Fitness Articles

3 Strikes Against Running: Is it Time to Hang up Your Sneakers?

Do the Benefits of Running Outpace the Risks?

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Running is one of those activities that people either love or hate (and sometimes both at the same time). If you're out there pounding the pavement, you may field quite a few questions about why you voluntarily undergo such torture. And if you're not a runner, you may have some serious doubts about the sanity of your running friends.
 
Either way, the sport tends to get a bad rap. To set the record straight, we talked to a couple of running experts to get their take on the most common criticisms, and to find out whether they're legit or full of hot air.
 
Strike #1: It's bad for the joints.
 
This is arguably one of the biggest beefs non-runners have against running. Over the years, I've politely heeded plenty of warnings about the sad state my knees will be in if I keep it up. It seems like a logical argument—after all, running is a high-impact activity, often performed on hard surfaces—but there's no hard-and-fast proof that it will have a negative effect on the body.
 
Kyle Kranz, a running coach based in South Dakota, points out that numerous studies suggest higher-impact activities actually strengthen the joints and bones more than lower-impact activities, like cycling or swimming. In one 2015 study in the American Journal of Health Promotion, women who performed a daily hopping exercise for four months actually increased their hipbone density, while those who didn't hop lost some density. And a Berkeley study disproved the myth that excess running contributes to osteoarthritis and hip replacements.
 
"Simply stated, running works the bones and joints better, thus strengthening them in the same way that lifting weights works the muscles," says Kranz. "Over time, they adapt to become stronger than they were before."
 
Madeline Hanley, a competitive runner based in New York City, says proper form is the secret to preventing joint damage. "If you're pounding your whole foot into the ground, then yes, running is going to be very hard on your joints," she says.
 
To prevent this, Hanley recommends trying impact force reactional drills. "The key is to hop on one foot, while practicing bounding your opposite foot on the ground, trying to do this as gently but quickly as possible," she says. "Be like a boxer with your feet: To get more speed and be less fatigued when punching, boxers think about retracting their punches as soon as they punch. Think about your feet they same way: Bounce up as soon as they touch the ground." It may look a lot like river dancing, but this technique could help increase your cadence and reduce joint stress.
 
Strike #2: Running causes muscle loss.
 
There's a school of thought that running is more slimming than strengthening, and over time will "burn" away muscle definition. But as long as you're complementing your running with strength training and getting plenty of protein in your diet, you're unlikely to see any noticeable muscle shrinkage. And as a side perk, you may also find that your weight work increases the quality of your running.
 
To disprove this one, Kyle lets these pictures of his quads and calves do the talking.


 

Time to do some work! #fargohalfmarathon #fargomarathon #runchat #skorarunning #skoraTEMPO

A photo posted by SKORA Running (@skorarunning) on


"Unless a person is doing a great deal of running and has a significant caloric deficit, it's unlikely they'd experience much, if any, muscle loss from taking up a running routine," Kyle says.
Strike #3: Too much running is bad for you.
 
Kranz admits that there's a kernel of truth in this one. "Yes, there is definitely such thing as too much running," he says. "Just ask retired elite Ryan Hall, who partially blames his extremely high-mileage teenage years for his recent health issues." That said, Kranz maintains that researchers aren't exactly sure where that threshold lies, and that most people would find it difficult to run so much as to experience negative health effects.
 
One study suggested that the health benefits of running tend to drop off around the 20-mile-per-week range. However, those who logged between five to 19 miles per week had a 25 percent lower risk of death.
 
When it comes to finding that "sweet spot" of running distance, competitive ultramarathoner (and founder of running apparel brand OnlyAtoms) Beth Weinstein stresses the importance of listening to your body. "Do whatever feels good for you, and don't overdo anything," she recommends. "Like all things in life, it's all about balance. Running is about challenging your mind and body, but not about torturing yourself or always being miserable."
 
Weighing the Risks and Benefits
 
As with any physical activity, running comes with a mix of pros and cons. "Ultimately, the decision to run is one that each person must make for themselves," Kranz says. "There are certainly more dangerous or costly activities to pursue."
 
For Kranz, running has allowed him to work toward goals, connect with like-minded people, explore mountains and cities, and—most importantly—feel good about himself after his history as an obese, depressed high-schooler. "If you enjoy running and do it wisely (as with any activity), and it makes you feel good, then the benefits almost always outweigh the risks."
 
Hanley agrees that the benefits of running far outweigh the risks: "Running is more than just exercise for me—it's a social thing. It's gotten me through countless exam weeks, breakups and bad days, and always gives me a fresh perspective." That said, Hanley has sustained injuries and didn't always listen to her body at first, but now she knows when to run and when to rest.
 
The best part about running, according to Hanley, is that just about anyone can run. "You don't need tons of expensive gear, or years of experience and technique—you just need a pair of running shoes. The rest is between you and the road."

