Is Running *Really* Working For You?

Running. It’s that thing healthy people do, right? If you’re spending a lot of time hanging out on healthy living websites, I’m willing to bet that you’ve run a race or two, or at least that you’ve got a 5K, half or full marathon on your bucket list.

I did a 5k once, 11 years ago in Australia. They called it a “fun run,” and despite what I thought was ample training, it wasn’t fun for me at all. I am not a runner.

But I didn’t stop running. In fact, I thought the fact that I sucked at it meant I should push even harder. Type A personalities make awesome runners and even better self-destructors.

I was pushing myself into running without really loving it, ignoring my body’s “stop!” signals so I could run just one, five or 10 more miles. It wasn’t until I was sick with full-blown Crohn’s disease that I actually stopped to ask myself if this was a good idea.

One morning, my alarm went off to signal it was time for my morning run. Instantly, every excuse in the book rushed through my mind as to why I should stay in bed instead. For the first time, I gave myself permission to explore what would make me actually want to get out of bed. The answer? Go for a walk. Suddenly, the excuses vanished.

A morning walk of 20 to 90 minutes became part of my nonnegotiable daily routine, and it did more for my health, my weight, my state of mind and my healing than the endorphins of a run ever could have.

Can you relate? If so, it might it might be time to ask yourself if running is doing you more harm than good.

Of course, if you’re deeply in love with running and it brings joy to your life without damaging your body, there’s no reason to give it up. But if you’re pushing yourself to run because you think it’s the only way to get fit, it might be time to consider a lower-impact form of exercise.

Here are three reasons why choosing lower intensity exercise like yoga, paddling or walking may be a better choice.

1. Excessive cardio can lead to adrenal fatigue.

If you have a Type A personality like me, you may have been drawn to running in the first place because you feel like it helps you reduce stress. But excessive exercise actually causes your body stress, resulting in increased cortisol levels. And when your adrenal glands pump out too much cortisol from physical stress like exercise, as well as emotional and mental stress, they can get exhausted.

Are you running on empty? Imagine what it’s doing to your adrenal glands if you’re waking up early to put in your miles, then working eight to 10 hours in a stressful environment, guzzling coffee, driving home in rush-hour traffic and staying up late watching disasters on the news.

Some of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue include perpetual exhaustion and difficulty bouncing back from stressful events, constant cravings, excess weight around the midsection, and increased levels of inflammation with slower healing capacity. The best treatment for adrenal fatigue is rest, which is difficult to come by if you’re training for a marathon.

2. Walking may give you the same benefits — less pain, same gain.

If part of the reason you’re running is to reduce your risk of heart disease, this next study may interest you. Researchers used the National Runners’ and Walkers’ Health Study to examine the differences in exercise intensity on coronary heart disease risk factors. They found that walking reduced the risk of hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol just as much as running.

3. Running may actually be putting your heart health at risk.

Not only are walking and running equally beneficial for cardiovascular health, some studies have linked training for marathons with the development of serious heart problems. One study compared the arteries of marathon runners and sedentary non-runners, finding that the marathoners had more calcified plaque in their coronary arteries. What’s especially scary about this finding is that runners tend to be quite health-conscious, and rarely have other heart disease risk factors present like obesity and hypertension. Calcified plaque has been linked to stroke and dementia, and runners and their doctors may miss the signs of heart problems until it’s too late.

The bottom line: If running makes you happy, by all means, keep putting in those miles. But if the thought of going for a long walk, doing some yoga or kayaking sounds more appealing to you than signing up for a marathon, listen to your body. Movement is movement and your body knows best.

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