Health­ier

Runner's World (UK) - - In This Issue -

How run­ning can add years to your life, staving off dis­ease and de­cline

Run to… im­prove your men­tal health

Men­tal health has been get­ting a lot more me­dia cov­er­age re­cently, so you may have read that car­dio­vas­cu­lar ex­er­cise can be as ef­fec­tive as an­tide­pres­sants in treat­ing mild to mod­er­ate de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety (and with­out many of the dis­tress­ing side ef­fects as­so­ci­ated with some medicines). A 2017 meta-anal­y­sis by Boston Univer­sity, US, of 11 stud­ies that looked at the ef­fect of ex­er­cise on de­pres­sive con­di­tions con­firmed some­thing that many run­ners know through ex­pe­ri­ence to be true: that get­ting a sweat on helps your men­tal health both in the short and long term. The study au­thors rec­om­mended that ex­er­cise, while not a sub­sti­tute for other forms of treat­ment, should def­i­nitely be used as part of the treat­ment process for peo­ple with men­tal health is­sues.

PRE­SCRIP­TION Be­ing around friends is hugely im­por­tant, so try this fun, group-based hand­i­cap run: gather some fel­low run­ners of dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties and do an out-and-back 40-minute run. The out­ward leg should be for 23 min­utes, car­ried out at each run­ner’s ver­sion of a steady pace. Af­ter 23 min­utes, wher­ever each of you is on the route, turn and run back at tempo pace, try­ing to make it back to the be­gin­ning be­fore the 40 min­utes are up. You should all fin­ish close to­gether.

Run to… im­prove your mem­ory as you age

In a March 2018 study at Brigham Young Univer­sity, Utah, US, reg­u­lar ex­er­cise was found to coun­ter­act the neg­a­tive ef­fects stress has on mem­ory by im­prov­ing the way your brain cells com­mu­ni­cate. The cells’ abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate well is of­ten di­min­ished by life ‘is­sues’ such as stress, lack of sleep, al­co­hol and a poor diet. When brain cells stop com­mu­ni­cat­ing prop­erly, mem­o­ries un­ravel.

Re­searchers di­vided male mice into two groups – ‘run­ners’ who ran on wheels in their cages for three miles a day for one month, and a group that did not run at all. They

then took some mice from each group and cre­ated a stress­ful en­vi­ron­ment by re­strain­ing them for three days. Anal­y­sis of the re­sults re­vealed that the stressed non-run­ning mice fared the worst – their brain cells were not com­mu­ni­cat­ing, po­ten­tially lead­ing to a break­down of mem­o­ries. The seden­tary mice who had not been stressed were next, fol­lowed by the stressed run­ners. The best­per­form­ing group were the mice who had run and were kept away from the stress­ful en­vi­ron­ments; their brain cell com­mu­ni­ca­tion and, there­fore, mem­ory-re­ten­tion abil­i­ties showed signs of improvement.

PRE­SCRIP­TION ‘Fartlek train­ing has been shown to stim­u­late the ner­vous sys­tem and the brain, be­cause it’s a more cre­ative way to train,’ says en­durance coach Tom Craggs (run­ning­withus.com). A Swedish word mean­ing ‘speed­play’, fartlek ses­sions are like in­ter­val train­ing, ex­cept the in­ter­vals are ran­dom and you choose them on the hoof. For ex­am­ple, you might de­cide to sprint to the next lamp­post, then run at an ef­fort of five out of 10 for two min­utes, fol­lowed by tempo pace for a quar­ter of a mile. ‘Va­ri­ety is the key,’ says Craggs. ‘Do your ver­sion of a medium-length run (but it should last no more than an hour) once a week, break­ing it up into spon­ta­neous seg­ments of 30 sec­onds to two min­utes at dif­fer­ent paces and speeds. This will make you con­cen­trate more and get your synapses fir­ing.’

Run to… clean your gut

In a re­cent study, re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois, US, iso­lated the ways in which ex­er­cise – ver­sus diet or tak­ing an­tibi­otics – al­ters the mi­cro­biome, the net­work of bac­te­ria in our guts. The study re­vealed that af­ter a few weeks of reg­u­lar car­dio­vas­cu­lar ex­er­cise, many sub­jects’ mi­crobes changed in ways that could im­prove their health.

The sub­jects, a mix of men and women, vary­ing from lean to obese, were asked to run or cy­cle for 30- 60 min­utes, three times per week, for six weeks. How­ever, they made no fur­ther changes to their life­styles or di­ets. Sci­en­tists com­pared each sub­ject’s mi­cro­biome be­fore and af­ter the pro­gramme. In most par­tic­i­pants there was an in­crease in mi­crobes in­volved in the pro­duc­tion of short- chain fatty acids, which are be­lieved to help re­duce in­flam­ma­tion through­out the body. They can also help fight in­sulin re­sis­tance, which can lead to di­a­betes.

