Middle Distance Running
I guess I would have to say that my favorite exercise is running. This might be prejudiced, because I was a competitive cross-country runner, and a mile runner in Winter track, in high school and in college. In fact, I was nearly the New Jersey state champion for both of those events in high school. Unfortunately for me, some technical circumstances of a highly personal nature beyond my control prevented me from going on to challenge for the championships. Nevertheless, my love of middle distance running has endured (excuse the pun) through all these years.
I have also learned to love sprinting. I never did it competitively, as I didn't have a champion sprinter's build, even though I always had a strong “kick” for the final 400 meters of a cross-country race. But I've learned that an intense sprinting session can yield great physical benefits in a short period of time.
It is “middle distance running” that I truly love for all of its health benefits, however. I am actually not a fan of long distance running, strange as that might sound. By “long distance” running I mean when someone routinely trains and races beyond five miles a day. I'm certainly not saying that I have never run more than five miles in a day. I've even eight, nine, and ten miles largely uphill in one day. However, I would say that I have never done a training run, either on flat ground or including hills and slopes, longer than ten miles. Furthermore, my daily average would have to be four miles, when all is said and done. I've never run a race of more than than seven miles.
The reason that I don't like long distance running is because of the fact that it's more detrimental than it it is beneficial to the athlete. With long distance running, the joints get pounded into dust. Over time, the heart actually shrinks and may develop palpitations in its rhythm. The long distance runner typically comes to have a somewhat emaciated look to him, if he's running competitively. On the other hand, people who run for many miles a week to lose weight typically fail to reach their goals, because long distance running doesn't really fire up the metabolism; it is too aerobic. I don't desire to be either a stick figure or a pudge.
Middle distance running and sprinting, to me, yield the greater health benefits. The cardiovascular system and the metabolism get fired up. These modes of running also go perfectly hand in hand with cross-training for truly outstanding health and athletic performance. The heart becomes stronger without shrinking, while both speed and endurance in all physical areas enhanced. Weight loss and ideal weight can be attained without the extreme muscle loss the results from “hyperburning” of protein off the body. Breathing becomes enhanced, and that alone yields tremendous health benefits as we are a society of unwitting shallow breathers.
Middle distance running also gives tremendous emotional benefits. If you are a middle distance runner, stress melts off of you as water runs off the back of a duck. Little irritations of the day are no longer so irritating. Your mental clarity becomes greatly enhanced, and your mood is generally positive and upbeat. Your energy level is elevated. Your appetite is robust and you naturally desire to eat healthy food. Even when you do eat the literal or figurative Big Mac, you can rest easy knowing that you'll burn it off without effort. You typically sleep deeply and well.
As far as I am concerned, running two to eight miles per day and throwing in some sprinting is the ideal workout. I can't imagine a better way of feeling better.