Running Is Destroying Your Health: Here's Why | UMZU
When I was younger, I loved running. Throughout high school, I lived for my two-mile route and especially the runner’s high I enjoyed after hitting the pavement. I even competed in obstacle course races such as the Spartan races. But over time, I started to notice that I wasn’t feeling or looking my best. I was skinny/fat, if you will. No matter how hard I lifted weights, I still had a belly pooch. I also noticed that I constantly had trouble sleeping. And it turns out that this is often the case. Long distance running in particular can take a toll on your health.
- Running and Testosterone
- Running and Stress Hormones
- Running and Heart Health
- Running and Leaky Gut
- Running and Sleep
Running and testosterone
Excessive endurance exercise like running has also been shown to lower the amount of protective hormones like testosterone circulating in the body. Produced mainly in a man’s testicles, testosterone is important for sexual health and appearance, it helps with fertility, bone density, and musculature.
The longer the endurance workout, the worse the effects. A study published in the Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry found that “it is recommended that clinicians and researchers be mindful of the fact that patients or research study subjects who have extensive endurance exercise training backgrounds may have potential alterations in their resting testosterone.” Another study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that running mileage greater than 40 miles a week, is inversely related to testosterone levels, though levels remained within the normal range. Researchers have found that surprisingly, if the intensity of exercise is ramped up and the time frame is decreased, the opposite happens and testosterone in the body increases.
In the grand scheme of things it’s likely not devastating for your hormonal profile to go on a jog or run every once in a while, but chronically, it can definitely take a toll on your endocrine system. If you are looking to maximize your Thermo lifestyle, you might want to limit endurance exercises like long distance running.
If you have an itch to run, consider doing sprints every 7-10 days. Sprints have been shown to be beneficial for optimal endocrine functioning because they are explosive and activate nearly every muscle in the body at once. It is a great way to enjoy a runner’s high without doing damage to your endocrine system. In fact, it is beneficial.
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Running and stress hormones
Long distance running and chronic excessive endurance training has a major impact on our endocrinology. Research has shown that people who train for endurance events have higher levels of stress hormones, especially cortisol, the main stress hormone in the body. Cortisol is released into the brain when the body feels threatened and goes into a fight or flight mode. It is a survival mechanism that over time can do chronic damage to the body’s systems and can lead to anxiety and depression in the short term.
Research published in the journal Acta Endocrinologica found that “cortisol levels increase in trained athletes following running competition and that this increase is related to the duration of the physical exercise.” Another study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Clinical and Laboratory Investigation found that long distance running can cause a 47 percent increase in circulating cortisol in the body. Exercise, especially intense exercise, has been shown to increase cortisol levels in the body while you are doing it. The body mistakes its survival instinct with the need to do well in a sporting event like endurance running or Iron Man type races and as a result, it goes into fight or flight mode. The reaction ends up putting stress on your body. But at the same time, a study published in the journal Trends in Psychiatry and Psychotherapy found that moderate “[p]hysical exercise promotes a reduction in cortisol levels in individuals with major depressive disorder.” Although the level is dependent on the type of exercise.
Excessive stress hormones in the body have been linked to all sorts of ailments that you would not want to have after all the time you have spent working out. These include:
- Heart disease
- Lack of focus
- Digestive issues
Running and heart health
Running has a complicated relationship with your cardiovascular health and it is not completely clear how it impacts your heart, but here is what we do know. Research following lifelong endurance athletes has found that running did not have the positive impact on heart health that you might imagine it would. In some cases, it may even negatively impact heart health. Generally, we started questioning its impact on heart health when a number of big runners started dying of heart attacks. Additionally, one study found that lifelong endurance athletes seemed to have more plaque and scarring on their hearts.
Other research out of the University of Miami found that while running had a positive impact on the heart health of runners, it had a more negative impact on the heart health of endurance runners or those that consistently participated in ultramarathons. According to the University of Miami Health News, “ultramarathons and other extremely long-distance events may have the opposite impact on some people’s hearts and cause damage to the heart, heart rhythm problems, and other concerns. According to the American Heart Association, it appears that some people may be at a greater risk of these problems related to long-distance running than others.”
