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There is a quaint saying here in Toronto — there are two seasons in the city; winter, and construction. I think it’s time to add another season to the mix – FRACTURE season! This seems to be a very hazardous spring here in TO, with the freeze/thaw/freeze cycles we’ve had lately. I’ve left the house many times lately early in the morning only to discover what looked like wet sidewalks were actually icy sidewalks! It’s a wonder I haven’t broken something myself, or been hit by a car as I take to the asphalt of the roads as a safer alternative.
One of my neighbours who is a committed jogger complained that she was staying inside until the warmer weather returned, as running outside was just too dangerous. It made me aware that most people still think running is the best (or perhaps the only) option for cardiovascular health. So, is it? Let’s have a look at running versus walking.
First of all, as I mentioned in this post, walking is not walking if it is falling. You need to walk in alignment for the activity to have optimal effect on your cardiovascular system, not to mention your bone density and joint health. But let’s focus on cardiovascular benefit for now.
I think we can all agree that the purpose of cardiovascular activity is oxygen delivery. Oxygen is the food that feeds our cells. It’s absolutely true that running will get your heart pumping, increasing blood circulation and decreasing blood pressure in the moment. When you engage in an intense activity, the body at first struggles to keep up to demand, then the vessels vasodilate, causing blood pressure to drop. The heart rate increases, body temperature increases, and the body enters a physiological state that can be described as “fight or flight.” If this happens occasionally, such as sprinting to catch a bus, the body responds all the same ways it would if you were out for a jog. You create a self-induced stress response. The body responds to this response by secreting chemicals. Once you are on the bus and your heart rate returns to normal, your body gets to work to deal with the chemical secretion and normally has the ability to return you to correct physiology in short order.
The result of a self-induced stress response is to raise the HPA Axis. The Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal gland is “a major part of the neuroendocrine system that controls reactions to stress and regulates many body processes, including digestion, the immune system, mood and emotions, sexuality and energy storage and expenditure.” (definition from Wikipedia). So, if you are late for the bus every day, you are creating a situation where your HPA axis is always elevated.
One of the major contributors to cardiovascular disease is something called “turbulent flow.” Turbulent flow causes blood cells to interact with vessel walls in a way that causes wounding. The body’s response to this wall wounding is to lay down some plaque, a scab if you will. So with repeated turbulent flow, and repeated wounding, comes more plaque. And an HPA Axis that is constantly raised, will cause turbulent flow in your arteries. A cycle of intense cardiovascular activity actually promotes plaque accumulation, not reduces it.
So I guess you could surmise that running is not good for your health! Running is a performance art, and one that millions of people enjoy. But if you already have risk markers for cardiovascular disease, no amount of running is going to change that. There is no documented, well designed research that concludes intense exercise can negate other health factors (non-laminar flow, smoking, high cholesterol levels, high adrenaline personality or lifestyle for example).
There is an activity that decreases blood pressure, decreases resistance to flow, does not secrete stress hormones, and does not cause turbulent flow. It does not cause joint degeneration if done properly and is a source of regular, abundant, whole body movement: WALKING. In a future post, I will expand (and expound) on why walking is a better prescription for health and longevity, and the role the 600+ muscles in the body other than the heart have in cardiovascular health.
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