Tag Archives: running

Exercise: Is Less More?

OK. I finished my five-mile run early this am. I generally do this five days a week. And it takes me about an hour each day from start to finish. Am I exercising too much for my own good?


I’ve been doing this now for more than 30 years. And like most nonprofessional runners, I started one day long ago by huffing and puffing trying to make my way around the block. Then a year or so later I found myself crossing the finish line at the Columbus Marathon.

The theory was always to push as much as possible. Add miles and time spent on the concrete or treadmill progressively. And I have the log books to prove it.

But an article in the NYT — “Phys Ed: Moderation as the Exercise Sweet Spot” — advances the idea that when it comes to the health benefits you get from exercise, moderation is key. And less might just be more.

For people who exercise but fret that they really should be working out more, new studies may be soothing. The amount of exercise needed to improve health and longevity, this new science shows, is modest, and more is not necessarily better.

That is the message of the newest and perhaps most compelling of the studies, which was presented on Saturday at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in San Francisco. For it, researchers at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health and other institutions combed through the health records of 52,656 American adults who’d undergone physicals between 1971 and 2002 as part of the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study at the Cooper Institute in Dallas. Each participant completed physical testing and activity questionnaires and returned for at least one follow-up visit.

The researchers found that about 27 percent of the participants reported regularly running, although in wildly varying amounts and paces.

The scientists then checked death reports.

Over the course of the study, 2,984 of the participants died. But the incidence was much lower among the group that ran. Those participants had, on average, a 19 percent lower risk of dying from any cause than non-runners.

Notably, in closely parsing the participants’ self-reported activities, the researchers found that running in moderation provided the most benefits. Those who ran 1 to 20 miles per week at an average pace of about 10 or 11 minutes per mile — in other words, jogging — reduced their risk of dying during the study more effectively than those who didn’t run, those (admittedly few) who ran more than 20 miles a week, and those who typically ran at a pace swifter than seven miles an hour.

“These data certainly support the idea that more running is not needed to produce extra health and mortality benefits,” said Dr. Carl J. Lavie, medical director of cardiac rehabilitation and prevention at the Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans and an author of the study. “If anything,” he continued, “it appears that less running is associated with the best protection from mortality risk. More is not better, and actually, more could be worse.”

Oh, mama. Something else to fret about.

Regardless, any amount of walking, running, swimming, biking and so on seems to me to go in the plus column.

And if more people exercised even moderately instead of regularly downing a keg of Coke and a trailer full of popcorn at the movies, we might all be better off.


Running and Life Lessons

OK. I’ll admit it. I didn’t know that today is celebrated as National Running Day. And it didn’t appear that the Talking Heads on CNN and Fox News had much interest in heralding the day. As I chased the treadmill belt this early a.m., I couldn’t escape the chatter about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker surviving (CNN’s view of the world) or winning a great victory (Fox News) in the state’s recall election yesterday. [Big waste of time and money. IMO]

I should have run outside, hitting the concrete on what really was another glorious morning here in NE Ohio.

And then I could have concentrated on a story that teaches some valuable lessons way beyond the political intrigue and posturing in Wisconsin, Inside the Beltway and elsewhere these days.

At a track meet in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday one runner stopped and helped another make it to the finish line. Here’s from The Daily Mail:

A high school runner competing in the 3200-metre race is receiving national attention, not for winning or a feat of athleticism, but for an extraordinary act of kindness after she helped a struggling competitor finish the race.

Meghan Vogel, a 17-year-old junior at West Liberty Salem High School in western Ohio, is now being praised for her sportsmanship, and has had to deal with an overwhelming response to the now-famous photograph.

She said she appreciates the accolades but said today that she is a bit overwhelmed by the praise that has been pouring in since Saturday’s track meet in Columbus.

The 17-year-old was in last place in the 3,200-meter run as she caught up to Arlington High School sophomore Arden McMath, whose body was giving out.Instead of zipping past Ms McMath to avoid the last-place finish, Ms Vogel draped the runner’s arm around her shoulders, half-dragging and half-carrying her about 30 metres to the finish line.

Wow. In an era when pro football teams are trying to figure out how to most effectively maim opponents–and when our elected leaders are interested primarily only in their own reelection–stopping to help someone seems almost quaint.

Wonder what made Megan do it?

