Why you need not run

There is no need to run

Three wins in a month, but I believe there is no need to run

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.

6 packs despite running, not because of running

6 pack despite running, not because of running

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:

Think about where on this scale is best for you

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!

And now, I’d like your (anonymous) opinion please?


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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.

34 thoughts on “Why you need not run

  1. Susanna

    Yes, I agree that running is just one of the many means to achieve good health nd fitness. One reason I knw running is not good is coz it puts too much stress or pressure on the kneesliked the example of starting a marathon nd finishing it without looking tired to thinkin that if u run lots then u will get a super thin nd sexy body. Touche!

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  2. Adarsh Garodia

    Hi Puru…I read this article and Im in a dilemma whether to continue running or not. I started about 15 months back and Shrenik has been training me(in a group). But my last year of training was filled with three injuries (ankle twisting twice and knee pain for two months each). I still fought over the injuries and recently ran the bengaluru HM and did fairly well.

    I do not intend to increase my mileage or speed, or achieve anything. Running helps me stay happy and healthy and thats all I intend to achieve. I have never been a gym person and gymming essentially depresses me, so I run and I play a few sports.

    A lot of people have warned me about the knee degeneration and this is the only worry I have. I got my knee checked twice in the last year and all reports were fine. But post this HM I had the pain for a couple of days, dont know if thats normal. I just need your advice if I should continue running or not, because all other means do not give me as much happiness as this does. I have tried swimming, cycling etc…

    Thanks
    Adarsh Garodia

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    1. purutheguru Post author

      You should do things that you enjoy… if you enjoy swimming and/or cycling you ought to definitely do them and not JUST run. Knee problems arise for a range of reasons, the most common one being poor running gait, in particular, foot strike. Shrenik can definitely help you there. Looking forward to running with you in Kolkata one day… (and perhaps an early morning cycle tour 😉

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  3. Prem

    Good analysis Guru! Balance is the key to any goal and health is no different. Even if one takes up running as the method towards health goal, the other enablers for sustained running like lifestyle change(assuming an existing sedantry lifestyle), food/nutrition, cross fitness, yoga/pillates, meditational techniques should also be embraced.

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    1. purutheguru Post author

      Balance is key in just about EVERYTHING in the universe… Being mindful of it in each and every aspect of our lives allows supreme harmony in even the smallest of endeavours…
      (This sounds like a very general statement… but if you think about it hard… there’s no end to its application.)

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  4. NDR

    Thanks for pointing this out Purnendu!
    Initially when I started my workout regime I didn’t take up running …it was at a all women’s gym called “curves” …I soon got quite bored with the routine there & decided to run a bit as this was something that I did while I was in school doing cross country & track & feild sports etc …so the running regime came naturally to me & it was refreshing to be able to run a bit & run longer & longer .distances . You’re right running does give you the natural high & is a sport that one can just pick up & basically Run with it to stay on top of their fitnes level.
    I soon started incorporating weights & spin but now more focused on yoga & running as my main stream of fitness.
    Having said this , I realized that I need to work other muscle components of my body …so have recently started with core exercises at home & the elliptical the other day etc …
    I do agree running is not for everyone but must say if it works in one’s routine for their fitness …they should continue..,whatever you do in terms of getting the body moving is excellent.
    Switching up the exercise routine is a very heathy habit & keeps workouts fun & entertaining😊
    Thanks for the blog!

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    1. purutheguru Post author

      You have been fortunate to have had a wonderful mentor and gone from strength to strength in many aspects of your life on your own after that. May that long continue…

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  5. Prasad Patil

    Puru – all that’s true what U believed in, Agree to the point that no one runs a marathon or long distances just to be physically fitter or Bikini bodies . .. its more than that . . U surely agree that Human are wearied animals, they feels joyful at the starting line on big race day and even wish others a enjoyable run, there families, friends comes volunteer experience joy as well volunteer their time n energy to help enthusiastically. . .both s participant runners and thier loved once enjoys the activity, very well knowing they are putting their bodies in intense stress or may get injured in d process. . .a very rare behavior observed only while in long distances and not seen in any other sports. . . You may be correct in your thinking dominated by your own believes, however running is more than just a fitness , its an metaphor of lives. . . its teaches us valuable lessons of lives, where the human virtues like dreaming, goal setting, feeling like sense of achievement, sense of being, I matter, I belong to the community, possibilities, confidence in your potential . . .can have N numbers of benefits. . . Thank you,

    I love what U Do and your finishes. .

    Prasad Pati
    7507173535
    Pune running

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    1. purutheguru Post author

      Dear Prasad
      I do not disagree with any of the things you have said. Through this article, I hope to only encourage the reader to appreciate that one can (note, I did not say ‘must) “strip out the running part” and “replace it with XYZ” (where XYZ can be chosen from a range of possible options that are equivalent or sometimes better).
      Do keep enjoying your own running… Running rocks!!
      Regards
      Puru

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  6. parag dongre

    Hi Puru, nice article. As long as one looks at running (or for that matter any of the alternatives you suggest) as a means to an end and not an end in itself, one should be good to go ! A few years back I did a cost/ benefit analysis of various physical activities to decide which was most appropriate. The parameters I weighed went like 1. Ease of practice 2. Ease of learning if not known already eg swimming etc 3. Financial cost of equipment, memberships etc 4. Accessibility to quality guidance 5. Likelihood of continuing through old age considering wear on the body and time available 6. Individual liking, past experience and capacity.
    In short, a SWOT analysis of the options…so it’s not as simple. In the end a balanced approach, considering healthy diet, lifestyle , genetics, time available and various combinations thereof should work.

