I enjoyed helping wiring this article for this months edition of Runners World UK. In it the multi system benefits of running are described. This includes the benefits of exercise seen in cancer, mental illness, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
If we could put exercise like running into a pill, it would be the most popular one on the shelf because it provides a host of benefits. there is good evidence to show that an increase in your exercise capacity reduces your cardiovascular risk and mortality .It also reduces the risk of coronary disease, lowers blood pressure and helps to maintain a normal weight. All of this helps improve your lipid profile, reducing your 'bad' cholesterol and improving 'good' cholesterol. Having a poor lipid profile is one of the risk factors for heart attacksand strokes. Exercise has multi-system benefits, so increasing the amount we do will help us achieve these benefits.
More recent has sown some caveats that we need to bear in mind. We know that people in their 40's onwards who have exercised over a lifetime are at higher risk of developing an irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation. There have also been studies showing that older endurance athletes have more heart muscle scarring (this is called 'fibrosis') on heart MRI scans. Further studies are needed to see what the significance of this is, if any.
Studies have also shown that older endurance athletes had more furring of their heart arteries compared with age- matched controls. However, importantly, the plaque seen in athletes is calcified, m ore benign and thought to be less likely to rupture and cause cardiovascular event than the softer mixed plaques seen in the control groups. Overall, the benefits of exercise far outweigh the downsides. Anything done to reduce sedentary behaviour will cut cardiovascular risk.