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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.

Statement on Excessive Running

December 18, 2012 2 comments

By Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, Founder and Chairman of Cooper Aerobics

Running a RaceAn article entitled “One Running Shoe in the Grave” published in the Nov. 27 issue of The Wall Street Journal. In this article, they stated that “in older endurance athletes, new studies suggest that ‘the fittest reap few health benefits.'”

As I have said in many of my presentations and have written in my books, “If you run more than 15 miles per week, you are running for something other than cardiovascular fitness.” However, if you want to continue running after 50 years of age, have no musculoskeletal problems, and have been cleared of any cardiovascular disease, I am not concerned about older endurance athletes running too much.

The theory of excess running – running more than 30 miles per week and running marathons – is that it may damage the heart, and that scarring the heart muscle will occur after many, many years of endurance running in older athletes. My feeling is that this condition does occur rarely in endurance athletes, but is not the normal response. If you do develop extensive scarring, this could produce a type of fatal heart irregularity which could result in sudden death from that irregularity (ventricular fibrillation).

Studies from Germany indicated that when highly trained endurance athletes exercise to maximal performance, some DNA damage occurs as a result of the increase in free radicals. But also, they showed in these athletes that if they took 1200 IU of vitamin E (600 IU twice daily), it almost totally suppressed the DNA damage.

The Cooper Complete Elite Athlete formula (four tablets twice daily) gives you a total of 800 IU per day. If you follow my guidelines regarding signs of overtaining and take the Cooper Complete Elite Athlete as prescribed, this should effectively reduce any DNA changes or problems with free radicals, enabling you to run safely whatever speed and distance that you so desire.

What I have found personally and in many of my older patients, a runner stops running primarily because of musculoskeletal problems and, if so, I recommend that they continue walking since you can get great cardiovascular benefit from walking if you walk far enough and fast enough.

A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association in 2011 showed that walking speed at age 80 is one of the best predictors of longevity. If men and women can walk an average speed of 3.5 mph (a 17-minute mile), there is an 84 percent chance that men will live to age 90, an 86 percent chance that a woman will live to age 90.

In summary, the benefits of exercising throughout your life far outweigh any detriments that have proven to show a reduction in deaths from all causes and an increase in longevity.

No Apologies!

October 3, 2012 1 comment

Bob Proud and Todd Whitthorne finishing the Run Proud 5K. Photo provided by Jerry Glover Photography. 

By Todd Whitthorne, CEO and President of Cooper Complete Nutritional Supplements and Cooper Wellness.

Written on September 29, 2012.

I ran a 5K this morning.  Actually “jogged” is a much more accurate description than “ran.”  It was the Run Proud race to help raise money for ALS/MDA.  The race started and finished on the campus of Cooper Aerobics Center and is named after our former running pro, Diane Proud, who passed away last year from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  She was 59.  Diane was one of the nicest, most sincere individuals I ever met.  She loved helping all runners and triathletes, but she had a special fondness for beginners.  Sharing her passion for fitness allowed Diane to impact the lives of hundreds of people in a very positive way.

It was a perfect day for running…temps in the low 70s with a cool, steady drizzle.  Wet, but not enough to get in the way.  Just enough to let you feel “connected.”

Before the race I saw Bob Proud, Diane’s husband.  He was actually the reason I got up early today.  During Diane’s extended three-year illness, I often crossed paths with Bob and was always awed by his unwavering, upbeat spirit.  He knew, as did Diane, that a diagnosis of ALS is always, not sometimes, not usually, but ALWAYS fatal.  That didn’t deter Bob.  He knew that maintaining a high-energy, optimistic attitude was exactly what Diane needed most.

I had not seen or talked to Bob since Diane’s funeral last year and wanted to shake his hand.  I did that about 15 minutes before the race, and we talked briefly.  I would have liked to talk more, but just about everyone involved in the race had known Diane and Bob, and like me, they wanted to say hello.  I didn’t want to monopolize his time.

At the starting line I saw friend who is a longtime member of Cooper Fitness Center.  We decided to run together, although he warned me he was having issues with his I.T. band and wasn’t sure how he would hold up.  Normally, he wouldn’t have even considered running, but like many of us, he was there because of his love and appreciation of Diane.  Sure enough, after less than a quarter of a mile into the run my buddy had to pull out.  Doing that is never fun, but it was clearly a smart move.

I continued on at a very comfortable (read slow) pace.  Soon, as the course extended down a long stretch through a beautiful neighborhood, I looked up and saw Bob running by himself.  His pace was right in sync with mine, so I gradually began to narrow the gap and after a minute or two, we were side by side.  We started talking and it wasn’t long before Bob encouraged me to, “Feel free to run ahead.  Don’t let me slow you down.”  Little did he know, I was delighted to be running at such a moderate pace.  Even though I’ve been lifting consistently and cycling on a pretty regular basis, my running mileage has been down so I wasn’t in a great position to take Bob up on his offer.  Besides, for me the opportunity to run with Bob and talk about life far exceeded the need to foolishly push myself to meet some arbitrary 5K time.  From a very selfish standpoint, this was a great chance to spend about 30 minutes one-on-one with a guy that I had really come to respect but had not taken the time to let him know that.