Running and leaky gut
Endurance exercise has also been shown to impact your gastrointestinal health. One study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that “running for 90 minutes at a challenging pace causes small intestinal damage and increases intestinal permeability.”
Increased intestinal permeability has been linked to a host of health problems including Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease, diabetes, IBS, and food allergies. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that “the cause of Crohn's disease is unknown, although alterations in intestinal permeability may play a primary role.” Authors publishing in the journal Pharmacology & Therapeutics found that “irritable bowel syndrome symptoms are associated with a subtle increase in intestinal permeability irrespective of prior gastroenteritis.” Another study published in the journal Digestive and Liver Disease found “that impaired intestinal permeability, measured in our conditions, is present in all subjects with adverse reactions to food.” Research published in the journal FEBS Letters, found that Celiac disease was also linked to leaky gut or gut permeability.
Running and sleep
You would think after logging all those miles you would be ready for some shut eye. However, apparently that is not the case. Runners are prone to insomnia and there are a number of reasons why this is true. One of the reasons has nothing to do with the actual activity of running and everything to do with your personality type. Endurance athletes or those that stick to a hugely aggressive workout plan tend to have type A personalities which means that they are more likely to have racing thoughts at night or not be able to shut down their brains. If you have ever heard the saying that there is no worse patient than a runner, you would get where this comes from. When runners get injured they just keep on keeping on because their personality does not let them stop training, even if it is hurting their bodies. The high can be addictive, even if it is not doing a body any good
Research has shown this to be true. One study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Science “confirms sleep disturbances and increased illness in endurance athletes during periods of high volume training.” If you insist on running, you may want to do it in the morning rather than in the evening to decrease the chances that it negatively impacts your sleep. You may also want to reduce your mileage to non-endurance status.
Insomnia is also tied to increases in cortisol in the brain and endurance athletes, especially endurance runners are prone to increases in cortisol. If you have ever been up late in the night (and who hasn’t?) after a grueling workout, you know that training can sometimes keep you from a good night’s sleep. A review published in the journal Sleep Science found that “hypercortisolism” or excessive levels of cortisol in the brain were closely linked to sleep, metabolism, and stress levels. Additionally, a study published in the journal Endotext found that “[i]nsomnia, the most common sleep disorder, is associated with a 24 hour increase in cortisol secretion.” It is all the more reason to slow down, especially as you inch towards bedtime. Finally, research published in the journal Sleep, found that sleep disturbances in older adults were associated with high daytime levels of cortisol.
If you are a running addict, consider combining your run with activities that reduce stress. Try the following before bed:
This has a two-prong benefit because running typically tightens many muscle groups in the body, especially the hamstrings, IT band, and calves. Before bed, consider a yin yoga session with a few poses that you hold for a couple of minutes each to help open up the body. Combine with mindful deep breathing sessions that slow your resting heart rate and get you ready for bed.
Try standing with your feet a hips length apart. Fold forward and bring your hands to your elbows. Allow the weight of your head to traction your spine while at the same time, opening up the hamstrings. Hang like a rag doll.
Come into downward dog pose, walking the feet back and forth to stretch out the calves. Then, hold and breathe for ten long breaths. This helps to open up the calves.
Stand at the top of your yoga mat. Step your right foot back and take your left hand and cross your body. Place your hand on the outside of the right foot. You may need a block, but try and avoid bending your right knee. This helps to open up the IT band.
Pranayama, also known as yogic deep breathing, is a great way to calm yourself down after a running sesh. It is also helpful to calm the mind before sitting down for a meditation session before bed. Research has shown that yogic deep breathing is great for reducing tension and stress in the body. Inhale for 1-2-3 and hold for 1-2-3, then exhale for 1-2-3. Continue this for ten minutes.