Shedding extra weight, building lean muscle mass, and experiencing the rush of endorphins known as the “runner’s high” aren’t the only potential perks of taking up running. Lacing up your running shoes and hitting the pavement may also benefit your long-term heart health, but moderation is key.

How does running benefit your heart?

The health benefits of cardio exercise, like running, are well established. Exercise helps to prevent the onset of numerous chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, and obesity. The evidence is especially strong for preventing heart disease, which remains the number one cause of death around the world.1,2

Some of the most well-known potential health benefits of exercise like running include:3

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower inflammation
  • Increased insulin resistance and prevention of cardiovascular complications of diabetes
  • Vasodilation, or the widening of blood vessels that improves circulation
  • Reduced risk for irregular heartbeat
  • Increased HDL “good” cholesterol and decreased LDL “bad” cholesterol
  • Less plaque formation in the arteries

A 2015 review looked at the association of running and the risk for cardiovascular events and all-cause mortality among 55,137 adults between 18 and 100 years old. Researchers concluded that even running for 5 to 10 minutes per day, at a rate of 6mph or slower, had significant positive effects on heart health and mortality risk.4

That being said, there is also evidence that too much running can have an adverse effect on your heart. Some extreme distance runners have experienced a faster rate of things like thickening of the heart valves, irregular heartbeat, and a higher risk of sudden cardiac death.5

The general recommendation for healthy individuals is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (e.g., 30 minutes a day for 5 days) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week, which may incorporate both distance and speed running, or other forms of physical activity.6

How to start running for heart health

If you’re new to running but are interested in adding it to your lifestyle for its potential heart health benefits, it’s a good idea to start slowly. As with many other major lifestyle changes, if exercise is new to you, you don’t want to try and run a marathon on your first day.

Walking or slow jogging are a good place to start, slowly increasing your speed and distance as you become more comfortable. This helps to prevent injury and overexertion if you’re not used to regular physical activity.

It’s also important to stay hydrated and fuel your body well for this type of exercise. Get in the habit of stretching after your run, paying attention to any aches and pains, and resting as needed. Green superfood supplements like All Day Energy Greens are an easy and convenient way to support your energy levels when starting a new exercise like running.

Your risk for heart disease and death from other chronic diseases declines even with a small amount of exercise every day. If you’re interested in giving moderate running a try, it’s an excellent way to protect your heart.3

Yours in Health-
Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD
IVL’s Community Registered Dietitian

References

  1. Ruegsegger GN, Booth FW. Health Benefits of Exercise. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2018 Jul 2;8(7).
  2. Ozemek C, Laddu DR, & Lavie CJ, et al. An Update on the Role of Cardiorespiratory Fitness, Structured Exercise and Lifestyle Physical Activity in Preventing Cardiovascular Disease and Health Risk. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2018 Nov - Dec;61(5-6):484-490.
  3. Nystoriak MA, Bhatnagar A. Cardiovascular Effects and Benefits of Exercise. Front Cardiovasc Med. 2018;5:135.
  4. Lee DC, Pate RR, Lavie CJ, Sui X, Church TS, Blair SN. Leisure-time running reduces all-cause and cardiovascular mortality risk [published correction appears in J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014 Oct 7;64(14):1537]. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;64(5):472–481.
  5. Eijsvogels TMH, Thompson PD, Franklin BA. The "Extreme Exercise Hypothesis": Recent Findings and Cardiovascular Health Implications. Curr Treat Options Cardiovasc Med. 2018;20(10):84.
  6. McMullen CW, Harrast MA, Baggish AL. Optimal Running Dose and Cardiovascular Risk. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2018 Jun;17(6):192-198.