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February 23, 2010

More Exercise is Better

Written by Tom McGlynn

This is for all of you wondering why we run through the winter, the cold and rainy days, and all the aches and pains.

More exercise is better so let’s keep running.


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Monday, February 1, 2010 (SF Chronicle)
More exercise better in long run, study finds
Erin Allday, Chronicle Staff Writer

Paul Williams has only run one marathon in his life, but by his own
research, he could probably benefit from running a few more.
A scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Williams has put
together the world’s largest study on runners, and the evidence found over
20 years of research points to an important conclusion: When it comes to
exercise, more is almost always better.
“When I started my study, everybody sort of knew exercise was beneficial.
The government was saying you get benefits by walking three or four times
a week. My data has shown the more you do, the greater the benefits,”
Williams said. “I’ve had people doing 100 miles a week of running, and you
could see benefits up to that level.”
To be sure, Williams is not suggesting that everyone try to run 100 miles
a week, or even half of that. But for years, he’s been a critic of
national guidelines that recommend people get at least 150 minutes of
exercise a week, or about 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
That’s a fine goal for the couch potatoes, Williams says, but it’s
shortchanging the millions of Americans who already get the minimum amount
of exercise and might not realize that doing more - maybe even doubling
their workouts - would improve their health.
Williams’ catalog of more than 100,000 runners has produced dozens of
scientific and medical papers looking at the effect of running on
everything from heart disease and stroke to vision problems and arthritis.
The more miles people run, the less likely they are to develop heart
disease or have strokes, Williams has found. The health improvements
continue up to about 50 miles a week of running, roughly eight hours.
Williams, for the record, runs about 35 miles a week.
It’s likely that health benefits keep growing above that level too - with
the 100-mile-a-week runners, for example - but there aren’t enough people
in Williams’ study running that much to provide hard data.
“Up until recently, the exercise research has pretty much focused on the
couch potatoes,” Williams said. “We’ve become fixated on how to get fat
people to lose weight. But we shouldn’t be pitching the weight loss and
exercise thing only to the obese, sedentary people.”
The health improvements don’t just apply to runners - any sort of regular
aerobic activity helps, and the more hours people put in, the more
benefits they’ll see, Williams said.
But Williams’ findings haven’t exactly caught on with the mainstream
public health gurus.
It’s not that they disagree with Williams’ findings. But doctors and
public health officials worry that with half the country not meeting the
current guidelines, even talking about running 50 miles a week will
intimidate folks who aren’t doing anything.
“The overwhelming majority of patients that I see really need the
motivation to start, and seeing a 150-minute goal gives them something to
work toward,” said Dr. MaryAlice Ambrose, chief of patient education at
Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara. “Most often, once patients start
exercising on a regular basis, they feel so much better that they try to
exceed that level on their own.”
Williams started his research project in 1991, when he set out to study
how much physical activity people needed to improve their health. He
decided to focus on runners because they’re an easy group to follow - they
usually know exactly how much exercise they get, in terms of miles run,
and they can gauge their fitness based on race times.
He started by buying the Runner’s World subscription list, which yielded
about 55,000 runners to study. Since then, he’s doubled that group, often
by recruiting people at races. He’s also started studying walkers, about
45,000 of them, to compare their health to runners.
The major benefit of his research cohort is its size - it’s unusual to
have so many subjects to study. A downside is that most of the information
he’s gathered is self-reported - it’s up to the individual runners to be
honest about their health data and how much they run.
Studying the same people for nearly 20 years has allowed Williams to look
at the effects of exercise over time. Exercise, he said, seems to help
prevent heart disease and stroke as well as vision problems like glaucoma
and cataracts. He hasn’t found a relationship between running and cancer
prevention, he said - but that may just be a matter of time, since most of
his runners were relatively young when the study began.
The running community has changed since 1991 and since Williams ran his
own marathon in 1988. More people have picked up the sport, and endurance
events have become more popular. That’s just fine by Williams, of course.
Doctors may be reluctant to start encouraging all of their patients to go
out and run marathons - especially if they’re starting an exercise regimen
from scratch. But at the same time, doctors say they’re increasingly
viewing exercise as a critical health tool, equivalent to tracking a
patient’s weight or blood pressure, or prescribing a drug.
“I tell my patients, however much exercise you’re getting, it would
probably be even better to do a little more,” said Dr. Todd Weitzenberg, a
sports medicine physician with Kaiser Permanente in Santa Rosa. “I hope
that patients, when they’ve done the minimum requirements, when they see
that they’ve lost five pounds, that their blood pressure came down a
couple of points, maybe they’ll up the ante.”

Last modified on May 24, 2010
Tom McGlynn

Tom McGlynn

Tom started runcoach in 2002. His main objective was to equip more runners with the successful training philosophies he was exposed to. In 2007 Tom and the team found a way to make our proven training more widely available through the new online resource

Tom has qualified for the Olympic Trials Marathon three times (2000 ’04 and ’08). He trained under legendary coach Harry Groves at Penn State and graduated in 1996. Tom ran with the Nike Farm Team and Coaches Jeff Johnson, Vin Lananna, Jack Daniels and Ray Appenheimer from 1996-2004. From 2004-2006 Tom served as Assistant Distance Coach to Frank Gagliano for the Nike Farm Team.

Through runcoach Tom has helped thousands of runners set new PR’s. He has trained Marathoners ranging from 2:15 to 8:15 and remains convinced that anyone can improve their running with the right approach.

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