I’m a Cardiologist. Here’s Why I Encourage Every Runner To Focus on Their ‘Forever Pace’ for Heart Health

Photo: Getty Images/praetorianphoto
Sometimes, runs are magic. You know the feeling: You hit just the right stride, and for a few minutes, you feel like you could keep putting one foot in front of the other forever. Sports cardiologist, John Higgins, MD, of McGovern Medical School at the UT Health Science Center at Houston, says that finding your running flow has more benefits than making you feel like a straight-up superhero. Running long distances at what he calls your "forever pace" can boost your heart health in more ways than one.

Pavement-pounders have many gears: You can run fast-and-fun intervals, log recovery miles, or challenge yourself with a tempo run. While every type of run comes with its own host of benefits, Dr. Higgins explains that your forever pace has unique benefits for your heart. Your "forever pace" refers to a casual, jog-like effort that feels (almost) as easy as breathing. "Its that easy pace where you feel like you are gliding in an effortless zone," says Dr. Higgins. (Think of it as a two or three on an effort scale of one to 10.) "We know that for maintenance of heart health, at least 150 minutes [of moderate aerobic activity] per week is needed. But for health improvement—lowering cardiac risk factors and significantly improving lifespan—we need to push this to 300-plus minutes a week," he explains.

Experts In This Article
  • John Higgins, MD, sports cardiologist with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth

For what it's worth, 300 minutes per week divides out to about 43 minutes per day, or one hour, five days per week. However you want to divvy up those minutes, Dr. Higgins says you'll be making huge strides when it comes to your health and well-being. "This means going on those long runs of 45 to 90 minutes . To do that, you need to find that sweet spot where you can run comfortably at a pace that you feel you could do for hours," says Dr. Higgins.

It's not a fast run. It's not a slow run. It's just a long, effort-free jog. And over the span of your lifetime, this forever pace may change. If you find yourself running a lot, you may get faster. If it's been a second since you last hit the pavement, it might be a little slower—whatever it is is fine. Just go with it.

If you do decide to start upping your mileage week over week, make sure to go slow and take care of your body along the way. "Of course, you have to hydrate and follow the usual rules of mainly flat running—not too many hills—and just running to have fun," says Dr. Higgins. This is your "forever" pace, after all. Settle in, runners—we're here for the long haul.

Don't forget to cool down!

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