Marathon Training Week 19: Running Can Save Your Life

by Karl Gruber

It’s true, running can save your life! I have heard story after story about individuals who have risen from the depths of despair, injury, illness, and addiction by incorporating regular running into their lives. I had two amazing co-workers/friends who used the combination of running and Alcoholics Anonymous to save their lives. Not only did running save their lives but their story inspired others.

There are awesome stories, such as the one reported by Huffington Post’s Fiona Grinwald, about overcoming depression due to the loss of her partner. “I’ve always said that it was the endorphins from running that had kept me sane in the first weeks, months and then years of widowhood, but it took losing those happy hormones to confirm it” said Grinwald. She continued with “Google running and grief and you’ll find a hundred articles from people who have similarly found hope in hitting the track. Turns out the fight or flight response is actively engaged when you run. And lord knows I needed that fight response.”

Even today, I turn to a run to burn off excess stress, anger, or frustration and it works, every time! Using exercise to save your life may not have an immediate, apparent effect but it will ultimately increase your cardiovascular health, resulting in a longer, more enjoyable life. Dr. George Sheehan, a runner and prolific writer for Runner’s World magazine, writes in his book Running To Win

One of the better anti-clotting therapies is exercise. I have been impressed by the number of runners who develop coronary artery disease, but do not sustain heart attacks. In many instances, these runners come from families that tend to develop premature coronary disease and have elevated cholesterol…These runners usually develop chest pain while they are exerting themselves, but rarely sustain heart damage. Many medical studies have shown that exercisers enjoy a certain degree of protection from heart attacks and sudden death.” 

The story of Jim Fixx, author of one of the most popular running books, The Complete Book of Running, provides evidence that what Dr. Sheehan speaks of is true. Although Fixx died at 52, while running, the men in his family (including his father who died of a heart attack at 43) were predisposed to coronary heart disease By running, Fixx increased both the length and quality of his life. In his book and during interviews,he promoted the benefits of physical exercise and how it considerably increases the average life expectancy. According to Wikipedia, Fixx started running in 1967 at age 35. He weighed 214 pounds and smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. Ten years later, when his book, The Complete Book of Running (which spent 11 weeks at No. 1 on the New York Times Best-Seller List) was published, he was 60 pounds lighter and smoke-free.
Yet another testimonial of the power of running comes from Zoe Margolis in her 2015 story in The Guardian:

Every step I have taken in the past few months has been a step away from pain, a step closer to feeling better. When I run, I know that at some point endorphins kick in, positive brain chemistry happens, and I feel brilliant. There is science behind that, obviously, but to me it is a simple equation that needs little explanation: I feel crap, so I run, and afterwards, sometimes for days, my depression lifts. It is not a magical cure, and I’m sure it doesn’t work for everyone, but it keeps a lid on it for me. I never expected running to lessen my depression and am surprised, daily, that it does. For me, it is truly a lifesaver.

Simply having a goal, such as training for and running a marathon, can have positive effects on your health, far beyond what you can see.  So, lace up those sneakers and run, literally run, for your life!

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