“Is running safe for my joints?”
“Will running regularly damage my knees?”
“Can running cause arthritis or chronic pain?”
These are just a few of the questions and concerns orthopaedic physicians frequently hear from our patients – including those who consider themselves to be athletic.
Even though running is one of the most common, most popular, and most routinely-practiced forms of exercise in the United States and around the globe, misconceptions about whether or not it is helpful or harmful for the body still run rampant. Understanding the positive effect running can have on the body and knowing how to avoid exercise-related injury is key to debunking misconceptions and reaping the benefits of this popular form of exercise.
How Running Affects the Body
The myth that running is bad for the body is just that: a myth. In fact, running offers a multitude of health benefits that range from weight management and mood stabilization to promoting joint health and protecting the body from orthopaedic complications later in life.
The human body needs regular physical activity in order to function efficiently and effectively. Guidelines provided by the Center for Disease Control recommend that adults of all ages get at least 150 minutes of mild to moderate aerobic exercise each week. All exercise benefits the body, but running offers a particularly-comprehensive range of health and wellness benefits.
Running regularly, even at a mellow pace, can benefit the mind and body by promoting:
- Healthy weight loss – Cardiovascular exercise, or any exercise that gets your heart pumping, is great for both initial weight loss and long-term weight management. Running is a full-body workout that increases your energy needs, resulting in a higher level of caloric burn. Jogging – or running at a slower and more relaxed pace – still burns more calories than walking.
- Boosting the immune system – Another common misconception is that running wears the body down, making it more susceptible to illness. Fortunately, the opposite is true. Research published in the Frontiers in Immunology journal shows that rather than suppressing the immune system, running increases the body’s resistance to both bacterial and viral infections.
- Improved strength and fitness – Running engages both major and minor muscles in the body. This means that runners get a thorough workout that strengthens the core as well as the finer muscles in our knees, hips, ankles, and other joints. Muscle-strengthening is crucial for preventing injury, and studies have shown that it can help ward off future complications like arthritis or osteoporosis.
- Mental wellness – In addition to improving our overall physical health, running is also great for the mind. When we run, endorphins are released throughout the body and levels of positive chemicals like dopamine and serotonin are increased in the brain. Because of this, running has the potential to lift our mood and decrease the potential for mental health concerns like depression or anxiety. Moderate exercises like jogging or walking are also great for relieving stress and managing anxiety.
Preventing Joint Pain and Injury During Exercise
Runners, like any athletes, certainly aren’t immune to experiencing pain or discomfort in the knees, hips, or other major joints in the body. Although running isn’t known to cause or escalate chronic joint pain, it is still important for everyone to make sure they are exercising safely. Pushing yourself too hard or too far can negate the health benefits of running by creating the potential for muscle strain or injury.
Find a running or jogging routine that fits your current ability level. Then, gradually increase your speed or distance goals as you go. It is also important to condition and protect your body from strain by alternating between higher-intensity exercises like running to milder forms like walking, stretching, or yoga. Allowing your body to recover and learning to recognize signs of overexertion will help you prevent injury and support your long-term musculoskeletal health.
The board-certified orthopaedic physicians at Main Line Health offer compassionate and comprehensive care for sports-related injuries, joint and spine disorders, and complex musculoskeletal conditions. We prioritize minimally-invasive and holistic care options that ensure positive outcomes and personalized treatment, recovery, and rehabilitation experiences for our patients. Visit the Main Line Health website to learn more about orthopaedic care or to find an orthopaedic physician.