“It’s an honour and very humbling,” Ms Vogel told the Associated Press in a telephone interview from her West Liberty home. ‘I just thought I was doing the right thing, and I think others would have done the same.’

Not a bad life lesson.

Lessons from the Pittsburgh Marathon

Well, I had a great time in Pittsburgh over the weekend, completing the half marathon in the City of Bridges on a very hot, humid day. And it’s still a thrill for me to be able to participate in an event like that — and make my way to the finish line still running. But it ain’t getting any easier. And something tells me that the advancing time on the clock is running in sync with the passing of the years.

Here are some random thoughts that crossed my mind during the run:

* The Pittsburgh Marathon like most big venue events [Cleveland and Akron among them] has become an important generator of dollars for the local economy. Given that this was a weekend in early May, it was hard to get a hotel reservation and the restaurants in the downtown were jammed.

* The sports expos have become a moveable Wal-Mart, where you can buy everything from T-shirts to home gutter guards.

* No matter how hard you train and prepare for a half marathon or marathon, the weather conditions on the day of the run can make all the difference. Yesterday it was hot (high ’70s), humid and sunny — with shade along the course harder to find than a Cleveland Browns jersey in The Steel City. The hot conditions caused a number of runners [with a record number transported to the hospital] to make an unscheduled and unwelcome stop at one of the medical facilities. And at one point during the morning medical officials feared that they might be facing an emergency. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. [But for those running in Cleveland May 20, if it’s hot: drink plenty of fluids and don’t be afraid to slow down, or walk.]

* Running as I do at 5:30 a.m., either on a treadmill or on the concrete in nearly complete darkness, doesn’t prepare you to run with the sun fully awake. Next time I do this, I’m going to do some training runs at a time when I might actually see some normal people in the light of day.

* One of the biggest changes in long-distance running over the years has been the increasing number of older runners and women. I’m told that more than half of those running the half marathon yesterday were women. Good.

* And probably the biggest lesson for me was that age 64 is really not the new 40. But hey. I’m still enjoying running and having the opportunity to participate in an event like the Pittsburgh Marathon.



Pittsburgh Marathon: One More Time

Well, I’m heading to the City of Champions this weekend to run the half marathon on Sunday. And I’m looking forward to the 13.1-mile self-directed tour of the city. I enjoy the crowds, noise and excitement.

I’m also thankful that I still have a good shot at doing this — and I guess just getting to the starting line is somewhat of an accomplishment given that two years ago I figured my long-distance running days were over because of a mutant nerve in my left foot.

The mutant nerve is still there. I’m reminded of it every time my foot hits the concrete. But hey. There are worse things. I could be locked in a room and be forced to watch repeats of the GOP debates. Just sayin’.

And I guess the long runs are a modest attempt to delay the realities of getting older — even as the runs become at more difficult and the times noticeably slower. [Note to self: No point wearing your running watch. It just adds unnecessary weight without serving any useful purpose.]

As a post-60 runner, I’m not alone. Here’s from the NYT:

Masters runners and, in particular, those 60 and older are the fastest-growing group in the sport, according to most statistics. A recent study of the New York City Marathon from 1980 to 2009, for example, found that “the percent of finishers younger than 40 years significantly decreased, while the percent of masters runners significantly increased for both males and females,” said Romuald Lepers, a professor of sports sciences at the University of Burgundy in France who, with his colleague Thomas Cattagni, conducted the study.

So I’ll be out there Sunday morning among the thousands of other runners for at least one more time.

And at around mile five we go past the Shamrock Inn on the North Side where my friend and college roommate Tom Kollar and I used to spend Sunday mornings years ago drinking beer and reviewing strategy prior to heading to Three Rivers Stadium (now defunct) for the Steelers game.

I’ll try to avoid the temptation to make a quick detour to the bar.

Holiday Eating: Fighting the Battle of the Bulge

Good grief. Will this long national nightmare currently being played out in Iowa ever be over? I spent 60 minutes chasing the treadmill belt this early a.m. and what I found out from the Talking Heads on CNN and Fox News was that Newt was down, Paul was up, and Santorum is climbing fast. And Romney, who most conservatives don’t like, will most likely win the GOP presidential nomination anyway.

As Michael Barone opines in the WSJ, “As Iowa Goes, So Goes Iowa.”

