Running for Heart Health

If you spent any time on the channel here with me, you may know that generally speaking, I'm pretty performance focused. I want to go fast. I want to be a good runner or what I would consider good for my personal goals. But there are benefits to running beyond just going fast. And one of those benefits is improving your heart health. So today I want to talk about the benefits of running on your heart, health and how to make your heart healthier.

If you spent any time on the channel here with me, you may know that generally speaking, I'm pretty performance focused. I want to go fast. I want to be a good runner or what I would consider good for my personal goals. But there are benefits to running beyond just going fast. And one of those benefits is improving your heart health. So today I want to talk about the benefits of running on your heart, health and how to make your heart healthier.

I'm Jesse Funk, the founder of and the host of this show, Runner's High, where we talk about everything running from performance, like I mentioned, to heart health and other health-related issues to superstitions or weird things that you do when you go run or talk about everything under the sun related to running or endurance sports are here on this channel every single week. So if you like running, if you like that kind of thing, hit the subscribe button. Stick around for more videos every single week.

So we want to talk today about heart health and running. I think if you go at the outset of it, just as a layman, you go, "Well, yeah, of course, like exercising is going to be good." But what specifically is going on and why are we doing it and can you do too much? First we want to think about is it actually efficacious. So we know, Yes, as laymen we think, OK, yes, it should be.

But the reality is, yes, it is because the heart is a muscle much like the rest of our muscles. When we work them out, it adapts to new strain and can become stronger or weaker depending on the particular kind of strain that's put on it. Now, we know with runners, the more that you work, the more you work your cardiovascular system, cardio being that heart part of the cardiovascular system, the larger and stronger that muscle becomes your heart becomes.

So what was previously thought by many people to be kind of a problem because of this enlarged heart situation is really not as far as we can see from the research today. It's not a problem. It's just our heart adapting to being able to push a larger amount of blood, a larger volume of blood in a single pump.

Because when we're running, what do we need? Oxygen and energy and our muscles or oxygen to the muscles create energy so we can move and then remove waste from our muscles. How do we do that? We need more blood. So the heart gets a big, big job when we're running. So when we run, we're giving it this job where we want to make it stronger so we know we make it stronger, which is good. It makes it easier to move around every day, makes it easier to get that oxygen to our muscles.

But what else is going on? One of the biggest benefits of running, specifically when we talk about heart health and I don't think this can be understated, is it changes our cholesterol, so it lowers LDL and raises HDL. So the bad cholesterol, we get less of the good cholesterol we get more of. But why is that important? I mean, we hear about it. Don't you don't want high cholesterol. You want to is LDL is bad, but why?

Well, LDL, that bad cholesterol can cause arteriosclerosis. If I can get out of my mouth, which is when fatty lipids build up in your arteries, and then basically you get closer and closer to these fatty lipids building up and causing a dam in your arteries. It restricts blood flow is what's happening.

And you can get arteriosclerosis from a number of different things. Having too much bad cholesterol is one of them. There are other risk factors, but the downstream effect of that is that you could have a heart attack, you can have a stroke, you could have an aneurysm, you can throw a blood clot.

And I think we can all agree those are bad things. There are people that are qualified to help us if those happen to us. But it's better to try to prevent that situation than if we have to try to head it off after the fact. There is a phrase that I often or my guests often say on the Smart Athlete Podcast.

It's another show I do here on this channel where you get to listen to more than just me. You listen to experts in all kinds of different fields that have athletic backgrounds, from amateurs to pros. One of the things we talk about somewhat frequently is the topic of you pay now or you pay later.

Meaning you either put in the time and effort to take care of yourself now, and which sometimes means paying time, sometimes means paying money, going to the gym, getting good shoes, all that kind of stuff. Or you pay later. You didn't take care of yourself. Thus something bad happens and now you're in the hospital or you're on medication or whatever.

Now, that doesn't mean that running is going to cure everything, but it is a good kind of general gut check. Like, am I going to pay now or am I going to pay later? Personally, I preferred pay now and enjoy feeling good, but some people don't, and so they pay later. So I think the question now is how much running do you need to do to get some of these benefits?

Now, obviously there are some other benefits of running that we didn't really talk about that are particularly related to the heart, you know, lowering body fat, increasing muscle mass. Those two kind of go hand in hand. But how much do we need to do? What's the minimum? What's the bar set at? Well, we got to get over to get those heart health benefits.

If you're a regular runner, you're probably going to be over this. I have seen different suggestions, so don't take any of these as hard and fast rules. There's often the suggestion of 30 minutes three times a week. I've also seen suggestions that as low as like three times in 8 to 10 minutes can give you a lot of these benefits.

Now, there is a little bit of controversy or concern as we tack on mileage. So about a decade ago, a doctor here in Kansas City, I think his name is James O'Keefe, published a paper basically saying that more running actually was bad and that beyond like 20 miles a week, you're actually doing damage to your heart.

And it turned out that paper one had not been peer-reviewed yet. And once it was peer-reviewed, they found that the way that they had modeled that data was incorrect. They had taken out certain people and basically given a selection bias to give it the appearance that more mileage was going to be worse.

Now, that being said, I think the vast majority of us even running competitively probably fine that minimum bar to get over for that heart health pretty low. You don't have to be running marathons or anything to get to that point.

Now, this is where I give a kind of personal anecdote/evidence-based suggestion here along those lines of too much running can be harmful. And this comes from my friend who ran with me in college on our collegiate cross-country team. He's now a physiatrist, so he's a board-certified MD, and I didn't need to ask him for the studies. And if you'd like me to see him on the channel and interview him about this and some other things, let me know down in the comments below.

But one of the things that I talked to you about with him is the dangers of running too much. And he had been telling me about, especially when we get to the ultra stage. Over a long period of time. So this would often probably be more like pro runners or people who are spending much a lot of time at high mileage. Even pro runners' 100-mile weeks for extended period of time have an increased risk for developing cardiac problems.

And I think if you just think about this, it makes some sense, right? We want data to show this. But I do want to put the caveat that there does seem to be kind of a limit. And if we think about anything else in our body, it makes sense, right? If we overwork anything, then it has a tendency for injury. This is something we talk about on the chin all the time.

How do we prevent injuries? How do we get away from overuse, overwork? Because we're doing this one activity over and over and over to try to improve our performance or improve our health. So that is a small caveat. Now, I know that's not going to be the majority of you, probably not all running ultramarathons all the time.

And for most of us, I don't have a hard number, but I'll try to put one of like 40 to 50 miles a week. I think that's near the cap over that. I think you start for extended periods of time. I think you start flirting with a little bit more danger.

But good news is, again, for heart health, don't really need a whole lot. You get a lot of those benefits and then you get to enjoy life you're paying now instead of paying later.

So do you have any questions for me? Would you like to see my friend Michael here on the channel to discuss things information from a board-certified MD? Would you like to see more actual experts in various fields? Subscribe to the channel or leave me a comment down below.

I interview those experts every Friday on the Smart Athlete Podcast so you can check out again here on this channel. If you have any questions. Again, leave down the comments. I'll see you next time on the next episode of Runner's High.

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