PRE­SCRIP­TION If reg­u­lar run­ning is the key to a cleaner gut, then en­sure the bulk of your train­ing is done at a low in­ten­sity to limit your chances of in­jury, says Craggs. ‘It’s im­por­tant to learn to run at a con­ver­sa­tional pace in­stead of al­ways beast­ing your­self,’ he says. ‘If you train by heart rate, this means 60-70 per cent of your max­i­mum heart rate. Between 50 and 80 per cent of your weekly mileage should be done at this in­ten­sity – it’s the back­bone of your train­ing.’

Run to… in­crease your self-con­trol

Good news for the greedy: the jour­nal

Be­hav­ior­mod­i­fi­ca­tion re­cently pub­lished a study from the Univer­sity of Kansas, US, look­ing at how train­ing for a 5K af­fected the abil­ity to ex­er­cise self- con­trol over be­hav­iours such as binge eat­ing. Be­fore train­ing be­gan, the sub­jects were given a de­lay-dis­count­ing ques­tion­naire – a process sci­en­tists use to as­sess a per­son’s abil­ity to put off im­me­di­ate plea­sures for greater fu­ture plea­sures. For ex­am­ple, would you choose one in­dul­gent bis­cuit now if you could in­stead have three nor­mal ones to­mor­row?

The sub­jects, who did not ex­er­cise be­fore the study, met three times a week for seven weeks to train for their race. They did 45-minute run/ walk ses­sions at ex­er­tion lev­els that were chal­leng­ing but man­age­able. Each week they re­peated the de­lay-dis­count­ing ques­tion­naire to mea­sure their self- con­trol. Those who saw the great­est im­prove­ments in willpower were those who at­tended the most ses­sions and steadily in­creased their run­ning pace.

PRE­SCRIP­TION ‘A weekly pro­gres­sion run will help to im­prove your willpower as well as your abil­ity to man­age your pace,’ says Craggs. Try a 30-minute run bro­ken down in the fol­low­ing way: 10 min­utes easy (5/10 ef­fort), 10 min­utes steady (7/10), 10 min­utes con­trolled dis­com­fort (8/10). Progress to seg­ments of 15 min­utes. ‘Most peo­ple champ at the bit to get to the fast parts, but be care­ful not to let your­self loose too early.’

Run to… re­duce your di­a­betes risk

A long-term study of Ja­panese men pub­lished in autumn 2017 found the risk of de­vel­op­ing type 2 di­a­betes was lower in men who had a con­sis­tently higher fit­ness level over a me­dian 18-year pe­riod, com­pared with men who had lower fit­ness lev­els or spo­radic fit­ness ac­tiv­ity. So for those of you who tend to train like a de­mon for sev­eral events a year, fol­lowed by fal­low pe­ri­ods of seden­tary be­hav­iour, this is un­likely to be as ben­e­fi­cial as you might think if you’re wor­ried about the threat of di­a­betes.

PRE­SCRIP­TION Change the way you think about your train­ing by re­fram­ing your goals and pe­ri­o­dis­ing your year, says Craggs. ‘This means fill­ing in the gaps between your longer races by train­ing for other events of dif­fer­ing dis­tances. Plan your year, choos­ing your races based on when you will be hit­ting your var­i­ous peaks for 5K, 10K, half marathon and longer. You’ll be switch­ing up your train­ing stim­uli with­out over­train­ing, and main­tain­ing your con­sis­tency with­out risk­ing get­ting bored and let­ting things slip.’

Run to… boost your im­mu­nity

While you might not be smash­ing PBS into your 60s, keep­ing up the run­ning as you get older will help you stay one step ahead of in­fec­tion. A study of 125 older UK ath­letes, pub­lished in Ag­ing

Cell in March, looked closely at the mus­cles and T cells (our im­mune sys­tems’ key in­fec­tion-fight­ing tools) of ac­tive, age­ing cy­clists – men and women aged 55-79 – who had been cy­cling reg­u­larly for decades, com­par­ing them with an older group (57-80), seden­tary peo­ple and a third group of much younger healthy adults (20-36) who do not reg­u­larly ex­er­cise. The re­sults were clear: for

most adults, im­mune re­sponse wors­ens dras­ti­cally by mid­dle age, de­clin­ing fur­ther with each pass­ing decade. The older cy­clists in the study bucked this trend, how­ever, hav­ing seem­ingly re­ju­ve­nated their im­mune sys­tems; they had al­most as many in­fec­tion-fight­ing T cells in their blood as the group of young adults.

PRE­SCRIP­TION If you’re over 40 and plan to keep run­ning reg­u­larly, it’s time to make sure your body can cope with the stress – which means strength and con­di­tion­ing work. Don’t worry, though, says Craggs, this doesn’t in­volve fin­ger­less weightlift­ing gloves and a pricey gym mem­ber­ship. ‘Twice a week, do this sim­ple body­weight ses­sion at home,’ he says. ‘Do one minute each of plank, left and right side planks, hip bridge, sin­gle-leg squats and press-ups. Twice through is one set. Do three sets with 60 sec­onds’ rest between each.’

