Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

August 12, 2013

Tidbits: Looking for a runner’s high

By Heather Mullinix
Assistant editor

CROSSVILLE — There it was, beckoning to me across the Internet and through numerous social networks. “7 Amazing Tricks to Lose Belly Fat!” it said, promising that this time, this article would actually provide the secret to losing those love handles and banishing that muffin top that appeared out of nowhere.

What would the secret be? Is there some new botanical compound that I can take and not change my diet or exercise and banish those unsightly bulges? Is there a new fad diet that promises to flush off the pounds with serving after serving after endless serving of cabbage soup?

I should have looked at the link a little closer. What would Runner’s World recommend for losing belly fat? Running. And more running. And more running. In fact, six of the tricks said nothing more than run, with one urging you to take a day off from training.

It seems there is no secret to losing weight or getting back to those skinny jeans, despite what the weight loss industry would have us believe. It’s still a matter of a healthy diet that works for you and getting some exercise into your life. The path to losing belly fat is taken one step at a time.

I’m already attempting to do that. It’s been an interesting journey. You can learn a lot about yourself when you drag yourself off the couch and out the door. I didn’t so much drag myself off the couch, though, as my little dog dragged me, practically kicking and screaming, out the door, down the road and around the neighborhood.

I huffed and I puffed and I realized I needed to do better. I downloaded one of those training apps that’s supposed to take you from being a couch potato to a runner in only 9 short weeks, helping ease you into this whole fitness thing.

I have many friends that run long distances, and they talk about how good they feel. There’s this elusive thing called the “runner’s high,” a state of euphoria some runners experience after an intense workout. It’s not just a myth. Scientists in Germany have found running can flood the brain with feel-good endorphins that elevate mood. One theory is that the body uses this response to help runners ignore the discomfort of exercise to keep going.

I haven’t found the “runner’s high” yet. I’ve found runner’s heart attack and runner’s lung explosion and runner’s knee (only one of those three things is an actual “thing,” and believe me, it’s not fun). But I’m keeping on keeping on and it’s getting a little bit easier every day. My scale hasn’t moved, and the gremlins that took up the waistbands in all my clothes haven’t made it back yet to loosen those up, but I can tell it’s making a difference.

That’s because exercise, not just running, has all kinds of benefits for the body that goes beyond losing weight, though it is an important part in controlling and maintaining a healthy weight. Exercise also keeps your heart healthy and helps boost high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. That’s the good kind. And it decreases triglycerides. Regular physical activity helps stave off a number of health problems, from stroke and diabetes to arthritis and more.

As strange as it may sound, it also makes you have more energy. I suppose it’s one of those laws of motion I can’t recall from high school physics. A body in motion stays in motion. It works for animate and and inanimate objects, alike. Exercise increases your muscle strength and your endurance.

It also makes you happier and reduces stress. As much as I love sleeping in, if I miss my morning jaunt, whether it be an actual run or just a brisk walk around the neighborhood, my whole day just seems to be off. I’m prone to grouchiness and feeling overwhelmed by the stack of papers on my desk. But getting that exercise in before I even head off to work is a great start to my day. If I accomplish nothing else all day, at least I’ve done that. I suspect there’s also some endorphins crashing in, even if it’s not enough to be called a “runner’s high.” I also feel more focused and more productive as I go through my days. I sleep better at night. And I’m getting stronger and faster and healthier with every step, even if I never do get back to those skinny jeans.

You don’t have to go for a run. In fact, if you haven’t been active, you probably want to start with something a little lower impact, like walking. Just walking can provide all these benefits and so much more. Adults, the Centers for Disease Control recommends we get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity  aerobic activity every week, as well as two or more days of muscle-strengthening activities. You don’t have to get all that at one time, either. Just 10 minute mini-walks during the day can provide health benefits and get those endorphins pumping, so if you’re feeling stressed at work, take a quick walk around the block to clear your head.

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Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesdays. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.