Dear Friend, you are ruining your feet, and your health, to be fit – an open letter

I have a friend who is having foot pain. Serious foot pain. It has kept him from doing “any vigorous exercise in a full 7 days,” leaving him “pissed off all day and scowling.” This could be the best thing that ever happened to him. He thinks that his pain may have been brought on by “lots of running and time spent in tight climbing shoes.” I think he’s right. I’ve been there brother.

Dear Friend,

We run and engage in other strenuous endurance activities because we think we are doing something good for our cardiovascular health, but we aren’t. Running over a certain point of intensity/endurance is the stress equivalent of being chased by a bear. You may improve your “fitness” aka athletic performance by running strenuously, but you do it to the detriment of your heart and blood vessels. Strenuous endurance activities cause your heart to pump really hard for a long time and may induce pathological structural remodeling of your heart – scar tissue, fibrosis, stiffening of the heart muscle, and premature aging.  Running causes blood to flow turbulently through your arteries resulting in vessel injuries that becomes plaque (yes, that plaque), which is essentially your arteries’ version of scabbing. You’ve only ever heard that you need to get your heart rate up for cardiovascular health. But, keeping your heart rate up over a certain intensity/time overworks your heart and causes a major stress reaction to the rest of your body.

The part of cardiovascular health that you probably haven’t heard is that your muscles, all 600 of them, need to be moving as much as they can, all day long. It’s this skeletal muscle pump that actually pushes blood into your capillaries and on into your cells, feeding them, creating a healthy environment for your nerves, and removing cellular waste via the corresponding lymph system. As I wrote in my post on boobs, its natural movement – lots of walking, squatting, climbing, etc. that is required by our biology. If you are moving throughout your day, your heart can work less because you are instead relying on the skeletal muscle pump to get oxygenated blood to your cells.

If you think running more and faster makes you live longer, the research doesn’t support it. A 2015 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that running over 2.5 hours per week or at higher frequencies – more than 3 times per week – and at faster paces (7 miles per hour or an 8 minute mile) is NOT associated with better survival compared with sedentary non-runners. In fact, strenuous runners were as likely to die, during the 35 years of the study, as sedentary non-runners. Light and moderate joggers fared better, in that order. These joggers ran anywhere from 1 – 2.5 hours per week, 3 or fewer times per week, and at a much slower pace – as low as 5 miles per hour or a 12 minute mile. This study comes on the heels of several studies that show running more and harder is not a healthful activity. High intensity fitness activities, including serious running, are performance based, not health based and do not hold up the gold standards of health – longevity, bone density, joint health, and pelvic floor function. On the contrary, high intensity fitness activities  often break down these standards.

So, I could tell you, my friend with disabling foot pain, to replace strenuous running with light to moderate jogging, but my concern is not for your heart. It is for your whole body health. You took a climbing fall 10 years ago, smashing your foot and ankle on a rock ledge. You wear 5-6 screws in there now.  As a result that foot turns inward when you run. That mal-alignment is obvious from a comparison of the tread wear on the soles of your running shoes. It’s that foot turn that worries me. What I know about foot and gait biomechanics is that if your foot is not aligned as it goes through heel strike, foot flat, heel lift, and toe push-off phases of gait, then your body’s major joints (ankles, knees, hips, spine, and shoulders) will compensate by moving out of their respective alignments. Mal-aligned joints become degenerating joints and chronic pain. It’s not a matter of if that mal-aligned, in-turning foot will wreak havoc; it’s when. It’s happening now to you, my friend, at the local level of the foot. It’s just a matter of time before your feel it other places.

Let’s say a 150lb man walks one mile. Impact forces to his bones and joints are about 110% or just a bit over his body weight, resulting in a mind-boggling force of 175 tons (!) to his feet. If this same man runs, those impact forces are 300-400% or three to four times his body weight, resulting in a staggering force to his feet in excess of 350 tons! With these forces on a hardware-compromised, mal-aligned, painful foot, would I recommend that you jog instead of run? No efff’ing way. My friend you must retire your running shoes (and gets some climbing shoes that fit for God’s sake) and walk instead. Running will not be worth it in the short or long run.

The health benefits of walking are outside the scope of this letter, but please understand that evolution adapted our bodies to walk. Early humans walked or trekked about 8 miles a day to hunt and gather, only running in short bursts by necessity while hunting or being hunted. Your body is adapted to walk. Your body requires lots of walking, every day. Your foot needs you to walk, not run. Unless you are being chased by a bear.

Please let me know if I can help you to move with better alignment. Be well my friend. Michele

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