Is running bad for your health?
With the 2016 London Marathon taking place on 24 April, the whole issue of running for fitness, or to lose weight, will again be topical. In conjunction with the team at Benenden Hospital, we look at some of the myths and facts about taking up running to improve your health, and even entering the London Marathon.
There is no doubt that, as a nation, we could benefit from being fitter than we are. The British Heart Foundation (BHF) guidelines state that adults (aged 18 and over) should aim to be doing 150 minutes of moderately intensive activity (where you are working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break into a sweat) each week. In 2012 only 67% of men and 55% of women in England were achieving this (although in the South East the equivalent figures were 72% and 61% respectively).
(Source: BHF – Physical Activity Statistics 2015)
The benefits of fitness range from: reducing the risk of heart disease (running makes the heart beat faster, increasing the flow of blood and oxygen around the body and also helps your resting heart rate); through reducing your weight and thereby the stress damage to joints; to generally making you feel happier within yourself. But there are also some misconceptions about the damage you may also cause through running, which can put some people off.
What do I need to consider in order to start running safely?
There’s no simple answer to this. Certainly you should consult your GP before taking up running, if you aren’t currently active, or have underlying health issues. Then, if you are given the all clear to start running, you will need to have a good core strength (the BHF suggests at least 2 muscle-strengthening sessions a week); make sure that you eat and drink correctly; buy a good pair of cushioned running shoes that fit your foot type; and, finally, ensure that you always warm up and down correctly, which will reduce the risk of muscle strains and pulls.
If you are of a ‘certain age’ or over your median weight, you should seriously consider the potential effects of running on your joints – which is why specialist, cushioned running shoes are so important. Most experts agree that a proper, graduated training programme, incorporating rest days, is essential in order to protect your knees (as well as ankles and lower back) from injury and joint deterioration.
Aerobic fitness comes much quicker than your joints and cartilage can compensate for the additional activity, which is why many runners encounter injury set-backs just when they are ‘getting into their stride’. When running, each step puts around 8 times your body weight through the knee joint, so strengthening your muscles in that area is one way of compensating.
The consequence of this, if you are unfortunate, is often a damaged knee. A wearing down or breaking up of the knee cartilage – which is the ‘soft tissue’ that stops the bones rubbing together – causes arthritis in the knee. Without this cartilage the knee can become too painful to bear.
Does running cause arthritis?
Running does not directly cause arthritis or osteoarthritis in later life. The biggest risk factor for these conditions is just simply age – the more ‘mileage’ you put on your body, the more chance there is for damage from wear and tear. What running will do, however, is to aggravate any existing damage you have already suffered to your knees or other load-bearing joints.
Fortunately, if you do suffer from damage to these joints, there are treatment options such as an arthroscopy or steroid injection, and possibly, in the worst-case scenario, replacement surgery. Replacement hips or knees are looked upon as a last resort, as they have a limited life before having to be replaced, but they do offer relief from the pain that damage to hips or knees can cause.
Benenden Hospital is a Centre of Excellence for orthopaedic surgery and can call upon some of the UK’s foremost specialists in joint disease or injury repair. With modern, state-of-the-art diagnostic and theatre facilities, Benenden Hospital surgeons have all the treatment options at their disposal and are supported by specially trained surgical teams. There is also a fully-equipped physiotherapy unit, to deal confidently with any remedial orthopaedic issue.
For more information about Benenden Hospital’s orthopaedic services,
call 01580 242 515, or visit