About a year ago, I told you why I don’t care much about your podium finish, or mine! Yesterday I won my third distance running race for this month of October. But today I am going to chat with you about why you need not run.
Running could be part of your life – but it need not be
Perhaps you have been running for years. Or perhaps you are new to recreational running. Or it might be that you have been thinking of taking up running for some reason – a sudden health shock, or perhaps you noticed your clothes don’t fit like they used to because you’ve piled on the pounds. Running could be part of your life – but it need not be.
I do not encourage others to run
The global growth in recreational distance running has definitely reached many shores and is growing strong. Those who have seen me run, think that I am a huge proponent of it. In fact, quite the contrary is true. I believe I am an excellent coach when it comes to guiding anyone to better running performance. But whenever I am approached by someone who wants to avail of my mentoring for living a better life, but does not currently run, the first thing I do is dissuade them from running. Or whenever someone asks me for my opinion on running longer races, I try to turn them off the idea. Here is why…
Back to basics
If you remember, I spoke with you earlier about What is Fitness Anyway? and then later about Skills Based Measures of Fitness being BS CRAP. Well, nowhere in those chats did I specify that one needed to run to be fit. Yes, one can try to get fitter through running and running does have numerous benefits to our overall health, including mental health, that have been well-documented. But, running is nowhere close to being essential for excellent health or quality of life or even improved life expectancy.
Risk and Reward
As a quantitative trader, I appreciate that just about every human activity (usually pursued for some upside or benefit) has with it a downside or potential cost. We need to think about the details. What are the risk adjusted benefits of running that next mile and what might be an alternative optimal path you could follow?
If we approach this problem from the perspective of the health based measures of fitness, then for:
Cardiorespiratory Fitness – any activity that gets your heart rate sufficiently high with physical movement could suffice. To the list of possibilities, you could include swimming, brisk walking uphill, cycling, dancing, stair climbing, the cross-trainer, the list is literally endless. You do not need to run to improve cardiorespiratory fitness.
Muscular Endurance – the same list of activities that help improve your cardiorespiratory fitness could be used for muscular endurance. In fact, you could possibly target a wider range of muscles with some of these activities than you could with running, and perhaps with better balance between your upper and lower body. In addition, many of them (think “dance”!) will focus on one or more skills based measures of fitness too.
Body Composition – that running for hours every couple of days will make you look toned is a terrible myth that seems to lose no dominance in urban minds. Running longer will make your legs stronger for running longer (endurance), but being a catabolic activity, there is no guarantee that you will lose your love handles. Don’t believe me? Well, let us flip this around and you can prove it to yourself. Go stand at the finish line of a full marathon or a recreational urban ultra-running event – do all the runners who finish look ripped? I know they don’t!
Flexibility and Muscular Strength – running itself does not target flexibility and although it improves muscular strength in some areas, the improvement is marginal.
Let us now look at some of the other benefits of running:
Runner’s High – this invariably arises from the release of a combination of Endorphin, Serotonin, Dopamine, Adrenalin. Well, you could get this from any of the other activities too. In fact, besides sports, Endorphin, the “happy hormone” is released during sex or even when you eat spicy food but most typically when you are in sudden pain or injured!
Although it sounds like I am trashing running, I am not. I love running but I do not ever let it take up centre stage in my life for more than a few minutes a week. Going by my blog’s tag line, I think about how much I ought to run in a systematic manner that is best described by this graphic. I believe that it applies to you too, elite athlete or couch potato:
You could first use this graphic to think about your various measures of fitness (see above) and running’s relevance to them. You could ask yourself to what extent running is the only option (hint: almost never ;-)) to achieve a specific goal or benefit. Do you realize that going from couch potato to running with inappropriate progression is riskier than not running at all? You could ask yourself “To what extent does being at a specific point on this scale affect my physical, mental or emotional state negatively?” Are you increasing the production of the stress hormone Cortisol by running too much and too often when, in fact, you took up running to reduce the impact of stress from urban living in the first place? Is the social benefit of running (having better friendships) being compromised because you are running too much? In fact, are you running just to keep up with the recent fad in recreational running without thinking about the alternatives for good health? Did you consider that, all else being equal, how much you ought to run for a specific goal is a function of both your age and gender? Given that an extra hour of sleep is significantly more important than an extra hour of running, are you getting enough sleep? Since you need fuel for your existence and activities, is what you are eating correct for the running you are doing or are you expecting your running to take care of bad eating habits?
Bikini Body Wanted, No Running Required
Recently I mentored a middle-aged client who had little success with “celebrity trainers” at achieving a bikini body. With me she achieved this with no running! Did we do things to improve her cardiorespiratory fitness? Of course we did. The point is, running was not essential to achieving her goals. Like activities such as yoga, pilates or weight training, running too is just a method. A method to better health. Don’t have madness in your method!
Hey! There’s a simple question for you at the end of this, don’t forget to scroll down and click to let your voice be heard!
Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.