running consistently is a good way to lose weight is an outdated myth. The facts are that when you go for a jog your body stops burning calories the moment you stop, but when you do interval training of 60-90 second intervals of intensity, like sprinting, your body burns calories for 2-4 hours after you stop.

“Emerging research examining high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE) indicates that it may be more effective at reducing subcutaneous and abdominal body fat than other types of exercise” – Journal of Obesity, Steve Boutcher University of New South Wales

The science behind this is oxygen debt, when you sprint your body can’t supply the oxygen fast enough to fuel the muscle.   Your anaerobic system has to kick in to compensate. This process increases metabolism, your heart races and you breathe hard to make up for the lack of oxygen. This also creates lactic acid in your body, which increases metabolism. The nature of this kind of intense exercise is short because it is pushing you at a pace that is not sustainable for a long period of time. Professor Thomas D. Fahey, California State University says: ”The body converts glucose, a substance removed from the blood only sluggishly, to lactate, a substance removed and used rapidly…Using lactic acid as a carbohydrate middleman helps you [metabolize] carbohydrates from your diet, without increasing insulin or stimulating fat synthesis.”

Imagine our ancient human ancestors on the savannah.  Our physical evolution hasn’t changed much in thousands of years since the days of our hunter gatherer ancestors.  It is hard to imagine any animal in nature running aimlessly for a long distance.  Ancient humans didn’t run long distances, they walked.  They ran when they had to, and if something caused them to run for a long distance their bodies were made to be efficient and conserve.  In a situation where it would have been necessary to keep running over time our bodies are made to conserve more of our vital energy and fat.

The Risk of Marathon Running

According to a recent study by Dr. Peter Schnohr, Chief of the Copenhagen City Heart Study in Denmark, long distance, hard charging runners do not tend to live any longer than lazy couch potatoes. The study conducted over 12 years with 1,100 joggers between 20-85 years old and 413 sedentary non-runners saw only the lighter runners tended to live longer than the non-runners. He suggests running 1-2.4 hours per week, and that running more than that is not only unnecessary, but may also erode the benefits and harm the heart and large arteries. Long-term excessive exercise may be associated with coronary artery calcification, diastolic dysfunction and large artery wall stiffening.

Furthermore, in a recent study looking at heart function of 40 elite long-term endurance athletes by the European Heart Journal, researchers found intense exercise causes dysfunction of the right ventricle. According to a 2010 study by Institut Universitaire de Cardiologie et de Pneumologie de Quebec and Universite Laval in Quebec City, cardiac risk increases by seven while running a marathon.

Shoes and Forward Strike Running

The last big change I made was my running shoes.  Traditional trainers have a large chunky heel, that forces your foot to strike the ground closer to your heel.  This puts more impact on your body.  When I switched to Brooks minimalist shoes everything changed for me.  They have wider space around your toes so they can spread out inside the shoe in a forward strike like you would when barefoot running, which gives you the ability to use the front of your foot to spring forward faster.  Also they come in black which is huge for me!!  This is a hybrid shoe so you get more support than you would from a barefoot shoe (barefoot shoes can be very dangerous, many people break bones in their feet using barefoot running shoes) but the ability to run in a more natural way.  When I changed my running shoes I NEVER got shin splints again.  I also try to run on unpaved trails if possible to minimize impact.

I want to mention mindfulness in regards to any exercise and just your day to day posture.  When we walk and stand it is important to be mindful in supporting our spine properly.  I always think of the yoga prompt of imagining your naval pulling towards your spine.  When I run I’m always mindful of supporting my joints, I try to never be loosy goosy with any part of my body and try to use my muscles to support my ankles.

Changing the way I run has changed my relationship with running.  I went from someone who hated running, to someone who finds both freedom and relief in it. Happy running friends!!!