Run for your life

Done the right way, running just three miles a day can provide serious health benefits

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James Dziezynski | Boulder Weekly

Dave Gaudette, owner of Front Range Boxing, lays it on the line: if you’re not willing to put in the time to run three miles, you’re not serious about your fitness training. Given the wealth of distractions available in day-to-day life, reassigning 20-30 minutes a day to running is not a huge sacrifice. And unlike other forms of exercise, running three miles a day, five days a week, can provide results in a relatively short time.

If you’re looking for a modest commitment to fitness, try starting each weekday with a three-mile run. By running five days a week, your body will adjust in several healthy ways that can improve energy, mood and promote weight loss.

Should you accept the three-mile challenge, get ready to harvest a wealth of benefits. First and foremost, you’re going to be burning calories. How many calories are burned is dependent on how hard the runner goes — the old myth that walking and running burn the same amount of calories has long been disproved. A detailed study conducted by California State University and published in 2012 shows that both men and women burn more calories when running versus walking. Put simply, the more oxygen a body processes, the more calories it will burn. Since running increases respiratory rate, it in turn burns more calories. On average, a modest run will burn between 300-350 calories while a harder pace can burn between 350- 400 calories, especially if interval training — incorporating alternating periods of high-intensity exercise with a low-intensity recovery period — is added to the mix.

If you want to add increased benefits to your workout, try running in the morning before breakfast. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Physiology assigned 28 healthy young men to two groups: one which ate a big, carbohydrate heavy breakfast before exercising and another that had a calorically similar breakfast after their workout. The results: the group who ate breakfast before exercising not only gained weight but developed insulin resistance, meaning their muscles weren’t able to pull sugar out of the bloodstream efficiently for use as energy. The group that exercised before breakfast gained almost no weight and showed no signs of insulin resistance.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, “In insulin resistance, muscle, fat, and liver cells do not respond properly to insulin and thus cannot easily absorb glucose from the bloodstream. As a result, the body needs higher levels of insu lin to help glucose enter cells.”

While the exact causes of insulin resistance are not completely understood, scientists think the major contributors to insulin resistance are excess weight and physical inactivity.

“By losing weight and being more physically active,” reads the institute’s website, “people can reverse insulin resistance and prediabetes, thus preventing or delaying type 2 diabetes,” primarily through eating a healthy diet, maintaining a health weight and increasing physical activity.

A second benefit to exercising before eating is increased human growth hormone, an agent that greatly aids in new muscle creation, fat burning efficiency and bone strength. Along with proper sleep, the adjustments your body will make while fasting will be amplified with a simple three-mile run. Fasting and exercise also help both men and women produce natural testosterone, a hormone that increases energy, improves libido and reduces body fat.

Perhaps the best part of the three-mile run program is that it is easy to “stay on the wagon.” Even if you miss your morning run, you only need 20-30 minutes to sneak it in — and it’s a good excuse to get your dog moving as well! Audiobooks and music can help those who find running relatively boring, while more focused runners can enjoy the meditation of the task at hand.

A 2009 study published by Duke University graduate students in Psychosomatic Medicine proves that morning exercise is as good for your mind as it is for your body. Moving the body increases blood flow and this is good for the brain, whose job it is to power each of the systems involved in the exercise process. The mental benefits of running for adults range from improved attention and fast mental processing to more efficient high-level thought processes, such as strategic planning and organizational skills.

But running alone isn’t enough: there are two other pieces to the puzzle that are important to the three-mile challenge. First, the challenge of getting a good night’s sleep — something that many of us have a hard time doing. Sleep is a component of good health that is often neglected because many of our lives are clogged with busy commitments that are amplified by endless distractions. While sleep needs are highly individualistic, most studies show that a base of seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep a night is optimal. The second piece of the health puzzle is making an honest commitment to get up and run — simple in theory, but often difficult in practice.

Which brings us back to the beauty of the five-day timespan for the challenge. If you really want to see and feel changes, three miles of running a day is the perfect middle ground — it’s hard enough work that your body will thrive on it, yet it requires only modest commitment. For those inclined to study their results, keeping a fitness journal (or utilizing an app like Map My Run) can track the physical side of things. As many athletes can attest to, the mental side of improved alertness and better focus may be self evident, especially when paired with a prebreakfast workout.

The three-mile challenge may not be the ultimate answer to top fitness but it is a fantastic start that is within reach for most people. Combined with good sleep and healthy eating, it gives your body all it needs to optimize physical and mental systems — and if nothing else, gives you an excuse to spend a little more time with Fido.

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