Run to… slow age­ing

Last year, sci­en­tists at the Mayo Re­search Clinic in Min­nesota, US, il­lus­trated how stren­u­ous ex­er­cise can al­ter the rate at which we age. They com­pared how genes work in­side mus­cle cells af­ter older and younger peo­ple com­pleted in­tense ex­er­cise, and found that those aged 64 and older had sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent gene be­hav­iour af­ter prac­tis­ing high-in­ten­sity in­ter­val train­ing (HIIT) for 12 weeks; and many of those genes are di­rectly re­lated to the health and age­ing of cells. Not only was there a de­crease in age-re­lated de­cline in mus­cle power, but there was also an in­crease in the pro­duc­tion of mi­to­chon­dria (the mus­cle cells’ pow­er­houses), which can help im­prove per­for­mance. The key was that in­stead of just run­ning, the HIIT train­ing in­cluded a mix of strength moves that help to build all- over fit­ness and strength in a way that run­ning can’t.

PRE­SCRIP­TION Time to crack out some Ore­gon Cir­cuits (named af­ter the Univer­sity of Ore­gon, where they were in­vented in 1983). This is the per­fect HIIT ses­sion for run­ners,’ says Craggs. ‘It im­proves speed, strength, car­dio, stamina, pos­ture and all-over fit­ness – and there’s no equip­ment.’

Ro­tate through the fol­low­ing moves con­tin­u­ously for eight min­utes to make one set. Do three sets with two-minute rests between each set. Progress to sets of 10 and then 12 min­utes as you im­prove: – 400m at 5K pace (9/10 ef­fort) – Body-weight squats (x 20) – Plank (20 secs) – 20 al­ter­nate lunges (10 each leg) – Bridge (20 secs) – Static squat (20 secs

Run to… com­bat de­men­tia

If you’re a run­ner, con­grat­u­la­tions: you’re do­ing a fine job of ward­ing off de­men­tia in later life. If you’ve just started run­ning, con­grat­u­la­tions to you, too – you’ve al­ready started pro­tect­ing your brain. Sci­en­tists at the Na­tional In­sti­tute on Ag­ing in the US an­a­lysed the ef­fects of reg­u­lar run­ning on neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis in test sub­jects. What this means is how quickly the sub­jects could pro­duce new neu­rons (the build­ing blocks your ner­vous sys­tem re­lies on to send sig­nals to ev­ery part of your body) and how strong the connections were between those neu­rons. Ac­tive test sub­jects were com­pared with non-ac­tive sub­jects, and those who ran for a month had many more new neu­rons, al­low­ing them to bet­ter con­nect with the brain’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work, im­prov­ing spa­tial mem­ory – of­ten the first thing to de­cline with the on­set of de­men­tia. The team then re­peated the study but re­duced the test pe­riod to a week; the re­sults were sim­i­lar, with the new cells in the ac­tive group’s brains strength­en­ing the part of the brain of­ten as­so­ci­ated with early mem­ory loss and de­men­tia.

PRE­SCRIP­TION ‘The crit­i­cal thing here is to form a habit,’ says Andy Lane, Pro­fes­sor of sports psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Wolver­hamp­ton. ‘Set the goal of get­ting out the door rather than how long and how far you’ll go for: “I’ll walk for five min­utes, then run and stop when I have had enough…and then de­cide.” Con­quer­ing the thought of not go­ing adds to the feel-good sense that you have strong self-reg­u­la­tion skills. Once you get a se­quence go­ing, keep set­ting goals, such as run­ning for 25 days a month.’

Run to… lower your can­cer risk

Sci­en­tists have long known that women who are phys­i­cally fit have a lower risk of de­vel­op­ing breast can­cer, but they’re not yet sure why. A new study pub­lished in the jour­nal

Car­cino­gen­e­sis com­pared a group of ‘fit’ rats that were bred to have high lev­els of phys­i­cal fit­ness with a group bred to have low fit­ness. They were ex­am­ined to see how sus­cep­ti­ble they are to de­vel­op­ing breast can­cer when ex­posed to a chem­i­cal known to lead

to the dis­ease. The un­fit rats were four times more likely to de­velop breast can­cer than the fit rats. The fit­ness mea­sures used were the same as the pa­ram­e­ters em­ployed to mea­sure the fit­ness lev­els of peo­ple, such as VO2 max and body-fat per­cent­age. There’s a po­ten­tial dou­ble win here: not only will im­prov­ing your own fit­ness help to re­duce your chances of de­vel­op­ing breast can­cer, but the fit­ter you are, the more likely it is that any fe­male chil­dren you have will not de­velop the dis­ease.

PRE­SCRIP­TION ‘Do­ing this Vo2-max ses­sion once a week will tur­bocharge your fit­ness,’ says Craggs. ‘Do four min­utes at 10K pace (8/10 ef­fort), rest for 60 sec­onds, then do one minute at 5K pace (9/10 ef­fort). Do 4-5 sets with two-minute re­cov­er­ies in between. For the ses­sion to work you have to be hon­est with your­self about both the speed you run at and the rest pe­ri­ods.’ Add sets as you progress.

SHIELD YOUR­SELF Run­ning can of­fer pro­tec­tion against a range of dis­eases and chronic con­di­tions

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