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Running For Heart Health: Why You Shouldn't Overdo It

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In recent years, the emphasis on maintaining heart health has increased significantly. The rising number of heart disease cases and an increase in the number of heart attacks among young people have contributed to the concerns. Doctors and fitness experts have time and again stressed the importance of eating a balanced diet and indulging in exercises for cardiovascular fitness.

Running, one of the most effective cardio workouts, not only helps promote weight loss but is also said to support heart health. But while the benefits are immense, it is also important to avoid overexertion and pay attention to one’s safety. In a chat with the OnlyMyHealth team, Dr Sanjay Bhat, Senior Consultant, Interventional Cardiology, Aster CMI Hospital, Bengaluru, shed light on the harmful effects of working out too rigorously. 

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Running For Heart Health

“Running is well-known for its multiple health benefits, notably cardiovascular fitness,” said Dr Bhat, adding that indulging in it on a regular basis can improve cardiovascular endurance, improve mood, and aid with weight management.

According to a review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, people who indulged in running, regardless of the speed or length of running time, had a 30% lower risk of early death from heart disease, a 27% reduced risk of early death from any cause, and a 23% lower risk of early death from all types of cancer.

In general, cardio exercises, including running, are said to burn calories for weight loss, lower cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of health conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease, improve sleep patterns, and lower stress levels, as per research published in the World Psychiatry Official Journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA).

However, it is important to note that moderation is essential when it comes to any form of physical activity, and precautions must be taken to promote good heart health.

Intense Exercise May Backfire

Dr Bhat said, “While moderate exercise is generally beneficial, excessive and intense exercise may be harmful to the heart.”

He added, “According to research, prolonged, strenuous exercise may cause cardiac problems, such as arrhythmias and Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). It is critical to strike a balance between the positive effects of running and the potential risk of heart strain.”

A 2012 review conducted by the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research found that long-distance runners experienced “adverse structural and electrical cardiac remodeling, including fibrosis and stiffening of the atria, right ventricle, and large arteries.

Another study, presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), suggested that male triathletes who ran long distances were at an increased risk for myocardial fibrosis of the left ventricle. Myocardial fibrosis refers to the scarring of the heart, which most commonly occurs after a heart attack. 

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How Much Should A Person Run In A Day?

According to Dr Bhat, individual fitness levels, health status, and goals are all important considerations when it comes to running for heart health.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, which includes walking and biking, whereas 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, like jogging or playing basketball, or a combination of both, are spread throughout the week.

However, it is best to consult with a health professional before developing a running routine based on personal health concerns.

What Heart Disease Patients Should Know

While running is an integral part of maintaining cardiovascular fitness, patients with heart disease should exercise with caution, said Dr Bhat, recommending, “Before beginning or changing a running regimen, it is critical to consult with a healthcare provider.”

He concluded, “It is critical to keep track of the intensity, duration, and individual tolerance. Tailored exercise programmes can be beneficial, improving cardiovascular health without putting too much strain on the body.”

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