Running for a lifetime: Herald staffer looks at how to stay fit beyond middle school

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In 1960, Ralph Paffenbarger, an epidemiologist, Harvard health educator and ultra-marathoner, conducted a landmark study to determine the effects of exercise on long-term health. He surveyed 17,000 Harvard alumni on their exercise habits, and concluded that vigorous exercise lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease and increased longevity. Paffenbarger, who won an Olympic Prize for Sports Sciences in 1996 for his research, determined that for each hour people exercise, they get two to three extra hours of life in return. Put another way, if you run a half-hour a day for a month, you add an extra day to your life.

Mark Polansky, 71, president of the Greater Long Island Running Club, has run daily for more than 40 years. It all started in his 20s, when he realized that he had to take better care of his health. “There’s a tendency,” he said, “to worry more about earning a living, so I got out of shape.”

The GLIRC boasts nearly 4,000 members of all ages, one of whom is 93. The club hosts meets throughout the year, and organizes kids’ fun runs before each one. “We really encourage parents to bring their kids down to the events,” said Polansky. “We have an epidemic of childhood obesity in this country.”

Polansky, of Plainview, did not run in high school or college. Neither did Boyens, who said he did not become a regular runner until he was hired as the Valley Stream North track coach in his 20s — and now he owns a track camp at age 38.

And then you have me. I ran for one year in middle school, and never set foot on a track in high school, only to resume running halfway through college. What I learned in researching this story is that there’s no single reason why people stop exercising after childhood, but education is key to ensuring that more people stay active throughout their lives. People have to understand the enormous health benefits that come with regular exercise. Only then will they begin exercising and commit to keeping it up for life.

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