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    1. purutheguru Post author

      Hi Parag!
      It was fun running in the same event with you last Sunday. Your approach is absolutely spot on. I too have examined those additional parameters (for comparison between methods) but did not want to make the article overly lengthy. I just hope to provide a balanced view of running among those who have taken it up or are planning to for whatever might be their reason.
      Thanks for your comments.
      – Puru

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  7. Susanna

    Hey Guru, (from now on that’s what I’ll be calling u…..lol…what about Guruji….hahahah
    Well cming down to ur post on running not the only way to fitness or rather ditch high mileage running, I agree totally that running alone is not the only form of exercise that can give me a fit and fab body, tho I believe it can and still do
    For eg….what do u think about any of the great athletes who hv won Olympic gold medals….let’s take Ussain Bolt for ex….fastest runner in the world nd still no one can beat his record… What other exerxises do u think he would be doing in addition to trg for his event …..sprinting? I’m sure he does, but the very fact that running is in his blood and combined with the trg he gets on that helps him to be where he is and achieve the kinda body he keeps.
    Also genetics play a part, hereditary traits, environmental factors…. So as much as I get what u r saying I still believe that running and swimming are fab ways of staying fit and in shape.

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  8. kanvgarg

    Hello Puru Sir,
    I am big fan of running and I had injured my knee Cartilage during my college days.I am 23 years old, and obese and I love to run. I love it because it challenges me. I am not a fan of gym and I rarely do strength work. I have never run a half marathon and I intend to do so. Presently I can run 10k easily but after completing 10k my knees just give up (they start paining) and they keep paining for the next 2 days. I bought running shoes (Asics Gel Nimbus 16 ) recently and with them pain is very less but still it remains. I don’t know if my running posture is wrong and I saw you tube videos for that but I am never sure if I am doing it rightly. I think it will be great if you can guide me for three following things
    1. Running posture.
    2, I think muscles in thighs play an important in reducing the stress on knees, am I right in thinking that?
    3. Can you suggest me a running coach in Bangalore? I just want to take a few sessions to learn how to run not a proper training camp.

    Thanks
    Kanv

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    1. purutheguru Post author

      You could get in touch with someone they call “Pani Sir” or with “Ash Nath”. They might have different styles from each other, you’ll have to explore.

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  9. Parixit Mishra

    Hi Puru,
    Thanks for sharing your insights. It really helps to do away some of the beliefs. I have been running for almost a year now. but come across many times that running hurts your knees and it causes doubt in the mind. Pls guide what is the correct way to land your feet to avoid the knee injury. Also, which are the right shoes ?
    Regards,
    Parixit
    Pune

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    1. purutheguru Post author

      Hi Parixit!
      This is not the best medium to teach you about running right. Needless to say the reason you have knee pain is because something was not done right. Running right should mean NO pain for reasonable distances. You should read and imbibe information about safe running. And, in the end, remember, execution is key!
      – Puru

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      1. Parixit Mishra

        Thank you Puru, You have explained the core of it. If possible, please share the type of shoes which are most suitable or recommended for running, brand if any? Or this varies from person to person.

        Last, thanks for being generous & sharing your thoughts & ideas with people at large.

        Regards,
        Parixit

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  10. Jyoti

    Such a sensible thought provoking article. I started running a bit late in life , reached 5 k then, 10 k then speed improved , was looking fwd to orgaanised 10 k run. Then a foot spur and cyst. At some point I realised it was not going to heal , that I would forever have a swollen foot after running even 2 K , so I said OK no more, I have looked at other activities such as ZUMBA my happiest hour and not as easy as it looks , gym for almost everything ,will resume yoga and swimming. Plan to learn Tai Chi pilates Most important is functional fitness. No point pumping kilos and running insane miles if you can’t lift heavy loads at home if you cannot Sprint to catch a bus , play with a toddler get by on a hectic day . Most of us are not on that elite range mentally and physically to do ultra marathons . it requires a dedication and stupendous disciplined training to get there. I am happy helping and volunteering at runs or showing up at 5ks and doing my best with a swollen foot. Running does little for focus coordination balance concentration memory and almost nothing for upper body conditioning. There are other cardio activities which can do that! I want to do what makes me happy to sweat and push myself a bit.

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    1. purutheguru Post author

      Dear Jyoti
      I’m glad you understand the value of functional fitness and pursue it with various methods.
      I’d say running well and without injuries does require dynamic balance at high speed (not easy), one definitely needs to coordinate movements around various joints well and to be a good runner one must not ignore conditioning of the upper body. Unfortunately many recreational distance runners do not appreciate the importance of these.
      Good luck
      – Puru

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  12. lilmsbackpacker

    A great write up as always. It a makes alot of sense to me now, probably if I would’ve read this article a couple of months back I would have immediately disagreed with you ( due to overconfident and over smartness). I had been running with a hip flexor injury for last 9 months now, winning podiums in almost all my races. But recently this hip flexor injury turned in to major lower back injury. I knew my body was not in condition but I kept pushing myself. This made me sit on bench for almost 1.5 months now. Given the running season is at its peak I really regret not listening to my body.
    A lesson learned the hard way.

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    1. purutheguru Post author

      It takes an evolved human being, a mature (in the self-transformation, not age, sense) runner to accept the truth about oneself. I am happy that you will be an even better human being to yourself (and foremost) in the future. And, surely, therefore, a better runner and example for others. Good luck, good health, and God speed!

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