Exercise is better than any drug in maintaining heart, lung, muscle, bones, digestive and brain health. Exercise helps with weight loss, lowers cholesterol levels, strengthens our muscles including our heart, improves balance, reduces many cancer rates, boosts our immune system, fights depression, reduces stress, improves sleep, enhances mode and aides in brain regeneration minimizing effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Even minimal lite running of 5 to 10 minutes a day was found to reduce overall mortality by 30%, reduce cardiovascular disease by 45% and may also add 3 years of life expectancy (1). Yet, almost 80% of Americans remain sedentary and less than 30% of high school students get 60 minutes of physical activity every day (2).
Walking vs. Running
Any exercise is better than nothing, as the saying goes “If you don’t use it, you lose it”. Significant controversy has always been as to which is better, walking or running? It really boils down to the individual. Walking is more protective to our joints and is the ideal exercise for everyone. Running burns more calories and has higher benefit levels for our heart, muscles, bones and weight loss. A 5-min run generates the same benefits as a 15-min walk, and a 25-min run is equivalent to a 105-min walk (3).
The are no negatives to walking as long as the ground is not slippery. Running, on the other hand, does have a high risk correlated to overtraining or training over an extended period with inadequate recovery. Proper recovery is just as essential as training because this is the time that your bones, muscle, joints and cartilage rebuild and become stronger. Injury prevention is easy as long as you understand the importance of active rest periods. When we train at intense levels for over 60 minutes, our heart can begin to stretch and overwhelm the muscle’s ability to adapt, and inflammation occurs inside your coronary arteries. Excessive endurance training may also dampen your immune system and increase your risk for illness. Overall, more than half of the people who run will experience some trauma from doing so, while the percentage of walkers who will get hurt is around 1 percent. Interestingly, it seems you can walk pretty much endlessly without any increased risk of hurting yourself. The main running-related injuries include tibia stress syndrome, Achilles tendon injuries, and plantar fasciitis.
Myth: Running causes arthritis
One of the most common myths is that running stresses your joints and leads to arthritis. The opposite is actually true. Exercise promotes cartilage thickening and prevents the loss of cartilage proteoglycans, which provide cartilage’s viscoelastic properties. These effects of exercise are significant because cartilage thinning, and focal loss of proteoglycans are prominent features of osteoarthritis. Only 3.5% of runners develop hip or knee arthritis, versus those that are sedentary average 10.2% hip and 13.3% knee arthritis (4). A study just published in June found that loads were actually lower for running versus walking at 3.47 m/s, because of a greater distance traveled per stride. (5)
Exercise for Brain Health
Exercise increases the blood supply or food to our brain. This changes the brain from the molecular to behavioral level in ways that protect our memory and thinking skills.
One of the coolest things is that aerobic exercise enhances neurogenesis. This is the process of building new brain connections or neurons. It also improves brain plasticity, or the ability of the brain to change and adapt. Many studies have noted that the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus of the brain have higher volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t. These areas control thinking and memory.
The benefits of exercise were found to not only enhance learning but also protect the brain from injury and maintain function with aging. This includes lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. It is estimated that 115 million people will have dementia worldwide by the year 2050. This alone is a reason to get moving! Activities with both physical and mental demands, such as coordination, strategy, and rhythm have a higher impact on cognitive function than exercise alone. So, get out and play that round of golf, or learn to ballroom dance. You just need to get the heart pumping to stimulate your brain!
Everyone has heard about “the runner’s high.” High level of aerobic exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins or chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. So not only does exercise relieve stress, but it can also reduce depression and anxiety and improve mood and sleep.
Instead of grabbing that cup of coffee, when you are in a slump, go for that brisk walk.
- Leisure-time running reduces all-cause and cardiovascular mortality risk. Lee. s.l. : J Am Coll Cardiol, 2014, Vol. 64. 472-481.
- Centers for Disease Control. Facts about Physical Activity. www.cdc.gov. [Online] [Cited: 7 21, 2018.] https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/data/facts.htm.
- Minimum amount of physical activity for reduced mortality and extended life expectancy: a prospective cohort study. Wen. s.l. : Lancet, 2011, Vol. 378. 1224-1253.
- The Association of Recreational and Competitive Running With Hip and Knee Osteoarthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Alentorn-Geli. 6, s.l. : J Ortho Sports Phys Therapy, 2017, Vol. 47. 373-390.
- Is running better than walking for reducing hip joint loads? Schache. s.l. : Med & Science in Sports & Ex., 2018, Vol. 6.
- Northey JM, Cherbuin N, Pumpa KL, et al. Exercise interventions for cognitive function in adults older than 50: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med Published Online First: 24 April 2017. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-096587
- Berkman, L.F. et al. High, usual and impaired functioning in community-dwelling older men and women: findings from the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Aging. J. Clin. Epidemiol.1993; 46: 1129–1140
- Blomquist, K.B. and Danner, F.Effects of physical conditioning on information-processing efficiency. Percept. Mot. Skills. 1987;65: 175–186
- Friedland, R.P. et al.Patients with Alzheimer’s disease have reduced activities in midlife compared with healthy control-group members. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A.2001; 98: 3440–34
- Black, J.E. et al.Learning causes synaptogenesis, whereas motor activity causes angiogenesis, in cerebellar cortex of adult rats. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A.1990; 87: 5568–5572
- van Praag, H. et al.Running enhances neurogenesis, learning, and long-term potentiation in mice. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A.1999; 96: 13427–13431
- Russo-Neustadt, A. et al.Exercise, antidepressant medications, and enhanced brain derived neurotrophic factor expression. Neuropsychopharmacology. 1999; 21: 679–682
- Russo-Neustadt, A. et al.Physical activity–antidepressant treatment combination: impact on brain-derived neurotrophic factor and behavior in an animal model. Behav. Brain Res.2001;120: 87–95
- Byrne, A. and Byrne, D.G.The effect of exercise on depression, anxiety and other mood states: a review. J. Psychosom. Res.1993;37: 565–574