Is running bad for your knees? A study of almost 75k runners ends the debate

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Is running bad for your knees? A study of almost 75k runners ends the debate

You’ve heard it before… Running, all that pounding, isn’t good for your knees. So while our bodies might seem to be designed for running, our knees aren’t.

It’s easy enough to understand when with each foot strike, a runner’s knee withstands a force equal to eight times his or her body weight — for a 80kg person, that’s about 640kg of impact, step after step.

is_running_bad_for_your_kneesBut in what is surely one of the largest longitudinal studies of running effects, Williams from the University of California found that of the nearly 75,000 runners tracked over 7.1 years, there is “no evidence that running increases the risk of osteoarthritis, including participation in marathons.”In fact, Williams study concludes that running significantly REDUCES osteoarthritis, in part by lowering your body weight, and in part by promoting cartilage thickening.

These findings support to the theory that osteoarthritis, which affects more than 1.3 million Australians, is primarily due to genetic factors and obesity (obese men and women are at least four times as likely to become arthritic as their thinner peers), rather than exercise.

That running actually prevents osteoarthritis might seem counterintuitive. But as Williams explains, it’s actually very simple:

“There’s a logical thing that says it should be bad for your knees,” he says.

But it’s simple: Your body — especially if you exercise regularly — adapts. “We’re not cars,” Williams says. “The more you run your car, you’re wearing out the bearings. The difference between a car and a person is it appears that when you’re doing that pounding and such, the body is actually putting more resources into your joints.”

“Think of it this way: Why isn’t running bad for your heart?” Williams says. “You get out there and you run and you’re putting more stress on your heart. Why do runners have lower risk of heart attack? Because the body is actually adapting to the activity.”

“Sure, your joints are subjected to more pounding,” he tells us, “but your body is responding to that in a positive way.”

Cameron West

Cameron is the Director of Pro Training Programs

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