Want to live longer, look younger and reduce the risk of serious illness? Grab those running shoes and you’ll find life’s better in the long run, writes Charmaine Yabsley
There’s no denying that jogging is good for you. A study from Stanford University School of Medicine tracked 500 older runners for more than 20 years. It found the now-elderly runners had fewer disabilities, a longer span of active life and were half as likely as ageing non-runners to die early deaths. There are also strong links between regular workouts, lower stress levels and a higher life satisfaction.
So is jogging the elixir of a long and healthy existence? “Any exercise makes your body younger,” says Professor Rob Newton, foundation professor of exercise and sports science at Edith Cowan University (essa.org.au).
“It doesn’t matter whether you do weight training, Pilates, or jog. Every type of exercise is a different drug with its own benefits.”
When you jog
“Just by tying up your jogging shoes, your body begins preparing for the run ahead,” he says. “Your heart rate begins to increase, blood starts to be redistributed away from your digestive system and to the muscles to prepare you for the activity.”
As you begin, the benefits increase. “The body does wonderful things when you jog,” Newton says. “It decides which muscles need blood and moves it there, the hormone endorphin is released, which suppresses pain so that you’re able to run for longer. By increasing your heart rate to around 60 [per cent] to 80 per cent of your maximum heart rate, it strengthens and improves its efficiency.”
It’s also great for boosting your immunity.
“Jogging is like sticking a hose down a drain,” Newton says. “When you exercise, it creates a lovely pumping system, which flushes your lymphatic system, helping to get rid of bugs.”
Jogging and long-term health
Shockingly, about 70 per cent of the Australian population either does no exercise or fails to achieve the World Health Organisation recommended guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week. “We are now a nation suffering from sarcopenic obesity, where muscle mass is declining and fat mass is increasing,” Newton says.
However, it’s the lack of activity in our once sporting nation that has experts worried. “Being fat isn’t causing heart disease, it’s low levels of physical activity,” he says. “You can be obese, but if you do 150 minutes of exercise a week, your risk of dying of anything will be one-third that of somebody who is normal weight but is sedentary.”
And for the 5.4 million Australians with low-bone levels, jogging is one of the best exercises to change this diagnosis.
Just 60 to 150 minutes of jogging each week will increase your life expectancy by about six years.
“Each time you hit the ground, the load coming up through your body during the ‘flight phase’ is around two to three times your body weight,” Newton says. This produces positive stimulants to the bones, through the legs, hips and lumbar spine.
Bones, which have little cells, respond to changing force, and measure the charge in each force. This generates electrical currents in the cells and stimulates them to lay down more bone. “Whereas osteoporosis drugs just increase bone mass randomly and poison the cells which remove bones. It’s akin to a lot of builders putting bricks onto a building site, but not actually creating a structure.”
Making sure it fits
“You need to get the right shoe for your foot,” podiatrist and footwear designer Anna Baird says (baredfootwear.com.au). “A good-looking shoe may look stylish but be made for a different foot shape or running style than yours, which will only cause injuries.”
Or should you eschew shoes altogether? Barefoot running has recently experienced a resurgence, but it’s not for everyone.
“If you’re an experienced runner, then it will be fine,” Baird says. “When you run barefoot, you naturally land on your forefoot and when you wear shoes it will put you on your heel, which places a larger amount of pressure on your body.
“However, forefoot striking means you’ll hit the ground more often. It does depend on your body strength and your running style on what you choose to do.”
Warm up or not?
“Take five to 10 minutes to allow the transition from rest to rigorous exercise and the same in reverse,” fitness trainer Chris van Hoof says.
“That’s the most dangerous time when you can have a cardiovascular event or injury.”
Remember, jogging shouldn’t be a daily workout. “Within a 48-hour period do something different,” Newton says. “Jog every second day, but in between mix it up with weight training, cycling or swimming, as these won’t hit the same muscle groups. This allows bones and muscles to remodel.
“[Then] 48 hours after your jog, hit it with another stimulate.”