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Member Comments

  • I have never been a runner and never will be. When I was younger I always got a painful stitch in my side. Now I am 57 with arthritic knees and stenosis in my back. No high impacts for me. I walk but some days even the wal mart is too much walking.
    As for muscle tone I have observed several marathons and noticed seriously thin upper bodies and flat chested women. Does running cause this? I wonder. Or do thinner people choose to run?I have a larger top and have always had difficulty finding a comfortable and supportive fitness bra and really hate bouncing along and have avoided activities that made me bounce.
  • I used to run in my 30's. Age 54 developed knee pain. At age 58 I required Bill knee replacement. My daddy used to tell me I would wear out my joints God love him and may he rest in peace. Just sayin.... ??
  • That's one thing I could never do is run tried it couple of times it's not for me.
  • I am not a runner and never will be but the article is good for those that do run.
  • I just run now and then on my treadmill while walking
  • Jumping (not overly high!) on a mini-trampoline, and also jumping, or walking, or running (even UP HILLS) while wearing rebound boots or rebound shoes, both, are excellent and effective cardio alternatives to running. Rebound boots were invented in Switzerland as a form of rehab therapy! But they're just GREAT exercise. And even more FUN!!! Great intergenerational activity!
  • I like running. Have done two half-marathons and a number of 10 and 5Ks, so far. But, when it comes to muscles, men's muscles are nothing like women's, anyway. So, as a woman, photos of men's leg muscles cannot convince me that the same applies to women. Among other things, we don't have anywhere near as much testosterone!

    Isn't running still considered "high impact" on joints? So, for some of us, we will not overdo it. I like running, yet there also are other great, healthy, and fun, intense-cardio alternatives.
  • "One study suggested that the health benefits of running tend to drop off around the 20-mile-per-week range. However, those who logged between five to 19 miles per week had a 25 percent lower risk of death."

    Last I checked death was 100% certain?
  • I have a neighbor that runs, she ran 25 years ago pushing a baby carriage, this summer I came up behind her in the car and wondered if there was something wrong with her hip, but then I noticed that both sides had an unsightly bulge from the top of the thigh, down about 8-10" or so, I don't remember that odd muscling up before, her legs don't have muscle like that, guess everyone is different.
  • I often wanted to run, but I have always had bad knees and I need to lose weight.

    I argued with my doctor to help me get the stress off my knees so that I could exercise more as part of a weight loss plan, maybe a brace or something.
    He argued back that losing weight was all I needed to get my knees healthier that I could exercise.

    I have walked for years and every once in a while, I just feel that sharp jolt of pain going through my knee...
  • Not sure whether this is an article or "sponsored content, " i.e., an ad dressed up as a story. My lower-spine vertebral joints are not entirely kaput, but I don't want them to be. I'll be cheering from the sidelines. Some of us aren't meant to be runners, and that's okay.
  • STGALES
    I would dearly love to be running again. I have arthritis in my lower back that suggests that I not run. Afraid to try to push through it and try to run regularly again. In my early 60's and would appreciate any feedback.
  • FREEBASS
    I'm 62 years old. I started running when I was 26 and it's only been in the last year that I had to stop due to a back injury I sustained while running on a treadmill. I only ran a handful of races, including one full marathon and one half marathon. My weekly mileage ranged from 15 miles a week up to nearly 35, with lovely long runs of up to 10 and 12 miles on a Sunday morning with my dog. I'm on no medications at all to this day. My knees ached a bit when I DIDN't run. Go figure. I got injured more in my early days of running because I didn't learn to respect my body. I also realized I needed orthotics. No problems for years until the mishap last year. I MISS RUNNING. Walking fast is a decent alternative, but I miss the high. I definitely feel the difference and it's not good. I never gave in to the hype about it hurting knees, and don't regret a single mile.
  • Depends on the individual. I've seen multiple middle-aged women in my office start running, doing half marathons (mostly to get the little magnets for the back of the minivan, I suspect), and then end up in physical therapy and going for cortisone shots in their knees due to the damage they've inflicted on themselves.
    If you already have joint problems, running will exacerbate them. And if you're over 40: give it a try. Tip: muscle pain = good, joint pain = bad.
  • I agree with the article, but as for muscle definition, even though it will not reduce the leg muscles, marathon runners do lose upper body muscle definition (if you happen to have any real muscle going on up there). I guess that is why no one is pictured from the waist up.

    Even though, it is a good article and running has many benefits, unless you want a body builder physique.

About The Author

Melissa Rudy Melissa Rudy
A lifelong Cincinnatian, Melissa earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from University of Cincinnati before breaking into online writing in 2000. As a Digital Journalist for SparkPeople, she enjoys helping others meet their wellness goals by writing about all aspects of healthy living. An avid runner and group fitness addict, Melissa lives in Loveland with her guitarist husband and three feisty daughters.

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