Anyway, I’ve got bigger fish to fry. As we near the end of the year, my running log shows that I’ve hit the concrete or treadmill belt for about 1,400 miles. Still, I’m gaining weight — which I attribute in part to a mutant thyroid and a fondness for Jameson over ice. And like many others, this time of the year is particularly challenging.

I’m a big believer in exercise. But I’m not so sure exercise along wins the battle of the bulge. Here’s from the NYT, “Curbing Holiday Weight Gain With Exercise“:

The next few months, filled with holiday feasting, represent a dire threat to most people’s waistlines. Even those of us who normally eat a wholesome diet can find ourselves gorging on fatty, high-calorie foods and gaining the annual Christmas inner tube. But several new studies promote a simple and effective response: Run or walk from the buffet. Even if you’ve already overindulged, the studies suggest, exercise can lessen or reverse the unwelcome consequences.

For the studies, Paul T. Williams, a staff scientist in the life sciences division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, enlisted the help of more than 100,000 runners and, for a second study published last week in the journal Obesity, almost 40,000 walkers. He had each group fill out extensive questionnaires that asked about their running or walking history, including when they’d begun running more than 12 miles a week or walking at least half a mile most days of the week, as well as, for the runners, their current mileage, best race times, numbers of recent marathons, and so on. The questionnaire also asked about current and previous body weight: how much they had weighed when they started exercising, what they weighed now, their waist size and height. Finally, the volunteers were asked about eating habits, and specifically, how much red meat (beef, pork and lamb) they consumed each week and how many servings of fruit they ate each day.

“We used servings of meat and fruit as markers of the overall quality or type of the diet,” Dr. Williams says. People who frequently eat meat and rarely have fruit are more likely, over all, to be eating a fattier, higher-calorie and potentially less healthy diet, he says.

Certainly, in his new research, they weighed more. Among both the runners and walkers he studied, whether male or female and whatever their age, those who ate more meat and fewer servings of fruit tended to have a higher body mass index, an indicator of overall body fat, than those who ate less meat and more fruit. They had also gained significantly more weight over the years.

Unless they exercised diligently. The more someone walked or, even more strikingly, the more they ran, the less likely they were to have gained large amounts of weight, even if they ate what the study politely calls a “high-risk diet.” Runners who ticked off about five miles a day stayed relatively lean over the years, even if they regularly consumed a meaty and presumably high-fat diet. Most still had gained some pounds, according to their running and weight histories, but less than would have been expected, given their eating habits.

“Usually, B.M.I. and waist circumference increase if you eat more meat and less fruit,” Dr. Williams says. But his data indicate that exercise reduces this effect. The more miles run, the less a person is likely to be affected by questionable dietary choices or by what Dr. Williams calls “lapses, like those that happen during the holidays.”

These are hardly the first studies, of course, to suggest that exercise can help to control weight or reduce the depredations of an imperfect diet. A 15-year study of more than 30,000 middle-aged women by Harvard researchers found that while virtually all of the women gained weight over the years, those who walked about an hour a day gained the least, averaging less than five added pounds over the 15 years. The study did not examine eating patterns, though.

An interesting animal study published this year looked directly at the effects of exercise on rats eating a high-fat diet, however. The rats were given free access to fatty foods for 12 weeks, by which time they all had become rotund and developed metabolic syndrome, a constellation of unhealthy conditions that includes insulin resistance, poor cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. Then the researchers divided the animals into several groups, with some remaining on the high-fat diet but running every day, while others were switched to a standard kibble, and still others changed nothing. This new program also lasted 12 weeks.

By the end of that time, the rats that ran had managed to “reverse almost all the atherosclerotic risk factors linked to obesity,” the researchers found, even though they remained on the high-fat diet. They also had stopped gaining weight. The rats that had been switched to a standard diet but didn’t run improved their metabolic profiles, too, but not as much as the running rats. The researchers speculate that exercise activates certain metabolic pathways that undo the damage of a high-fat diet, even if that diet continues.

Dr. Williams suspects that similar mechanisms are at work in human exercisers, and that the effects are commensurately greater the more a person exercises. “It’s well established that endurance training enhances the body’s ability to burn fat” from foods, he says, so serious runners can incinerate the fat marbling a serving of beef before it is stored as flab around the waist. Which means that, if you work out dutifully, you should “get through the holidays without too many regrets,” he says.

Oh, well. I guess it could be worse. I could be chasing after voters in Iowa, munching on corn dogs and fried chicken.

