Is Running Really as Bad for You as Some People Say?
Are you trying to talk yourself into or out of running? As is the case with most health related related questions, everything in moderation isn’t a bad rule of thumb. But it depends on the individual, their history, their goals, etc… it also depends on whose opinion you are listening to. There will always be different schools of thought.
For some, concluding that running is just plain bad for you is the perfect get-out clause; it gives them permission to avoid pushing themselves out of their comfort zone and into fitness. For others there are real issues, such as repeated injury or other health problems.
It’s sensible to consider the impact of your exercise on your body and health. Be well informed so that you can make up your own mind about what works for you in avoiding injury and keeping yourself well.
Biomechanics – The Mid-Foot Strike
We develop as children from crawling to walking to running. These are the basic forms of human movement. In walking, we naturally heel strike (which is when the heel hits the ground before any other part of the foot). If we sprint, we’re naturally on our toes. So it makes sense that in jogging or running you are mid-foot striking: somewhere between the heel-strike and the toes.
But many people heel strike when they run – so what? Running with a mid-foot strike means the small joints in the mid-foot do a great job absorbing shock. If you heel-strike, this doesn’t happen and the shock goes straight to the large joints of the body (knees-hips-back). Short term, this means less efficient running. Long term, you may find that you get problems in the knees, hips and back.
Have you ever tried running barefoot? Unless you’re on super soft grass, your body’s mechanics won’t let you heel strike because without cushioned trainers, there is too much shock to allow it to go straight through the heel. If you jump you don’t land on your heels: running is a succession of one legged jumps!
It’s important to note that if you’ve been running for years with a heel-strike, then that is what your (whole) body is used to (you’ll likely have a longer slower less efficient stride). Changing running style will take time and patience. A quick transition may itself cause injury, even if the long term goal means a better overall outcome!
So yes, running can be bad for your joints. But it depends on the technique, volume, and even terrain. The reality is that running is a great overall form of exercise that involves the whole body in a very functional way – it is how we have evolved to move.
TIP: try running on a treadmill with an incline: you can’t heel-strike running up hill. See how it feels and then try it out on the flat – not heel striking encourages a quicker, shorter stride, all good for efficiency and decreased shock through the joints. Any changes to running technique should be made gradually to avoid injury, ideally have some sessions with a running coach – it’ll pay dividends in the long term no matter what level you are or aim to get to.
Too much versus too little? What about Heart Health?
If you don’t push your body out of the comfort of your armchair with some regularity, you’ll be old before your time. There is no substitute for movement and running is the most natural way to get your heart rate up, it’s free, it gets you outside. All good stuff (even in the winter!).
So we know that too little isn’t great, but how much is too much?
This research reports that chronic-long-distance-running puts a lot of pressure on the heart. We’re talking the extreme end of the scale here, so it certainly doesn’t mean that running is bad for you… unless you are addicted to ultra-marathons. Plus everyone is different, some will handle endurance exercise over time better than others.
There will always be exceptions to the rule, but the study in question of 52,000 people over 30 years, made some interesting observations: “The health benefits of exercise seemed to diminish among people who ran more than 20 miles a week, more than six days a week, or faster than eight miles an hour. The sweet spot appears to be five to 19 miles per week at a pace of six to seven miles per hour, spread throughout three or four sessions per week” (published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise)
Overall, runners had a 19 percent lower death risk than non-runners. That’s good enough for us!
The research is on the side of moderation too – it’s always a good place to start, and it’s a good philosophy for maintenance. Little and often, building gradually especially if you’re a beginner – remember it’s never too late to start, we know runners who did very little before the age of 50 or later!
Whatever level you are, the key to good health and good anatomy, is consistency. Move often, push yourself regularly.
Speak to an Osteopath
If you’re unsure about how well you run, or if running is good for a specific condition or injury, get some advice. Contact me using the form below if you have questions about this article or you would like help with exercise, injury or running. I’m here to help.