Benefits Versus Risks


We have become an extremely safety conscious society. We move in droves from the cities to the more rural areas in order to enjoy the beauty and wildness of these relatively untamed areas. But then we want the animals, that call these areas home and supply that beauty and wildness that we desire, removed or eliminated because they may pose a slight threat to our safety. We insist that our governments protect us from every possible danger, no matter how slight, in the areas of transportation, foods, housing and environment. We pass new laws every year that take away some personal freedoms in order to make everyday living just a bit safer.


Removing dangers is certainly something we should continue to try to do. But when will it be enough. There comes a point when you cannot live a productive, healthy and satisfying life without engaging in activities that contain some small risks. Running is an example of such an activity. Any physical activity involves some slight risks. What you have to consider is - do the benefits outweigh the risks involved? The benefits of running are huge and the risks are small. Here is an outline of the risks and benefits of running. You make your own decision.


























Improved Cardiovascular Fitness - Running or any other exercise that raises your heart rate for 15 minutes or more will improve your general level of fitness.


Weight Loss - Running burns more calories per minute than most any other form or exercise. Lifelong runners will reduce their body fat content to their healthiest level and will keep it there.


Improved Muscle and Joint Strength - Running will make increases in muscle strength and also in the connective tissues in your joints. This will help prevent injuries.


Disease Prevention - Many diseases can be prevented or the symptoms of those diseases lessened by running. Running has been show to help prevent many types of cancers, reduce the chances of developing cardiovascular diseases and help decrease the severity of the symptoms of arthritis and asthma.


Prevention of Osteoporosis - Any weight bearing activity such as running and strength training has been proven to decrease the incidence of the bone loss disease, osteoporosis.


Stress Reduction - Running will reduce feelings of stress, depression and anxiety. The physical exertion, the release of endorphins - a mood enhancing compound and the increased confidence of having a healthy and fit body all contribute to the stress reducing benefits of running.


Social Benefits - The act of training is, for the most part, a solitary activity. However, there are local races and running clubs that provide a great place to meet new friends and provide social gatherings to attend.




Injuries - Any physical activity can result in an injury. Muscle strains, sprains, connective tissue injuries and bone injures are all possible. A beginning runner is especially susceptible to muscle strains and connective tissue injuries because the muscles and tendons are doing work that they are not used to. That is why it is important for a beginning runner to start slow and make all increases gradually. This will give your muscles and ligaments a chance to strengthen. All runners, no matter what their fitness level, will have occasional injuries. It is an unavoidable part of engaging in a healthy, physical lifestyle. When properly managed, injuries should not be a major problem.


Illness - As well as injuries, any physical activity can result in medical conditions. Heart problems, stroke, heat and other environmentally related problems, and other medical conditions can result from any physical activity. In the vast majority of cases, running will prevent these problems. In fact, running is many times prescribed as part of a rehabilitation program for cardiac patients, but you must realize that if you have a pre-existing medical condition, any physical activity can possibly aggravate it. If you know you have a medical condition, you must consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.




The risks of running are very small when compared to the benefits. The only risks are injury and illness related. If you run and train smartly and listen to your body, you will minimize the effect of injuries. The risk of serious medical complications during exercise is low, but is higher than when inactive. Most illnesses are due to pre-existing conditions. That is why you should get a physical exam before beginning an exercise program. You doctor will tell you if there are any forms or intensities of exercise that you should avoid. Running is, many times, prescribed for the prevention of cardiovascular illnesses and is used as a rehabilitation tool for patients with cardiovascular disease. If you have a concern about this, see your doctor.


Self Health Assessment


In the past, there has been a lack of uniformity in recommendations concerning when a physical exam is necessary and what type of exercise testing should be done.


According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the minimum testing standard is the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q). This is a questionnaire that is designed to provide individuals a way to perform a simple self assessment of their readiness to engage in an exercise program.


The questionnaire asks the following seven questions:


• Has a doctor ever said that you have a heart condition and recommended only medically supervised activity?


• Do you have any chest pain brought on by physical activity?


• Have you developed chest pain in the past month?


• Do you tend to lose consciousness or fall over as a result of dizziness?


• Do you have a bone or joint problem that could be aggravated by the proposed physical activity?


• Has a doctor ever recommended medication for your blood pressure or heart condition?


• Are you aware through your own experience, or a doctor’s advice, of other physical reason against your exercising without medical supervision?




If you answered yes to one or more questions, you should consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. If you answered no to all questions, you are reasonably assured that you are ready for a graduated exercise program in which you make gradual increases in the level of activity. You should also get a physical exam if you any of the following apply to you:


• Over 40 years of age.

• You are a smoker.

• You have high blood pressure.

• You have diabetes.

• You have lived a sedentary lifestyle.

• You have a family history of cardiovascular disease.

• You have high cholesterol.



Use your own common sense. If you feel that there is any possible risk at all, you should check with your doctor before you begin to run.


In addition to medical conditions, you must assess your musculoskeletal condition. If you have any prior injuries to your joints, any chronic back pain, any chronic joint pain or muscle injuries, check with your doctor before starting to run.



Effects of Medications


Some common medications can have an effect on your reaction to exercise. While the medications will not prevent you participation in exercise, you should know about the effects they cause. Talk to your doctor concerning any precautions you should take if you use medications.




• Beta Blockers - This medication is prescribed for high blood pressure, migraine headaches and heart rhythm irregularities. This drug lowers your blood pressure and heart rate at rest and during exercise. You cannot use heart rate as a measure of exercise intensity if you take this medication. You should use the Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion to monitor the intensity of your workout. This scale is a rating of how hard you perceive your exercise to be. There is more information on this in the chapter on training methods.


• Calcium Channel Blockers - This drug is prescribed for high blood pressure. There are several different agents available. The effect of this medication on blood pressure will vary depending upon the agent used. Check with your doctor for more information on the drug you are using.




• ACE Inhibitors - This is a another medication used to lower blood pressure. ACE inhibitors block the release of a hormone that constricts the blood vessels. The effects of this drug will also vary depending upon the exact drug used. Check with your doctor if you use this medication.


• Diuretics - This medication increase the excretion of water and other fluids through the kidneys. Diuretics are prescribed to lower blood pressure or in cases when a patient is accumulating too much fluid in their body. Some individuals use this drug as a weight loss aid, which is not recommended. This drug usually has no effect on heart rate.




• Bronchodilators - This is a medication used to treat asthma. It works by relaxing and opening the air passages in the lungs. This drug can increase both resting and exercise heart rate. This can make monitoring exercise intensity by heart rate unreliable. Use the Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion instead.


• Decongestants - This drug is commonly used to treat cold and flu symptoms. This medication may raise both heart rate and blood pressure. Heart rate training can be unreliable. Any exercise should be performed with caution due to the possible rise in blood pressure



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