Running wisely

Middle age men jogging on the pavement at Geylang Serai.
PHOTO: Running wisely

I used to run 5km every other morning. I would get up early, don my lycra gear, drive to Penang's Botanic Gardens and torture myself for 30-something minutes.

"I'm doing this for my health," I would say to myself, as I began running out of energy after just 2km.

"I'm doing this for my health," I would say to myself again, as my knees began protesting.

"I'm doing this for my health," I would say for one last time, as I held onto car wing mirrors for support, while wobbling through the car park.

If only I'd known that I was doing more harm than good, I would never have tortured myself in such a manner.

Such was my ignorance that my right knee no longer serves its intended purpose. Whenever I walk up and down stairs, it now makes a noise that sounds like a heavy-set man walking over wet gravel, while wearing a pair of army boots. Crunch, crunch, crunch …

At the beginning of this year, my dysfunctional joint began swelling up like a puffer fish. So I sought the advice of a specialist, who manipulated my knee and made me do squats while I held onto the side of a table.

"That doesn't sound good," he said, as he listened to my knee crunching with each movement.

After he'd made his diagnosis, which entailed giving my condition a name that was excruciating to pronounce, he gave me some advice. "No more running," he said. "You must rest your knee and give it time to heal. Even after the swelling goes down and you have no more pain, you might not be able to run for so long at any given time."

So I took up walking three times a week instead, and watched enviously as the runners in the Botanic Gardens whizzed by me.

Not that I ever whizzed while running, mind you. It was more of a spurt followed by fizzle. Still, I felt that I wasn't getting as much benefit as I used to out of my fitness regimen.

But recently I had a change of mind.

According to a recent study, running for under 10 minutes a day is just as beneficial to your heart as pounding the ground for hours at a time.

It seems all you need to lower the risk of dying from heart disease to an amazing 45 per cent and increase your life expectancy by three years is less than an hour of exercise a week. And running for any longer than that won't give you any additional benefits.

All those people who have spent hours every week running on a treadmill, or through a park, or by the side of a car-choked road must be kicking themselves now. Especially since too much running can actually be bad for your heart.

Of course, despite this recent finding, there are still some runners out there who will continue to run long distance, simply because they enjoy the activity - possibly something to do with the endorphins. Luckily for me, I've never experienced an endorphin high from my physical exertions. Otherwise, I'm afraid my heart and many of my leg joints would be in a much worse condition than they are now.

Coincidentally, someone has just formed a running club in London that claims that singing while you run will provide you with an additional surge of endorphins.

Not that my urge for a surge would ever be that great that I would be induced to join such an organisation. I'm basically slothful at heart - I can also get similar surges from chocolate, a good book and a comfy sofa.

Besides, if there's one talent that I don't possess, it's the ability to sing. I still remember a school concert, when I was about eight or nine years old, which required my entire class to form a choir.

Five minutes into the first rehearsal, the music teacher stopped the singing and said, "Who is making that dreadful noise?"

She soon determined that I was the culprit, and thereafter I was forced to lip-sync to all of the songs. As a result, whenever I'm asked to sing in public, my heart begins to beat faster and my throat constricts. I think it's safe to say, that I'd rather run for one hour in silence than run for 10 minutes while strangling a perfectly decent song.

But hey, to each their own. If I were forced to sing one song while running, I would probably choose Fleetwood Mac's Go Your Own Way. How about you?