Running is a popular lifetime sport that many people take on at various ages. It is free and requires very little equipment. You get a great "bang for your buck" concerning calorie burn, and the mental clarity is worth every step.
Additionally, multiple experts and studies have proven that running is good for you. These health benefits include better sleep, improved cardiovascular health, knee strength, back health, memory, fewer colds, and a better mood.
If running is so good for us, why do so many doctors tell their patients that running is "bad"? Well, most doctors only see their patients when they are hurt. They generally have limited time, and their goal is to reduce the pain. It is much easier to tell a person to stop running than to explain how to properly prepare your body to run.
Running does create a lot of force on our bodies (2.5-3x our body weight on one leg) and has a high prevalence of injury. However, these injuries are most often related to muscle or tendon strain from improper training, lack of balanced strength, and/or mobility. These types of injuries can be prevented and adequately cared for with some knowledge and the help of running experts.
One widespread myth about running that warrants debunking is that running is "bad for your joints." The general public and physicians have often said that running causes or worsens arthritis. This is simply not true.
In May 2017, a systematic review with over 125,000 participants concluded that recreational runners had lower osteoarthritis (OA) occurrence than competitive runners and controls. These results indicated that a more sedentary lifestyle or prolonged exposure to high-volume and/or high-intensity running is associated with hip and/or knee OA. In other words, running in moderation does not cause hip or knee arthritis.
Another study from 2017 with over 2600 participants in their 50-60s concluded that there is no increased risk of symptomatic knee OA among runners compared with nonrunners. Running does not appear to be detrimental to the knees in those without OA.
But what about those who have already been diagnosed with OA? In 2018, another study was performed on over 1200 people 50 years of age or older and diagnosed with OA in at least one knee. It concluded that running is associated with improved knee pain, not with worsening knee pain or radiographically defined structural progression. Therefore, running need not be discouraged in people with knee OA.
Bottom line: Running is GOOD for you and does NOT cause osteoarthritis. However, it does have a high incidence of muscle and tendon injury, so you must train adequately and perform regular strength training.
Are you interested in running and would like expert guidance on proper progression and building adequate strength? If so, check out The Ageless Running Academy, a 12-week guided online running and strength training program. Join the waitlist if it's exactly what you have been looking for. The next cohort will start in fall 2022!