Synopsis: Studies are showing that people who train hard and long at running have death rates similar to couch potatoes, while those who exercise moderately or even lightly are likely to live much longer. Experts discuss how much exercise is enough and how to make the most of light exercise.

Host: Nancy Benson. Guests: Dr. Carol Ewing Garber, Professor of Movement Sciences, Teachers College, Columbia University; Dr. Vijay Vad, sports medicine specialist, Hospital for Special Surgery, New York, Assistant Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College and author, The New Rules of Running

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Moderate Exercise

Nancy Benson: The weather’s warming up, and store shelves are filling up with books on the latest running trends–how to run faster, farther and longer. When it comes to exercise, most of us have grown up assuming that more is better. But many fitness experts are changing their tune. They’re now learning that running fast and hard isn’t so good for your health. Apparently there is such a thing as too much exercise.

Carol Garber: There have been some recent studies, one in particular, that suggested that people who run a lot actually have poor outcomes or more deaths and disease than people who did less exercise, and in fact their mortality was similar to that of sedentary people which is concerning.

Nancy Benson: That’s Dr. Carol Ewing Garber, Professor Of Movement Sciences at Teachers College, Columbia University. And you heard her correctly. Research now shows that intense runners have a mortality rate similar to sedentary people–couch potatoes. The study’s authors speculate that too much running may damage the heart. The people who lived the longest, according to the study, were those who exercised lightly or moderately. Garber says just a small amount of exercise has great health benefits.

Carol Garber: It does seem to be a fairly moderate amount, you know, our recommendations currently are for about 30 minutes a day of moderate activity like a walk for example, in that you wouldn’t have to that all in one time. We do have some recent studies that suggest even doing less than that might even be adequate in terms of giving health benefits. I think probably the most important thing is that people are active, so something’s better than nothing, and that you do this on a regular basis.

Nancy Benson: But for a couch potato, even 30 minutes a day might sound like too much. That’s when the advice to simply get out of the chair can be helpful.

Carol Garber: One thing that people can do that is not too difficult to attain is just doing things like getting up out of your chair every hour and walking around for a couple of minutes, and that has been shown to have some very powerful effects on some health related biomarkers. The reality is that for many of us we spend you know 10, 12 or more hours just sitting and not moving at all and that is really bad for our health.

Nancy Benson: It’s hard to know how much exercise you’re getting. That’s why Garber says a pedometer is a great tool for monitoring physical activity throughout the day.

Carol Garber: Our recommendations are that you’re as active as possible in your daily life, and that you reduce the amount of time you spend sitting and doing sedentary things, but also that it’s recommended that you do some kind of intentional physical activity. And that could be going for a walk. It doesn’t have to necessarily be something where you go to the gym or do something that requires you to change your clothes.

Nancy Benson: Experts say even physically fit people more than 40 years old lose one percent of muscle mass every year, but it doesn’t take much exercise to minimize those effects.

Vijay Vad: If you go back to the hunter and gatherer days, we run in sport a little bit here and there, and that was body maintenance as a matter of fact if you want to minimize muscle loss you can minimize that by as little as 5 to 10 minutes of aerobic activity a couple of times a week so the human body needs very little for maintenance.

Nancy Benson: That’s Dr. Vijay Vad, a sports medicine specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York and Assistant Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College. He’s also author of the book The New Rules Of Running, where he outlines a program for the recreational runner who wants to stay fit, not run a marathon.

Vijay Vad: We all run differently we all run at different speeds. Our running mechanics are all individualized and different, and so your running speed should be geared towards you. If you want to be a life walker or runner do it at a comfortable pace that’s for you.

Nancy Benson: In other words, don’t feel intimidated by all the runners speeding past, leaving you in the dust. Vad says running at your own slow pace has tremendous health benefits.

Vijay Vad: There’s lots of data now, you know, running makes you smarter, it preserves your brain. Even if you’re doing something as little as two miles a couple times a week at a slow pace, that’s enough to have a huge positive impact as far as endorphins, as far as preservation of the brain. So, you don’t have to be running fifteen miles three times a week to get those benefits.

Nancy Benson: In addition, Vad says slow running for shorter distances is much better on your joints.

Vijay Vad: Slow running, what it actually does, is it avoids a lot of the negative side effects of very hard, very fast running. It really minimizes what we call the shared loads. Shared loads are sort of loads on the joints that are uneven loads, and the joints really don’t like that because then you can start getting arthritis in the knee joints if you’re putting too much shared loads on it. Life is a marathon, and you’ve gotta pace yourself, so you can’t burn through it in the first 50 years of your life. If you look at my personal example, I cut running down to 2 to 3 days a week really more 2 days than 3 days a week, because you know, I’m getting into that mid 40’s range, and I wanna preserve my joints into 50’s and 60’s. And, so, I combine that with stair master or elliptical or, you know, low impact.

Nancy Benson: But how do you stay motivated to exercise just a little bit everyday?

Carol Garber: I think that, you know, just noticing how you feel after you exercise and starting to be a little bit more mindful or aware of how you’re feeling. And often people aren’t that mindful in noticing how their body feels, so I think that paying attention to that and even keeping track can be really helpful, because sometimes you don’t realize, especially when you first start exercising, you might not feel like it’s very pleasant. And, you know, wondering if you want to keep going, and then after a while there’s sort of some point that people usually report that they feel so much better.

Vijay Vad: But you gotta do it throughout your life. I mean, you can’t do it for two years and think the benefits will last for a lifetime so it’s one of those things you gotta do in small moderation you could do it throughout your life. The human body is an amazing machine and it needs minimal maintenance to stay fine tuned so get off your butt and do something 30 minutes five days a week.

Nancy Benson: Perhaps knowing that just a moderate amount of activity can keep you healthy may inspire some of us to start moving a little more each day. So the next time you’re out shopping, instead of wasting time looking for the closest parking spot possible, take the farthest parking spot and walk the extra distance. You’ll feel better and better the more you do it. You can learn more about our guests and find a link to the book The New Rules Of Running through a link on our website, You can always find our shows on Itunes and Stitcher.

Our writer this week is Polly Hansen. Our production director is Sean Waldron. I’m Nancy Benson.

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