Spring is finally here and everyone is excited to get outside. For many of us, that means lacing up our running shoes and hitting the roads and trails.
With all of the conflicting advice in the press about the positive and negative effects of running, you might be wondering if running is a good idea for you. Read on to learn what the latest scientific research tells us.
Moderate Running: Great for Health
At the 2012 conference of the European Society of Cardiology, Danish scientists presented fascinating results from a 35-year study that looked at mortality rates among a diverse range of 20,000 Copenhagen residents.
One subset of that study looked specifically at nearly 2,000 joggers, and compared mortality rates both within that group and against the larger, non-running population. The results found that jogging at a moderate pace for a total of one to two-and-a-half hours per week over two or three sessions reduced the risk of death by 44 percent for men and women.
Surprisingly, when individuals ran faster, longer or more frequently than this, the protective benefits of running disappeared. Individuals who ran more often and more vigorously had about the same mortality rate as those who were sedentary.
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It also appears that running moderately can not only add years to your life, but life to your years. At the University of Colorado, Boulder, a group of researchers examined the effects of running versus walking on functional movement among 30 adults with an average age of 69. The study found that those who ran several days per week walked with the same muscular economy of average 20-year-olds.
Both of these findings fall right in line with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which state that generally healthy adults – regardless of age – should get about 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week. Easy jogging, or a run/walk strategy, is the perfect way to log those hours and improve your health.
Running and Knee Injuries
You've probably heard that running can be bad for your knees. But a 2014 study conducted at Baylor College looked at the association between running and knee osteoarthritis among 2,683 participants with a mean age of 64.5. It found that the runners, regardless of age, had a lower incidence of knee osteoarthritis, as measured by radiographic X-rays and reports of frequent knee pain.
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The study’s authors concluded that running may, in fact, confer a protective benefit against knee osteoarthritis. One of the greatest risk factors for knee osteoarthritis among older adults is a high BMI, so it is possible that the protective effect of running is related to the fact that older runners tend to have lower BMI than their non-running peers. It’s important to note that the study only looked at new cases of knee osteoarthritis and not the effects of running on those who already had the condition.
Safely Starting a Running Program
If you’re thinking about running for the first time in your life, or the first time in a long time, it’s important to start out slowly.
First, clear your plans with your doctor and listen to any concerns he or she may have. Next, build up your speed and distance very slowly. Novice runners get injured more frequently than experienced runners largely because they ignore the warning signals from their bodies and push themselves too far, too fast.
Starting out with a walk/run program is a great idea. This type of strategy involves walking at regular intervals over the course of a run. Jeff Galloway, an Olympic runner and long-time coach, is often credited as the founder of this type of strategy, and his website offers many ways to get started on your walk/run journey.
(MORE: Don't Walk, Jog: The Case for Higher Intensity)
Other general advice says that you should not increase your weekly mileage by more than 10 percent per week and that you should never increase speed and mileage in the same week. Focus on one or the other, but not both.
Above all else, pay attention to your body. Muscle soreness for a day or two is normal, but if you have pain in your ankles, knees, hips or lower back that persists for more than a few days, there’s a good chance you’ve done too much too quickly.
Local running clubs can be a great resource for getting pointers from experienced runners or connecting you with a running coach. They also add a social aspect to your running, which can make the activity as good for your mind as it is for your body.
Rashelle Brown is a certified personal trainer and health coach who writes about wellness. Her work has appeared in the IDEA Fitness Journal and on the popular health website livestrong.com. She is a regular contributor for active.com and her first book, Reboot Your Body: A Step-by-Step Guide to Permanent Weight Loss, is due out in August 2015. She offers weight-loss coaching and wellness services in the Twin Cities metro area and online at WellCuratedLife.com.
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