If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say that “Running isn’t good for your body,” I’d have a ghost writer doing this post for me and I’d be laying on some topless beach in Greece.
I understand why running gets such a bad rap - something to do with all the pounding and impact and injured people. Yes, there are risks associated with running, like there are risks associated with any sport. Yet, to make the blanket statement that it is “bad for you” seems a bit naïve.
The thing people don’t take into account with running is that it does not have to beat up your body. It can actually strengthen the tissue, the bones, and the tendons if proper rest and adaptation are allowed. Let’s face it: running stresses the tissues. But, if given time to rebuild, those tissues actually become stronger. The key is moderation, rest, recovery, sensibility.
Another reason people think running is bad for you is that they are afraid. Very afraid. Running is difficult. Although I’ve had moments of effortless running, I am usually wondering when I can stop because it is that hard. I think some people try it, see how hard it is and react by saying, “I don’t want to do that anyway, it’s bad for you.”
So, what’s all the fuss? Let’s look at some of the reasons people say running is the devil’s work:
1. People die running.
People die tying their shoes on the curb in New York City. People die eating grapes and choking to death. Yes, you will hear of someone dropping dead during or at the finish line of a marathon. I’m sure you learned that famed ultra runner, Micah True, died recently while running in New Mexico. His cause of death was cardiomyopathy – an enlarged heart.
RIP Micah True (with Guadajuko, the Ghost Dog)
Don’t panic. You have to keep in mind that these deaths are almost always due to a pre-existing heart abnormality or heart disease. So, don’t be stupid and ask your doctor before training for an endurance event.
In fact, did you know that over all runners live longer and stay healthier longer than couch potatoes? People who rarely exercise are fifty times more likely to die of a heart attack during vigorous exercise than those who exercise five times per week. Overall, fit men are half as likely to die of a heart attack than the classic “couch potato.” So, your odds are pretty good that running will lengthen your lifespan, not cut it short.
2. Running is bad for your knees and joints.
You can see why this is a widely held belief. After all, with each step a runner’s knee takes up to eight times the force of the runner’s bodyweight.
Researchers at Stanford University wanted to know more about the actual long term affects of running on the knees and joints. 1,000 runners and non runners were tracked over a period of 21 years. None of the participants had arthritis when the study began. As you can imagine, many of them developed this condition over the life of the study. In 2008, the results were published. It found that runner’s knees were no worse than non-runners knees, regardless of the number of miles that the participant ran (study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 2008).
Yes, this is just one study on just one sample of people. But, it was a comprehensive and long term look at the effect of running on the knees. And, the results were pretty darn optimistic for the running camp.
It is important to note that when cartilage in the knee is compromised, it doesn’t necessarily come back stronger. This is why it is essential to train smart and to listen to your body. Once you damage that cartilage, you might not recover fully.
As for joints and bones in general, studies have found that running actually increases bone density and can in fact reduce incidences of arthritis. As is reported by the American Running and Fitness Association, “Osteoporosis (the reduction of bone density) affects more than 200 million people worldwide. Luckily, weight bearing exercise, running is the best example, are the ideal training strategy for promoting and maintaining bone health. A study done at the University of Missouri has found running to be more effective then resistance training on promoting and boosting bone density.”
3. Running will lessen the quality of your life by crippling you and making you unable to move properly later in life.
Yes, endurance runners might have some aches and pains as they age. Hard to know if they would have had these anyway as they got older. I know many people in their 40s and 50s who do not run, yet are plagued with back pain and joint pain. It’s called getting older. My belief is that running keeps things moving – blood, oxygen, poop. It keeps the tissues alive and on their toes. It promotes energy and confidence. It gives an extreme mental health boost, a surefire way to combat some depression that can accompany aging and life transitions.
100 year old runner, Fauja Singh, entered the Guinness Book of World Records
for being the oldest person to finish a marathon (Toronto Marathon, 2011).
The above-referenced Stanford study also found that runners experienced less physical disability and had a 39% lower mortality rate than the non-runners. After tracking runners and healthy non-runners for 21 years, starting when they were at least 50 years old, researchers found that “the ability to perform activities of daily life like getting out of a chair and walking was better among runners than non-runners. And 19 years into the study, 15 percent of the runners had died, compared with 34 percent of the non-runners.”
Put that in your pipe (or turban) and smoke it!
Are you often told by non-runners that running isn’t good for you? How do you respond? I just shrug and tell them it makes me happy anyway. I’m not going to debate it unless someone really wants my opinion.
What do you believe is the most significant risk associated with running? Without a doubt, overtraining.
Sources for this post:
From Guru Magazine: Is running really bad for your knees? A personal trainer explains…
From TIME Health: Is running bad for your knees? Maybe Not.
From Muscle Prodigy: Is running bad for your joints and bones?
From US News – Health: 3 Myths and 1 Truth About Running and Your Health