Running the risk:

Running the risk: It can cause cellulite, heart attacks and joint strain – is it time to stop jogging?

By Alice Hart-davis

Last updated at 2:21 AM on 27th July 2010

For many years, running has seemed the ideal form of exercise. It improves your fitness levels and the health of your heart. It boosts your metabolism and can help you lose weight.

It costs nothing – after the initial outlay on a decent pair of trainers – and can be done anywhere. Since jogging became popular in the late Seventies, running has often been promoted as a panacea for a range of health issues.

But is running really all it’s cracked up to be? Greg Brookes, a London-based personal trainer with a clientele that ranges from celebrities and City high-fliers to housewives, has come up with a list of seven deadly sins as far as running is concerned.

exhuasted runner

Pain and no gain: Running can cause cellulite and won’t help you lose weight according to some experts

‘Lots of people start running to lose weight and it doesn’t always work – and this is why,’ says Brookes.

His first assertion is that running actually decreases the size of your heart.

‘Small muscles use less energy and are more efficient,’ he says. ‘The heart is a muscle and if you force it to keep working for long periods of time it will naturally shrink to use less energy and become more efficient.

‘If you want to increase the size of your heart then you must strength-train your heart, not endurance- train it.’

The next is that running causes injury through repetitive movements – an accusation that will be familiar to many whose knees or ankles have proved unequal to the demands placed on them.

‘When you run, two-and-a-half times your bodyweight is transmitted through your joints,’ says Brookes. ‘If that force is repeated over and over, eventually your weakest joint will give out.

‘The more you run, the more your body prepares itself for your next run – you will actually start to hold on to more fat’

‘Usually the ankles or the knees are the first to go, generally because of poor hip and core stability. Wearing a brace only exacerbates the problem by moving the strain on to the next weakest joint while maintaining the old injury.’

Contrary to popular belief that any exercise will speed up your metabolism, running can, says Brookes, do the opposite. Long-distance running will often deplete your energy stores and then start breaking down your muscle tissue to use as energy.

‘If you want some serious muscle wastage and to reduce your metabolic rate,’ says Brookes, ‘then keep running.’

He also alleges that far from making your body leaner, running can cause it to gain fat.

‘Fat is one of our body’s favourite sources of energy,’ says Brookes.

‘The more you run, the more your body prepares itself for your next run. You will actually start to hold on to more fat.’

Another reason that you won’t get leaner is that the body is an amazing machine and will adapt to anything.

‘The more time you spend running, the better you become at running and the more efficient you get, the less energy you use and the fewer calories you burn,’ says Brookes.

Keep on running? The repetitive movement of jogging could lead to joint damage

And then there’s the vexatious issue of cellulite and running.

Standard wisdom holds that lack of proper exercise causes poor lymphatic and blood circulation and poor lymph drainage, which contribute to causing cellulite.

But according to Marco Mastrorocco, head coach and gym manager at the Epic kickboxing gym in West London, exercising in the wrong way – for example, by running – can increase your chances of developing cellulite.

‘Cellulite is primarily a malfunction of the circulatory system and bad  drainage in tissue under the skin,’ says Mastrorocco. ‘If exercise is sustained for too long – through lots of running – it causes free radicals which in turn damage cells. Our body can cope with over-exertion if it’s in quick bursts.’

Carole Caplin of health club Lifesmart is of a similar opinion. ‘Most people say cellulite is simply something that you can work off.

Unfortunately this isn’t the case,’ she says.

‘Exercise is usually a “good” stress on the body, but hard, impactful exercise like running can compound cellulite, as lymph drainage is already compromised as a result of an accumulation of stress.’

Add to this list the risk of cardiac distress and heart attacks and the indisputable fact that running is pretty boring and time-consuming, and you have a damning list of charges.

All of this raises the question of what we should be doing instead. To Brookes, the answer is simple: high-intensity training.

‘Intensity training is like strength training for your heart and lungs,’ says Brookes. ‘It burns more calories, strengthens your heart and joints and increases your metabolism – and takes about ten minutes.’

Brookes believes that working at a high intensity creates more ‘metabolic disturbance’ in your body than jogging, which means that although you’re not burning as many calories as you would with a long, steady jog in the park, you will be burning more calories over the following 24-hour period.

It will also increase your aerobic capacity by constantly challenging the heart.

‘There are lots of ways to do intensity training,’ says Brookes. ‘Warm up for five minutes, then run hard for 30 seconds, then jog or walk for 90 seconds.

Repeat between three and eight times. You could use the same pattern on a rowing machine or exercise bike.

‘The downside,’ he says, ‘is that it feels like hell while you’re doing it.’

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