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Isn't running bad for you?

Pumped from her first race, Heather* started running too hard, too fast. She began running hills at the end of her run to try to build her fitness faster. One day, after a particularly hard run, she woke up in the night with a pain deep in her left ankle.

She made an appointment with a sports medicine specialist, who diagnosed her with a tibial stress fracture. She had to take 6 weeks off from running and see a pedorthist, an individual specializing in providing footwear and devices to correct deformities or misalignments. The pedorthist noticed that Heather's left foot rolled over towards the right (called pronation) and recommended motion stability shoes and orthotics.

"Despite the fact that I was devastated that I couldn't run, that was the best timing for me," Heather notes. "I learned early on to take it easy and run correctly."

Why do stories like Heather's happen? Isn't running supposed to make you healthier? Yes, but there are wrong ways as well as right ways to do it. If you push yourself the wrong way, you can end up with a stress fracture like Heather – or with plantar fasciitis, iliotibial band syndrome, shin splints, or any of several other possible pains in the leg.

The rule of thumb for runners increasing their distance is to add no more than 10% each week. Any more and you risk overtaxing your muscles and your immune system. What's more, you need to make sure that you're running right. Many people have poor posture, or their feet strike the ground in a less-than-best way. This is why it's important to get the right shoes for you. Don't just go pick up whatever's cheapest; get a proper fitting and try-out in a store that specializes in serving runners. And, if you're running with a group, you can take advantage of the expert eye of your instructor to tell you small adjustments you can make to your posture and gait.

But it doesn't matter how many uninformed people will tell you that running will wreck your knees. The simple fact, as scientific studies have demonstrated, is that they're wrong. Running is a great way to maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints and help prevent osteoporosis. Studies have shown no link between running and developing osteoarthritis of the knee, and some even suggest that running might help prevent osteoarthritis.

And how about those runners who drop dead? Every so often you'll hear about someone dying while running a race. But in nearly every case, it's due to preexisting heart abnormalities or heart disease. Overall, people who run live longer and stay healthier longer. If you don't have heart disease, running can help you prevent it. But if you do have heart disease, of course you should be careful.

Any athlete at any time can go too far and push too hard, and a person with a health condition needs to make sure not to overtax the body's resources. If you are unsure about what kind of running you should try, or even what type of general exercise program would be good for you, check with your doctor. After performing a physical, your doctor can have a better idea of your fitness level and what the best starting point would be for you. People who rarely or never exercise have up to 50 times the risk of suffering a heart attack during vigorous exercise compared with those who exercise 5 or more times a week. And fit men are half as likely to die of heart attacks as couch potatoes are.

Some people like to point out that the great popularizer of running in the 1970s, Jim Fixx, died of a heart attack at age 52. However, Fixx was a chain-smoking overweight couch potato until he was almost 35. His father also died at age 42 of a heart attack. Fixx added about a decade to his life – a healthy, enjoyable decade. Fixx used to say, "I don't know if running adds years to your life, but it definitely adds life to your years." It turns out it does both.

So run... for your life!

*Heather is based on a real person. Minor details have been changed.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2024. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source:

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