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How Much Running is Too Much?

February 26, 2013 Leave a comment

Excessive RunningResearch from The Cooper Institute has shown that the value of exercise is overwhelmingly good; however, studies also show that more is not always better. 

How much running is too much? This a very controversial question, but Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, has long said that if you are running more than 15 miles a week, you are doing it for a reason other than health. When you run beyond 15 miles a week, there is a fairly sharp increase of muscular skeletal problems in areas such as your knees and hips.

If you are training for a vigorous physical activity like endurance running, it’s important to make sure that you are not damaging your body tissues.  When you are an endurance athlete, your body can be compromised from oxidative stress as you lose essential nutrients through sweat and increased oxygen consumption. When this occurs, your body can begin to produce dangerous free radicals, which are a by-product from the metabolism of oxygen. An increase in these free radicals throughout your body can result in soreness, DNA damage, cancer, muscle tissue damage and other degenerative diseases.

Running 30+ miles per week may be linked to scarring of the heart due to a lack of oxygen and free radical damage. If you’re running this much, Dr. Cooper says it is imperative that you supplement your body with the proper nutrients to suppress any DNA damage from free radicals. Elite athletes can benefit by taking the proper dosages of vitamins E, C and beta carotene. Dr. Cooper recommends taking 400 international units (IU) of vitamin E twice a day to decrease risks associated with excess running. The Cooper Complete Elite Athlete formula provides the nutrients needed to suppress free radical damage.

Over the years, there have been reports of sudden deaths while endurance athletes were running. Dr. Cooper stresses that this is a rarity, because the majority of athletes who suddenly die while running often have an underlying congenital heart defect. This defect can typically be detected from an EKG.

Our bodies were designed to be fit and active. When you put this topic into perspective, you can clearly see that the proven benefits of exercise outweigh the risks associated it. If you are an endurance athlete, consult your physician to ensure that you are receiving the proper supplementation to stay healthy while you train.

For more information, read The Dallas Morning Newsrecent article where Dr. Cooper discussed this topic or you can view Dr. Cooper’s statement on excessive exercise that he published as a result a Wall Street Journal article on endurance sports.

BMI: A Well Proven Tool for Maintaining Health

January 10, 2013 Leave a comment

By Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, Founder and Chairman of Cooper Aerobics and Laura DeFina, MD, Medical Director at The Cooper Institute

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that suggests that being normal weight is associated with a higher risk of death than being overweight or mildly obese should not lead us to reject a preponderance of scientific work that has demonstrated significant medical risks associated with being overweight and obese.

There are a number of technical limitations in this publication that deserve review. In this publication, the authors used body mass index (BMI) to define normal weight (defined as BMI 22.5-24.9) or mildly obese (defined as BMI 25.0-29.9). BMI, which categorizes weight ranges according to height, is a good measure of obesity, but it is not a perfect measure. For example, the same elevated BMI could describe athletes who have a lot of muscle mass and overweight couch potatoes with loads of abdominal girth and yet these two groups of people may have significantly different risk of developing heart disease or dying prematurely. Furthermore, the BMI ranges used in this study are not the same ranges used by other investigators who have published in this field. Normal weight is more frequently defined as a BMI from 18.5 to 24.9 rather than 22.5 to 24.9. So, it is possible that dividing up the weight groups differently lead to these surprising results. There are a number of other risk factors for death that are associated with being overweight or obese (such as levels of physical activity or fitness) which were not evaluated in this study. The authors combined the findings from a number of large studies to generate a study population for 2.88 million, which often requires creative statistical manipulations to homogenize the groups which can in turn introduce bias in the results. Finally, in a very large study population, even very small differences in outcomes can reach statistical significance but may not always have clinical significance.

Independent of the methodological limitations of any analysis, it is also important to consider whether the conclusions of a study are biologically plausible and reflect clinical experience. A preponderance of scientific work supports the conclusion that significant medical risks are associated with being overweight and obese. People who are overweight suffer from more diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and certain cancers such as breast and endometrial cancer. Further, there is clearly a greater death risk in those who are significantly obese.

BMI, or other measures of fatness versus leanness, are clinical measures that do not exist in a vacuum. There are important relationships among blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol profiles, physical activity, physical fitness, vascular inflammation and BMI. In addition to diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease, obesity increases the risk of certain cancers, arthritis and related immobility, and difficulty fighting infections. So, maintaining a BMI in the normal range as recommended by the CDC can reduce the risk of a variety of health problems.

Finally, even within groups of individuals who are overweight or obese, there are factors which influence the likelihood of elevated BMI leading to the development other medical conditions. Numerous studies from The Cooper Institute demonstrate that obese men and women who are physically fit have longer lifespans compared with those who are less fit.

So, let’s not discard a robust scientific literature which details the many health hazards of being overweight or obese based on the findings of single study. Staying or becoming physically fit and achieving or maintaining a normal BMI are not only well proven tools for maintaining wellness, they just make sense.