A few people have sent me an article that is being published in the Wall Street Journal in which the authors conclude running long distances actually reduces all the health benefits of running . Undoubtedly, these types of stories are going to draw the attention of fitness enthusiasts like myself. And also may give some positive reinforcement to people who avoid running and exercise.
The basic claims in the article are the following.
1. Long term cardiac damage is caused when runners run fast or for a long time.
2. Running for more than an hour eliminates the benefits of running.
The advocates of this position suggest instead that people should follow a “ hunter gatherer” method of exercise . This reminds me a lot of the “cave man” diet. The basic argument is that since we evolved as hunter-gatherers, we would do better to mimik the behavior of those people. So things like running for long distances just doesn’t fit into that hunter-gatherer prescription. It’s a reasonable hypothesis but like the “cave man” diet, I’m skeptical.
If the whole point of exercise is to live as long as possible, then it may make sense to do things that are not natural but will extend life. Back in the days of the cave man, people didn’t live past their thirties. Things like cancer and diabetes were not a problem because no one lived long enough for them to be a problem. This argument that it is “natural” just doesn’t wash with me.
And what does the data say?
This author does a pretty good job of deconstructing the hunter-gatherer argument. Basically, the authors have used some statistical tricks to twist the data to demonstrate their points. The studies that they cite do not demonstrate that there is long term cardiac damage and they also do not demonstrate what the upper limits of exercising are. This second point is still unknown.
Based on the amount that I run, I probably no longer qualify as an ultra marathon runner. I only joggle about 1400 miles a year and not particularly fast. Nothing in this report convinces me to change my ways. Although I should say that I would change my ways if the evidence suggests I should. But right now, it doesn’t.