Wonder how Ron Paul stays so thin doing that month after month?



Running and Aging: Many Seniors Still Have What It Takes

OK. I know there are big fish in the skillet these days: persistently high unemployment, the inability of the administration and Congress to accomplish anything, and reports that Iran is planning to assassinate foreign leaders here in the USA among them. And it looks like the NYC cops and public officials are running out of patience with the Occupy Wall Street folks. So watch for a media driven confrontation and protestors being hauled away in leg irons sometime soon.

But heck. We’re sliding into the weekend. So why not opine on something positive and inspiring?

Several of my friends are heading to Columbus this weekend to join some 17,000 other runners in the marathon or half marathon. Good for them. And good luck.

And I hate to admit this because I’ve concluded that my marathon running days are over, but many of the participants in Columbus and in New York in early November and in similar races will be my age or older. Good for them. And good luck.

Here’s from the NYT, “You’re Only as Old as You Run“:

A few years ago researchers at the German Sports University Cologne took a close look at the finishing times of 400,000 marathon and half-marathon runners between the ages of 20 and 79. They found no relevant differences in the finishing times of people between the ages of 20 and 50. The times for runners between 50 and 69 slowed only by 2.6 to 4.4 percent per decade. “Older athletes are able to maintain a high degree of physiological plasticity late into life,” the researchers wrote.

That might explain in part why the running world is growing, and growing older. The number of runners who finished marathons in the United States, where 7 of the world’s 15 largest races took place last year, increased to 507,000 in 2010 from 25,000 in 1976, according to RunningUSA , an organization that promotes the industry.

In 1980, the median age for a marathon runner was 34 for men and 31 for women. By last year, the age had risen to 40 for men and 35 for women. People over 40 now comprise 46 percent of finishers, up from 26 percent in 1980.

A year ago, following an extended vacation in Budapest and other locations in Europe, I figured my ability to keep running was pretty much kaput. The lliotibial band in my left leg was more rigid plastic than rubber. And every time I took a stride whether on concrete, crushed limestone or on the treadmill belt, I experienced the sensation of having a marble in my foot. Turns out it’s a degenerative nerve that ain’t getting any better.

But I’m still at it. I checked my running log last weekend and I’ve already topped 1,000 miles for the year — as we enter early fall. I had a great time running the half marathon in Pittsburgh in May, and I’ve already registered for 2012.

And who knows. Maybe next year I’ll head to Columbus in early October.

No point letting all the other old folks have all the fun.



Running and New Year’s Resolutions

Well, I never make New Year’s resolutions. Why set yourself up for disappointment so early in the year? But here are two things I’m planning on for 2011.

I’m planning on the new year being every bit as good — maybe better — than 2010. And I sure enjoyed this year, especially the six weeks Mary and I spent during August and September visiting Jessica and Gyorgyi in Budapest and Szeged — and then traveling to Italy, Austria and Slovenia, with a stop in Germany one day for lunch. Hey, maybe quasi-retirement isn’t so bad after all.

And I plan to continue running next year, although I’ve accepted the fact that my long-distance running days are over because of a nagging nerve problem in my left foot that makes it seem like I have a pebble in my shoe that I can’t get rid of. Put a pebble in your shoe and try running — or walking — five miles or so on concrete and you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about. Sheesh.

I won’t tally up the miles in my log book until New Year’s Day. But I expect I’ll be around 800 for the year — disappointing since it will be only the second year in the last 25 or so when I didn’t run for a thousand or more miles. But not bad considering I didn’t run a inch during the six weeks we were in Europe.

But I learned during those weeks in Europe how much I missed being out on the concrete early a.m. — and it really came home to me while on a flight  from Budapest to Italy when I happened to be sitting next to a young woman athlete who had just competed in an international triathlon in Budapest. Listening to her talk about the experience, her love of training and competing, and her zest for life made me reconsider my decision to trade the running shoes and the concrete for the elliptical trainer.

And it made me think that I may be quasi-retired in the work world, but I have no intention of retiring from the things I really like or want to do these days or in the days to come.

Hey, what is it that Nike says: “Just Do It.”

And I am — pebble and all.

So I am looking forward to 2011.

Happy New Year!

And thank you for taking the time to visit here to read the daily musings of a pajama-clad citizen journalist.

I’ll be back in 2011.