Running is NOT bad for your knees!
RECENTLY, while I took a planned rest between some mile efforts along the seafront at Hunstanton a cyclist stopped and chatted with me. “I used to run,” the mid-60s aged man told me, “but now I have bad knees, so I haven’t for 10 years or so.”
It’s a story we’ve all heard and to be fair, all believed. There are plenty of old wives out there with tales to tell you that good knees and running do not, so it would seem, go together. However, be aware that is not the best excuse to come up with - running is in fact rather good for all of your bits, knees included, and taking up this simple sport will push you in the right direction of good health and mobility in later life. A study by the Stanford University School of Medicine tracked 500 older runners for more than 20 years and found elderly runners have fewer disabilities, a longer span of active life and are half as likely as aging non-runners to die early deaths.
The study followed 538 runners over age 50, comparing them to a similar group of non-runners. The subjects, now in their 70s and 80s, answered yearly questionnaires about their ability to perform everyday activities such as walking, dressing and grooming, getting out of a chair and gripping objects. The researchers then used national death records to learn which participants died, and why. And after 20 years, 34 per cent of the non-runners had died, compared to only 15 per cent of the runners.
The effect of running on delaying death was more dramatic than the scientists expected. Not surprisingly, running slowed cardiovascular deaths. However, it has also been associated with fewer early deaths from cancer, neurological disease, infections and other causes. And the dire injury predictions other scientists made for runners have fallen completely flat. Running was not associated with greater rates of osteoarthritis in elderly runners. Runners also do not require more total knee replacements than non-runners, professor James Fries said. “Running straight ahead without pain is not harmful," he said, adding that running seems safer for the joints than high-impact sports such as football.
It all makes sense when you think about it – regular, smooth surfaces in straight lines work wonders. Interestingly, there’s a bit more research that backs this up in that it says running solely on soft – and therefore uneven - ground isn’t that good for you. We all think the cushioning will be hugely beneficial, me included, but the uneven nature changes our natural stride, tensing us as our feet hit the ground. And fairly obviously ruts and rocks can cause some ankle problems. Mix and match, that’s the way to go; some smooth road is good, some track and yes, plenty of trail – get the mix right and you’ll live forever.
Hang on, says Prof Fries, not forever. While the gap between runners and non-runners continues to widen even as subjects enter their ninth decade of life, probably due to runners' greater lean body mass and healthier habits in general, "we don't think this effect can go on forever. Eventually we will have a 100 per cent mortality rate in both groups”.