As often is the case when running, we talked about all sorts of things; the radio business, The Rangers’ pennant race and why a relatively flat neighborhood suddenly felt like the Newton Hills in Boston!  More than once Bob apologized for his slow pace, “My 5K time is now beginning to approach my 10K PR.”  I assured him not to worry about it, “No need to apologize.”  I reminded him that the fact we were out running early on a Saturday morning, regardless of the speed, probably put us in the top half of one percent of most Americans as it relates to physical activity!  All the research shows that the vast majority of benefit from exercise comes from just getting off the couch.  A little bit, on a consistent basis, goes a long way in improving health and quality of life.

Diane Proud with Cooper teammates at the 2011 Run Proud 5K

As we neared the end of the course and came back onto the Cooper campus, there were all sorts of folks cheering us on: friends, family, volunteers and many runners who had finished before us.  Most recognized Bob and were very supportive and enthusiastic.  Last year, less than a week before she died, Diane was at the finish line passing out cupcakes to every single runner that crossed the finish line, despite the fact that she could no longer talk and was so weak that she was confined to a golf cart.  This year there was no Diane.  I was glad it was raining hard enough to mask the fact I was tearing up a bit.  Bob was quickly surrounded by a crowd of well-wishers, so I gave him a high-five and began my post-race recovery, which included all sorts of wonderful fare provided by the race sponsors.  That’s always one of the great bonuses of finishing an endurance event…all the fun treats!

I felt great afterwards.  I had gone on a nice run, seen a lot of friends and co-workers, and it was early enough so that most of my Saturday was still before me.  Most importantly though, I appreciated the wonderful time I had spent with Bob and promised myself I would reach out to him soon to schedule a dinner or a workout.

And guess what? This afternoon I got an email from Bob THANKING ME for running WITH HIM! How great is that?  I told him the pleasure was all mine…and I meant it!

Don McNelly, 744 marathons at 89 years old

September 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Legendary marathoner Don McNelly joined Cooper Aerobics Center members today for a special discussion about his life’s run. Don has been a patient of Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper for 35 years, and is living proof that exercise can ‘square off the curve’ as Dr. Cooper always says.

The subject of the recently published biography, The Madman, The Marathoner, Don and author Juanita Tischendorf regaled the audience with tales from marathons, 60 plus years of marriage and more.

Hear more from Don and Juanita in this post event interview:

Use the Weather to your Advantage: Run

February 24, 2010 Leave a comment

As the sun starts to peak through the clouds of winter, but we still enjoy crisp cool days, running has much more appeal than in the dog days of summer. A beginning runner’s top priority is to establish a solid foundation for future development. How? Physiological foundation has two very important components: aerobic fitness and neuromuscular fitness. Aerobic fitness is the ability to generate large amounts of energy efficiently with oxygen taken from the environment. Neuromuscular fitness is the ability to generate a high level of stride power in an energy-efficient manner. Develop these characteristics are appropriate for starting at square one.

Aerobic Training 101
The best way to lay aerobic foundation is simple: Perform gradual, steady running at a comfortable pace. Start with short 15-20-minutes and slowly increase the duration of your average run to 45 minutes, and one “long run” on Saturday or Sunday. Keep increasing duration of the long run until it’s long enough to carry you to the finish line of the longest events you will do, if preparing for a race. The rule of thumb is about 10% increase per week. Too many beginners want to increase speed too soon. I usually end up seeing them after they have become injured or disappointed. Improve by simply increasing the volume of easy running each week until you reach the maximum level you’re comfortable with. Mix in more advanced types of aerobic training, but as a beginner, keep advanced training techniques to a minimum and prioritize sheer volume.

Neuromuscular Training
The best way to build a foundation of neuromuscular fitness is very short, very fast efforts such as speed intervals, fartleks and hill sprints. Steep hill sprints are short, maximum-intensity efforts against gravity and provide two key benefits. First, they strengthen muscles, making you less injury-prone. They increase power and efficiency of stride, enabling to cover more ground with each stride with less energy. They provide significant benefits that take little time and are fun to do. If you’ve never done a steep hill sprint, do not leap into a set of 10 the first time you try! They place tremendous stress on muscles and connective tissues. The careless beginner is at risk of suffering muscle or tendon strain or another acute injury performing hill sprints. Once legs have adapted to the stress, hill sprints can protect against injury. Proceed with caution until you get over early adaptations. Depending on your exercise history, the time to start integrating hills or intervals is different for each runner.

The Long View
As seasons go by, assuming you train sensibly, running should evolve by adding layer upon layer to a foundation of aerobic and neuromuscular fitness through increasing mileage and more challenging aerobic workouts, including longer long runs, and challenging neuromuscular training. As training reaches a point of diminishing return, gradually shift focus toward specific-training for your primary event (if you race), or if you have other goals, such as weight loss, and have reached a plateau. The longer you train for competitive performance in distance running, the more your overall mix should move away from general training and focus on specific endurance. For example in the first four years of running, gradually build easy mileage, increase the long run distance, include hill sprints and short intervals.

Spring is a great time to begin a running program, so enjoy the outdoors and be smart about building a foundation.