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Is Running the Best Cardio Exercise?

Running is a popular type of cardiovascular or aerobic exercise. When you run, you place relatively extreme stresses on your body that promote more calorie and weight loss than other aerobic activities. However, these same stresses can also increase your risks for exercise-related injuries. For most people, especially beginning exercisers, established activity guidelines recommend less strenuous forms of cardio to gain or maintain good health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classify running as a vigorous or high-intensity form of aerobic exercise. When you exercise at this level, the exertion required to sustain your efforts significantly elevates your heart rate, makes you breathe fast and hard -- and makes a normal conversation difficult or impossible to maintain. One minute of running works your body as hard as roughly two minutes of moderate-intensity activities such as biking or brisk walking. The calorie-burning effects of running are even greater in relation to other forms of aerobics. If you run at an 7.5 mph pace for one hour, you can burn off anywhere from 750 to 1,110 calories.

Despite its potential health benefits, running exposes you to a number of potential health problems in your feet, ankles, legs and back. Common foot and ankle-related problems include a heel-pain disorder called plantar fasciitis, stress fractures and Achilles tendon disorders called Achilles tendonitis and Achilles tendonosis. Common leg and knee injuries include stress fractures, muscle strains, tendonitis, a form of inflammation called bursitis and cartilage tears. Common running-related back injuries include muscle strains, a nerve irritation disorder called sciatica and a narrowing of the spinal column called spinal stenosis.

For beginning exercisers, the CDC recommends regular participation in more moderate forms of aerobic exercise. In addition to walking and biking on relatively level terrain, common moderate-intensity activities include cutting your grass, participating in water aerobics and playing games like doubles tennis, which accelerate your heart rate but still allow you to hold a normal conversation with some effort. At a minimum, you will need to exercise at a moderate pace for about 150 minutes each week to meet currently accepted activity guidelines.

If you are an experienced exerciser, you can typically participate in vigorous activities like running once you get your doctor’s approval. If you exercise at high intensity, you only need to work out for a minimum of 75 minutes each week. In addition to getting a more intense workout, some experienced exercisers prefer running because it lets them meet their exercise requirements in a shorter amount of time. If you’re a moderate-intensity exerciser and you want to start running, consult your doctor. Once you gain her approval, increase the intensity of your exercise sessions slowly so your body can adjust to new levels of physical stress. Consult a fitness specialist to learn running techniques that can help you reduce your chances of experiencing an injury during your workout.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.