This is a pretty big topic for discussion but I just want to touch on it a little due to the fact that it is also my favorite. There is a lot of information out there for if you should or should not run as your main cardio activity or exsersize program. When I first started running I hated it I thought it was awful because I would get out of breath and feel sick. I educated myself on better form for running, and starting cross training and that helped but what really helped was running more. It helps itself and it helps you, for whatever your goals are. Now the more I educated myself the more and more I saw the two sides of the division. Running is GOOD for you! VS. Running is BAD for you!
The Good: Running is one of the top cardio work outs you can do. If you like interval running it helps get your heart mussel strengthen because it speeds up and rests, speeds up then rests.It’s like flexing and resting. This quick to slow ratio, no matter how you do it, is really good for helping to strengthen your heart while acclimating your body to the speed. It gets your blood pumping but allows your body time to adapt so you do not have to worry about pushing your heart to its limit and causing damage.
Now while that is a really good program it is not easy to keep track of it you want to know your limits or time or distance. So if you want to do endurance running and just see how far you can go, a slow build up program would be better for you. Because jumping into the “lets go 20 miles!” mind set without any previous training is really bad for your body. A slow building program where everyday you go longer or farther is better because you can build on your mussels (and give you body time to rest) while contributing to your overall health. I like this kind of training best because it has literal goals you can set like “I am going to get to 7miles a week by this time frame” and actually keep track of it. There are a lot of programs now that you can put on your phone and take with you for runs as well. I use http://www.endomondo.com/login and making goals and seeing yourself attain them just helps you get more pumped! This kind of training also is good if you want to see how hard you can go for a long period of time. Strengthening your heart in this way will help your body overall and extends your life span. But with long distance, or pushing yourself farther you do have the chances of pulling mussels, shin splints, ect, and in rare cases scarring on heart tissue. A lot of it has to do with knowing your body, knowing when to quit, and what your body needs to build mussel instead of stressing out the mussel you already have. Which applies to pretty much all exsersizing programs with few exceptions.
The Bad: The worst things I have seen for running come down to two things really
1) pulled mussels and shin splints
3) it is a high impact sport, this means it takes a toll on your joints
2) heart scarring from endurance running
Now from a few articles I have read and I think most runners would agree with me is that if don’t push yourself way beyond your limits and take decent rest periods, shin splints and mussel pulling is pretty much eliminated. I have found no difference with stretching before hand or not so figure out what works for you and if you get shin splints easy try to run on softer paths, try sand or grass. Do some trail running, not only is the ground relatively have more give (depending on where you are) but its beautiful and different running patterns keeps your body guessing! But they are two things that can happen and you should be aware of if you want to run often. http://speedendurance.com/2009/04/09/what-causes-shin-splints-how-to-prevent-them-and-treatment/ This in an article which talks about shin splints and how to avoid them.
Running is a high impact sport. That is just the nature of it, pounding the ground when your run is not great for your joints. Running with good form helps alleviate this, running on softer ground also helps. I try to run on softer routes. It’s hard in the city but get out there. Beaches are a intense run area but so beautiful and worth it! At some point if you are really getting into running, you have to look at the cost effective ratio, how good it is for you overall vs. the damage that may be happening. And again knowing your body and how it is reacting. If your family has a history of joint issues you might want to try bike riding or swimming, it is up to you! Just get out there and do it!
As far as heart scarring I have only heard of this a couple times and have found a really good article from DR.Mercola to be helpful for making goals and planning for endurance running. http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2011/03/22/beware–new-study-finds-too-much-cardio-can-hurt-your-heart.aspx Now he outlines a whole training program with sprints and various interval kinds of cardio. Take from it what you will.
Other Cardio: Now as far as other options there is pretty much anything that can get your heart rate up there. I have included a info-graph with a couple of different options on there to give you a better idea of options.
Now you see what I know, and it’s not an exhaustive list to be sure. And I have not covered all the different things that can happen with running but hopefully this will help you make informed choices and help you to get out there and do something good for your body! That really is the most important thing, because it does not matter what you do as long as you do it! So get off your computer and go do something! It is as easy as putting on your shoes and getting out the front door!