High Impact Exercise (and why you should stay away from it)

athletes running

I am a big fan of low impact, low intensity exercising. I like this type of exercising because I feel it gives you the best chance of being able to stick with an exercise routine long enough to reap the benefits from it.

The only way that we get any benefit out of exercising  is by sticking with it long term and doing it consistently.

Exercising should be done in a way that is sustainable for our bodies. If we start out an exercise routine too intensely then we will eventually hurt ourselves and have to stop exercising. If we try to start out doing too much, then we will injure ourselves and have to stop exercising.

If the exercise you chose to do is high impact, you will eventually injure yourself from the repetitive impact and have to stop exercising.

Much of how your body reacts to exercise (along with other stresses and injuries in your life) depends on how young you are, what type of shape and condition your body is in, and what type of previous injuries you have had.

The younger you are, the quicker your body will recover from minor and major injuries and irritations. As you age, your recovery rate slows down.

As you age, wear and tear builds up in your body, making you more susceptible to getting injured. The worse condition or shape that you are, the more likely you are to injure yourself.

The last factor that affects injury rates is previous history of injury. If you have a history of injuring an area in the past, you will be more likely to injure that area in the future. That area of previous injury is going to be structurally less stable than the rest of your body. When you are injured your body establishes neurological patterns that promote spasm and inflammation. The muscles can fall out of these patterns over time. But once the neurological pathway is established, it is there for life. This makes it easier for the muscles to fall back into those old patterns of spasm and inflammation.

High impact, high intensity exercising will also make you more likely to get injured. High impact exercising is very hard on your body. All of that pounding and impact eventually build up to create micro traumas, which eventually build up to become major traumas or injuries.

If you are young (under 30), then your body will recover from these small injuries quickly. They won’t have a chance to build up. Once you reach middle age, then the irritation will not go away as quickly as it did when you were younger. That irritation will stick around and build up and become an injury very quickly.

As you age, high intensity exercising can be bad for you as well. Pushing yourself too hard will lead to muscle strains and sprains, muscle pulls, and eventually injury. If you are not a professional athlete then there is no reason to train like one.

Professional athletes are paid to put their bodies through the wringer. They are paid to abuse their bodies and come back from more. They are paid so that we can see to what extremes the human body can be pushed to. They get paid to do this. We do not.

If we do not get paid to do this, why do an exercise that will cause pain and injury? Why do an exercise that has the potential to do enough damage to your body long term that you won’t be able to exercise in the future? Why not exercise to feel good? Why not exercise to train for the stresses of real life. Real life stresses like: gardening, golfing, playing pickup basketball, biking, chasing after your kids or grandkids, lifting luggage into the overhead compartment on an airplane, walking around on vacation.

These are most of the activities that many of us do consistently. So why not train for the stresses that we will encounter, rather than training for the stresses of life that we will never encounter? How many times have you been asked to max out your bench press when walking down the street? How many times has someone randomly walked up to you and asked you to do a leg press?

It doesn’t happen. But you will need your balancing muscles. These are the muscles that will catch you when you are walking down the street, talking to a friend and you trip over the curb. These are the muscles that will catch you.

High impact exercising will cause your muscles to tighten up. The tighter the muscles become, the more likely you will be to injure yourself.

The tighter a muscle becomes, the less range of motion it will have. A tight muscle will also affect balance, because you can’t fully use the muscle the way it was designed to be used. The leading cause of falling in the elderly is from lack of hip mobility. The leading cause of traumatic, spinal injury in the elderly is from falling.

Strengthen the muscles that you will use on a daily basis. Loosen up the muscles that you use regularly. If you can do this, then you will be ready for real life and all of the stresses and irritants that comes along with it. The stronger and loser a muscle is, the better it can react to the stresses of daily life.

Recently a study came was published that concluded that moderate running is good for you, but long distance, high intensity running can actually shorten your lifespan. You would think that if some running is good for you, then more running would be better for you. This is just not the case.

A number of earlier studies have concluded that those who run more than 20 miles per week or at an average pace of 7.5 mph or faster, are more likely to have shorter life spans than those who run less or run slower.

Cardiologist Dr. Martin Matsumara told the Huffington Post that when “increasing mileage and pace, the benefits of running seem to disappear. These studies suggest that running fast and far may be toxic to the heart in some way.”

Critics of these earlier studies have suggested that the researchers didn’t look at the over health and habits of the study subjects, suggesting that their lifestyle habits might have made them more likely to suffer from running, rather than benefiting from it.

Matsumura looked at the habits of over 3800 runners and said that he didn’t find any evidence that the high distance runners had unique habits or troubling medical histories that would have predisposed them to health issues from running.

“The underlying cause of the [link] between training mileage and longevity remains unclear and should be the topic of further study,” Dr. Matsumura wrote.

In the meantime, people should not stop exercising. If you are running, then do it moderately. I recommend crosstraining. This is doing some type of aerobic exercise a few days of the week along with a few days of the week doing light, low intensity weight lifting.

If you run, then mix it up. Don’t use running as your only form of cardio-vascular training. Mix it up. If you are doing cardio 4 days a week, then run 2 days a week and do 2 days on the elliptical machine or stationary bike or swimming. Mix running in with other, low impact types of aerobic exercise.

Exercise smarter, not harder. Don’t exercise like you did 20 years ago. Don’t exercise like a professional athlete. Exercise for the stresses that you will encounter in real life. It is the Pain Free Way.

Here are a few other articles that I wrote on the topics of running and high  impact exercising:

Can Running Cause Osteo-arthritis?

The Benefits of Walking Versus Running

Running Versus Other Types of Cardio-Vascular Exercise

Another Reason for Low Impact Exercise

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