For years, runners have worried that the constant impact on their joints might leave them hobbled as they grew older. But new research shows that surprisingly, running might actually make your knees stronger and less prone to injury, rather than the other way around.
The study, published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, measured inflammatory markers in the fluid surrounding the knee joint of healthy men and women both before and after running. They found that the markers went down after the subjects ran for 30 minutes compared to before the workout. Inflammation markers were also unchanged when the subjects exercised for 30 minutes in a non-impact workout.
Although the study was small (only six subjects were tested), it still shows promise, notes John Baldea, M.D., director of the Primary Care Sports Medicine Fellowship at Indiana University Health. “The research shows that inflammatory markers actually decreased after running,” says Dr. Baldea, who was not involved in the study. “It’s just one more piece of evidence to support the idea that running can be excellent for your health.”
Runners, in fact, are a generally healthy bunch, with studies backing everything from a lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers to improvements in mental function. One 2014 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology followed more than 55,000 adults over a 15-year period and found runners had a 30 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality and a three-year increased risk of life expectancy compared to non-runners. And you don’t have to be a marathoner to reap the benefits: The same study found those who ran less than 51 minutes a week, less than six miles, just once a week or slower than six miles an hour all saw a boost to their health.
“The benefits of running are simply incredible,” maintains Dr. Baldea. “I only recommend that a person stop running if they have severe pain from moderate to severe arthritis, or an acute injury that is causing them to limp.”
That said, to make sure you stay healthy as you run, cross-train with other activities that will help keep you strong and well balanced, including swimming, elliptical training and cycling.
Strength training—especially targeting core muscles with exercises like pushups, sit-ups, planks and leg raises—is also key, adds Dr. Baldea. And don’t forget to keep your footwear fresh. “Make sure you replace your shoes before they break down, or about every 250 to 300 miles, in order to help reduce your risk of injury,” he says.
-- By Alyssa Shaffer