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Heart Disease Has an Enemy: Running

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In 2014, it was discovered that runners, compared to non-runners, have a 45% decreased risk of death from heart disease, thanks to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Interestingly, the study found that the benefits of running were across the board in terms of the participants’ health habits.  It didn’t matter if they were obese, a smoker, had diabetes, etc: their risk of heart disease was 45% lower as long as they ran. And while the study showed that consistency was key to getting these benefits, it also seemed to show that there wasn’t much of a difference in benefits if you ran one or three hours every week. Just the fact that you are running every week is enough. Good news for all of us!

What is Heart Disease?

If you’re a little hazy on the vague-sounding phrase “heart disease”, you’re not the only one. Under the heart or cardiovascular disease umbrella, there are many different types of heart disease. Some are congenital (people are born with them), but many others develop over a person’s lifetime and are preventable. For example, one of the worst preventable types of heart disease is coronary artery disease, caused by a blockage in the coronary arteries.

Sadly, heart disease as a whole is the number one cause of death in the U.S. Happily, running can help prevent almost all of the types of preventable heart disease. Here are some quick facts and statistics on some of the most common heart diseases in the United States.

Quick Stats on Heart Disease in the United States

  • About 1 in 4 deaths in the United States are caused by heart disease
  • There are approximately 610,000 deaths from heart disease annually
  • Heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S.A – for both men and women
  • Out of the 610,000 deaths, the most common kind of heart disease is coronary heart disease (causing over 370,000 deaths every year)
  • Roughly 735,000 people in the U.S. suffer from a heart attack every year
  • Heart disease is the major cause of death of most of the ethnicities found in the U.S.: Hispanics, African Americans, Caucasians (for Alaskan Natives, American Indians, Asians & Pacific Islanders cancer is number one, heart disease is number two)

Reading these statistics, it’s easy to see that heart disease is one of the greatest health concerns of our time. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 30% of Americans have an unhealthy high blood pressure. That’s one out of three adults! It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.  The worst natural killer in the United States is one that is in most cases easily preventable. High blood pressure is not the only indication that you may be at risk for heart disease, though.

Warning Signs

 There are several warning signs or bad lifestyle habits to keep an eye on:

High blood pressure. Also known as hypertension, having high blood pressure makes you much more susceptible to suffering from a stroke or heart disease. There are no symptoms of high blood pressure, so it’s important to get your blood pressure measured by your doctor. Running can lower a high blood pressure.

High LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. High levels of this cholesterol can put you at risk for heart disease. Cholesterol usually gets an all-around bad rep – but it’s important to remember that your body couldn’t function without it. In fact, you need it to create bile, which is necessary to digest fats. The problem is when you have too much cholesterol – it can cause permanent damage to your body. Some of the symptoms of high cholesterol are swelling limbs, halitosis (characterized by very bad breath), bloating, constipation, chest pains, vision problems, new food allergies, dizziness or issues with balance, and headaches.  Running, changing your diet and including good Omega 3s can lower a high cholesterol.

Smoking cigarettes and excessively drinking alcohol. This dangerous duo has many unfortunate consequences as you’ve probably heard, and both smoking and excessive drinking can be a key factor in causing heart disease.

A poor diet, unhealthy weight, or being physically inactive. Last on this list but certainly not least – in fact, making healthy changes to your diet (less processed foods, more fresh and whole foods) and starting even just a light regimen of exercise (you only need five minutes of running per day to make a difference!) has been shown to have a great effect in reducing your chances of heart disease.

Important Information on Heart Attacks

There are a few key warning signs that precede a heart attack. If you believe you may be at risk for a heart attack, and experience any of the following symptoms, call your doctor or health professional immediately:

  • Chest pain or a discomfort in the chest is one of the most commonly known red flags
  • But also watch out for discomfort or pain in the upper stomach, neck, jaw, arms, and back
  • Feeling winded or breathless
  • Cold sweats, feeling nauseous or lightheaded


  1. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Heart Disease Facts, Statistics
  2. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Leisure-Time Running Reduces All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality Risk, Study

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