Marathon: Exercising and running towards a healthy heart and more

Research involving large populations has shown that as little as five to 10 minutes a day of running at slow speeds reduces the risk of death and heart disease significantly.
Research involving large populations has shown that as little as five to 10 minutes a day of running at slow speeds reduces the risk of death and heart disease significantly.PHOTO: ST FILE

It is less than two months before the biggest running event of the year - the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM).

If you are one of the 50,000 who have signed up for the event, I hope your race preparation has been going smoothly, especially if you have been following the training tips from #RunWithMok.

While it is encouraging to see more Singaporeans participating in the SCSM and other similar sporting events in recent years, there is still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to physical activity in Singapore.

According to a 2015 survey by Sport Singapore, almost half of all Singaporeans do not exercise regularly (defined as at least once a week of physical activity or sport). The most common reason cited for this is the lack of time.

A great way to overcome this barrier is brisk walking or running.

It is free of charge, does not require fancy equipment apart from a pair of sports shoes, can be done indoors or outdoors, alone or with a group, at any time and virtually any place for as long or as short as one wishes.

There is a common misconception that exercise needs to be vigorous to reap benefits, but this is far from the truth.

Research involving large populations has shown that as little as five to 10 minutes a day of running at slow speeds reduces the risk of death and heart disease significantly.

In other words, every bit of exercise counts and a little truly goes a long way.

Even in those who have suffered heart attacks, regular supervised exercise - such as that prescribed by a cardiac rehabilitation programme - lowers the likelihood of premature death, getting another heart attack and repeat hospitalisation.

Furthermore, conditions that may worsen heart disease, such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and diabetes are better controlled in those who exercise regularly.

Engaging in regular exercise does far more than just improving heart health.

Researchers compared sedentary individuals with those who exercised regularly and found that active individuals had much lower instances of diabetes, stroke and cancer (in particular breast and colon cancers).

Mental well-being also benefits from regular exercise as those who were more active were less likely to develop depression.

Contrary to popular belief, regular exercise also managed to reduce pain and improve function in those suffering from osteoarthritis of the knees rather than worsening it.

At the other end of the spectrum, exercise continues to benefit those who engage in high levels of exercise regularly, including elite athletes.

Although there have been reports of a variety of heart conditions such as irregular heart rhythms and scarring of the heart muscle in individuals who have been exercising at a high intensity for decades, no definite link has been established.

Exercise is beneficial for almost everyone, and even small amounts done on a regular basis reap impressive rewards.

For those training for the SCSM or already exercising regularly, give yourself a pat on the back and take heart in the amazing health benefits you will enjoy.

For those who are thinking of starting regular physical activity, please progress in a slow and steady manner.

If you have pre-existing heart disease or chronic conditions such as diabetes, remember to exercise caution and consult your doctor before you begin any strenuous exercise.

•Dr Yeo Tee Joo is a consultant with the National University Heart Centre and part of the multi-disciplinary team at the NUH Sports Centre.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2017, with the headline 'Exercising and running towards a healthy heart and more'. Print Edition | Subscribe