Health Nut: Stay healthy in body and mind: run

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September 21, 2010

12:20 AM

Have you ever met someone that exercises regularly but still genuinely complains about how they look? How about someone that lives an active lifestyle but feels generally depressed? If your experience with health and fitness is anything like what mine has been, then the answer to both of these questions is probably a definite no. The advantages of working out on a regular basis have been clearly illustrated through numerous scientific studies. These findings consistently emphasize the importance of incorporating both strength and muscle-endurance training into a truly healthy lifestyle — supplemented with a proper diet, of course. But more specifically, distance running is one of the absolute best ways to improve your stamina, as well as the overall well-being of your physical and mental health.

Running is a very complex motion. It involves not only lower-body muscles, from the calves to the quadriceps, but also several upper-body muscles, such as the shoulders and core. The natural alternation of running “in phase” — swinging the right arm with the left leg and vice versa — enhances biomechanical efficiency and conserves energy which would otherwise be lost to an unstable twisting of the torso. Flexing the Achilles tendon and running on the ball of the foot provides balance for guidance and push for power, while also preventing injuries that may result from the excessive heavy impact caused by heel-striking. All together, these essential components produce a synchronized and smooth movement that propels the body.
The physical benefits of running are plentiful. First and foremost, your cardiovascular health is boosted by frequently elevating the heart rate in order to cope with controlled external stress placed upon the body. Cardio-respiratory strength allows your muscles to extract oxygen more proficiently as your heart beats stronger and at a higher stroke volume. Special enzymes and hormones facilitate this growth through repeated and targeted stimulation. Top-tier runners will consume oxygen up to three times more effectively than idle persons. This developed aerobic ability translates to better performance in daily activities and competitive athletics.

Most runners, however, are concerned about weight management. Running is a highly intensive exercise that rapidly burns calories; the general rule of thumb is 100 calories per one mile for a 150-pound person. The most effective fat attack, however, is a style known as fartlek — Swedish for “speed play.” Fartlek training, also sometime referred to as interval training, oscillates between periods of high-intensity sprints and recovery time in order to stress both the aerobic and the anaerobic systems. Running has also been linked to helping prevent diseases including, but not limited to, osteoporosis, diabetes, cancer, and even the common cold. It also increases your healthy appetite, as well as your resting metabolism, so you eat better and burn more.

Fitness tests have continually proven that running increases mental vigor on several different levels. One of the most palatable effects of running is the euphoric state induced by endorphins. Naturally generated by the pituitary gland as a painkiller and a mood-booster, these neurotransmitters are discharged as suppressors to pain signals released by nerve cells. Neuronal — or brain cell — growth has also been linked to running; specifically, the amplification of memory and pure brain power.

An often overlooked aspect of running is the intangible social component. Solo expeditions with your favorite upbeat playlist are fun, but taking the hike with a buddy usually provides you with that extra bit of motivation. The raised sense of confidence and self-esteem achieved through running allow you to be more bold and outgoing.

Finally, if anyone out there is looking for some sort of inspiration or guidance, here are a few different suggestions that might interest you. The Arc of Greater Williamsburg is organizing a 5-kilometer benefit run for Sept. 25 at the Williamsburg Landing to raise awareness of intellectual and developmental disabilities in our community. Google the details for registration information. These races are fantastic opportunities for exercise enthusiasts of all levels to have a good time. As preparation, a sample fartlek training session would look as follows: five minutes of moderate-pace warm-up, five minutes of running with 30 seconds of sprinting (repeat six times for 33 minutes total), five minutes of moderate-pace cool-down. Adjust the intensity as necessary.

Happy runnings, and in the words of the late distance legend Steve Prefontaine: “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”

__Dylan Scarton is a Health Nut Columnist. He believes that in order to find your very own happy place you have to go the distance.__

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