Run to your heart’s content

Tuesday, 03 November 2015 1333 Views 0 Comments
Run to your heart’s content

Running is a great exercise for cardiovascular fitness. Dr Ashish Contractor tells you why

The American College of Cardiology found that even a few minutes of running a day reduces your risk of dying from heart disease by up to 45 per cent. i

Poor lifestyle and diet, lack of exercise, and a growing obesity epidemic are exposing us to greater risk. But take heart because a good diet, accompanied by regular exercise, can cut the risk significantly. And running is a great exercise to strengthen your cardiovascular system.

Effects of running on heart health:

  • Makes your heart stronger. When you run, your heart gets a good workout and like all other muscles, it becomes stronger. Exercise also makes the heart more efficient, pumping a larger volume of blood per beat. Your arteries, too, pump more blood, making them elastic and lowering your blood pressure.

The National Heart Foundation of Australia ii also lists the following benefits of exercise for survivors of acute myocardial infraction (or heart attack as we commonly know it):

Running augments physiological functioning, reduces cardiovascular symptoms, improves coronary risk profile, strengthens muscles and lowers mortality.

  • Reduces cholesterol. Excess cholesterol can clog your arteries and lead to a heart attack. There are two types of cholesterol – high density lipoprotein (HDL) and low density lipoprotein (LDL). LDL, also called bad cholesterol, is responsible for blocked arteries. HDL, on the other hand, is the good stuff, which prevents bad cholesterol from clogging the arteries. Running increases the HDL levels over time. According to a US National Runners Health Study of over 8,000 runners, those who ran long distances had higher HDL levels. iii
  • Reduces mortality. According to a study by Iowa State University’s (USA) D.C. Lee iv, running can reduce a person’s all-cause mortality rate by 30 per cent and cardiovascular mortality rate by 45 per cent. This means that running can reduce all mortal health risks — such as cancer, stroke and heart attack — by nearly a third. Cardiovascular risks are cut nearly in half.
  • You don’t have go all out to make a difference. Even slow jogging helps a lot. According to the Copenhagen Heart Study v, the optimum health benefits were for those who jogged for between one and 2.4 hours a week compared with sedentary people. According to the D.C. Lee study, running even five to 10 minutes a day at less than 10 km per hour reduces risk of death from all causes, including cardiovascular disease.

Taking up running after heart disease:

Many brave men and women have run marathons after severe heart disease and heart attacks. Here’s how to go about it:

A cardiac rehab program: A structured cardiac rehabilitation program is a must for heart patients. Start with light exercise such as walking, immediately on leaving the hospital. You can begin running by sprinting for three-five minutes, gradually working up to 40-60 minutes as your condition improves.

Medication: Beta blockers slow the heart rate during rest and during exercise; so you may not get an accurate pulse rate, which is something you should watch out for.

If you’re taking cholesterol lowering drugs (statins), you may get muscle cramps, which could affect your exercise capacity. You can keep aspirin with you as a preventive measure, but take only amounts suggested by your physician. Always carry nitroglycerin pills with you.

Duration: If you’re in good health, 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise, four or five times a week, should be sufficient.

Sweating: Sweating is good for you, and helps your body to remain cool. However you can lose water, and essential minerals and salts such sodium and potassium. It is important to balance electrolytes because an imbalance leads to cramping, dizziness and nausea. Water, sugar and salts help, but too much can cause harm to the heart. Ideally, you should have some water every 15 minutes while running.

Heart monitor: A heart rate monitor is a must-have if you’re running marathons, or even going for a jog.

Pulse rate: Find out from your doctor about your pulse rate. Try monitoring your pulse rate during exercise, and rest if it is beyond the recommended limit.

Angina: Angina is temporary chest discomfort or pain during physical activity. If you get an episode, stop immediately and take rest. If it relents, take your angina tablet by keeping it under the tongue. Take it while sitting down, since the medication can cause dizziness. If your symptoms don’t go in five minutes, take another dose. If it persists, seek medical help immediately.


Watch for discomfort: If you feel any discomfort in your upper body, between the navel and nose, which increases after running, you may want to stop and consult a doctor. Other warning signs are unusual shortness of breath and dizziness.

Check the palpitations: Some runners may experience palpitations — missed or skipped beats — while running. These are usually harmless and may be due to the increased activity of the heart. However, you need to get it checked to ensure that it is harmless. A 24-hour Holter test, where the ECG is monitored for one full day, is advisable.

Precautions for running marathons if you suffer from heart disease

  • Get adequate rest the night before
  • Eat a meal rich in carbohydrates the night before, and have a light breakfast before leaving home
  • Run at your own pace. Don’t try to exceed your limit by keeping pace with fitter runners
  • Make sure you get enough water to drink
  • Stop and rest if you experience chest pains, shortness of breath or nausea. And immediately seek medical help if discomfort persists
  • Run with a partner who knows about your condition and is able to deal with an emergency.

aashish contractor

Dr. Aashish Contractor is currently Head of Department of Rehab and Sports Medicine at Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital in Mumbai, India. Dr. Contractor has been the Medical Director for the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon, from 2004 till 2014. He is an avid sportsman himself, having run several marathons.









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