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Is Running Good or Bad for You?


Robert More, MD

Running has become increasingly popular over the years. From 1990 to 2015 the number of people who have finished a race of any type has increased 360%. This increased popularity includes men and women of all age groups. In fact, women now make up 44% of marathon runners, and among all types of race finishers, women now outnumber men, 57% to 43%.

What Are The Benefits of Running?

Running is a very efficient way to improve your cardiovascular fitness. Regular aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease your risk of diabetes, hypertension, obesity, pulmonary disease, cancer, and brain atrophy. In fact, aerobic activity is the only intervention proven to decrease the risk of dementia, and improve your mental acuity as you get older.

What Are The Risks of Running?

As with any type of physical activity, there are always risks of injury. With running, the main risks are what we call overuse injuries. If you increase your running too quickly, there is a greater chance that one of your body parts will not be able to keep up with the increased stress, and start to develop pain and inflammation. The most common overuse injuries in running include tendonitis (iliotibial band, quadriceps tendon, patellar tendon, Achilles tendon, other leg and ankle tendons), stress fractures (especially in the foot), patella pain, and plantar fasciitis. The most important ways to avoid overuse injuries are to use high-quality shoes that have been selected for your particular foot anatomy by a knowledgeable shoe store, and to increase your running slowly over time. A good rule of thumb is to not increase your weekly mileage more than 10-20% per week.

Is Running Bad For My Joints?

The short answer is no, as long as you have normal joints that have not been subjected to prior injury or surgery. In fact, several studies have associated running with a decreased risk of developing hip or knee arthritis. The stress on your joint cartilage during running has actually been shown to improve the quality of the cartilage tissue, and decrease the concentration of inflammatory cytokines in the joint fluid.

However, if your knee anatomy has been altered due to a prior injury or surgery, high-impact activity like running may cause an increased risk of joint deterioration. A good rule of thumb is if running causes pain in your knee, that’s probably an indication that running is not the best form of aerobic activity, and lower-impact activities would be better.

Is Running Safe For Children?

Overall, there are no studies showing that running is harmful to children and their developing bodies. In fact, the youngest marathoner is age 7, and has never had problems running. For children, the same principles apply regarding the prevention of overuse injury, being very careful to increase the number of miles per week when training.

Is Running Safe During and After Pregnancy?

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology encourages aerobic and strength exercise during pregnancy, because it is shown to decrease the risk of gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. There are of course contraindications to running during pregnancy for certain situations, so women should always first check with their physician. After delivery, running has been shown to decrease the risk of postpartum depression, and does not decrease milk production if breast feeding.

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