How Running Impacts Your Heart Health

4 min read  |  February 14, 2020  | 

Key Takeaways:

  • Running not only increases longevity but also brings about various positive changes such as lower blood pressure, improved metabolism, weight loss, and a decreased risk of diabetes.
  • A study from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology indicates a strong positive correlation between running and heart health. The study, involving over 55,000 adults over 15 years, reveals a 30% lower risk of death for runners and a 45% lower risk of heart-related causes of death.
  • While extolling the virtues of running for most individuals, research indicates potential risks for ultramarathoners. Extremely long-distance events may lead to heart damage and rhythm problems for some individuals.

If you want to keep your heart healthy well into your years, then running is an excellent choice.

Regular moderate or vigorous aerobic activity gets your heart pumping, which in turn increases its longevity and capability over the long haul. It’s a surefire way to keep your heart healthy well into your older years.

One of the aerobic activities that many experts have long gravitated toward is running. “The benefits are overwhelmingly positive in the vast majority of people who run,” says Raul Mitrani, M.D., a cardiologist with the University of Miami Health System. “It lowers blood pressure, lower heart rate, improves metabolism, delays diabetes, promotes weight loss, and prolongs life. If you could take all the benefits of running and put them in a pill, it’d be a best seller.”

What the research shows

Over the years, a large number of medical studies have reported the connection between running and heart health. One of the largest was published in 2014 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The study, which looked at data from more than 55,000 adults over the course of 15 years, showed a positive connection between heart health and running among the study participants. Specifically, runners in the study had a 30% lower risk of death than non-runners. And if you just focused on heart-related causes of death like a heart attack or stroke, then the runners were 45% less likely to die of those causes than non-runners. Overall, runners in the study lived on average three years longer than the non-runners.

And all kinds of running, no matter how fast or how long, seemed to help, according to the study. Participants who ran slowly or infrequently showed a lower risk of dying than those who did not run at all.

But there are different rules for ultramarathoners

This massive study on running and heart health is frequently held up as proof of the benefits of running. However, another area of research has shown that ultramarathons and other extremely long-distance events may have the opposite impact on some people’s hearts and cause damage to the heart, heart rhythm problems, and other concerns.

According to the American Heart Association, it appears that some people may be at a greater risk of these problems related to long-distance running than others. For example, Dr. Mitrani, who has run multiple half marathons, notes that those with a history of heart rhythm problems or runners whose right atrium and ventricle dilate after running may have more issues with their heart when it comes to running.

“Most of the time, the heart pumps 5 liters of blood per minute when at rest, but that can go up to 25 liters a minute when running,” says Dr. Mitrani. “Generally, the heart adapts in a beneficial way, but some people may be more prone to arrhythmia.”

The bottom line

Despite this research, Dr. Mitrani stresses that running is a heart-healthy activity for most people. The key, he notes, is to approach your exercise routine thoughtfully.

“If you’re running more than 6 hours every week, you may want to check in with your doctor just to have a conversation,” he says. “This is especially true if you have a history of arrhythmia or are feeling heart palpitations.”

For those who have issues with running, Dr. Mitrani says that there are a number of other activities that can help you reach your goal of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week, such as cycling, swimming, dancing, and even walking.

Written by Wyatt Myers, contributor to UMiamiHealth News.

Tags: aerobic activity, cardiology, Dr. Raul Mitrani, healthy living, marathon, physical fitness

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