With the two clients that we had in the London marathon last month now walking normally again, the perennial question has been coming up – isn’t running bad for me?
Like many aspects of health and fitness there is no simple answer, but on the whole most people who run are fitter, less likely to be overweight and shown to live longer then their sedentary counterparts. The key is to approach running in the correct way.
Running is one of the most participant friendly activities; you can do it any time, pretty much anywhere, with no equipment (just a good pair of trainers) and a bit of determination. More and more people in the UK are entering running based races, from 5k park runs to tough mudders to full marathons.
Yet statistics from the US show that some 79 per cent of runners will get injured. James O’Keefe, a cardiologist at St. Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City and a former runner says: “Running is hard on the wheels, especially if you’re doing long-distance running. A lot of people will break down orthopedically.”
But running has huge benefits, even over other forms of exercise –
- It’s weight bearing so will increase bone density and connective tissue strength
- The impact of running produces more feel good hormones (endorphins) than other exercise types
- It burns among the highest number of calories of any exercise type
- It has big mental benefits, especially if done outdoors.
- It’s a great group exercise with running groups to be found up and down the country
- There are a huge number of events available to enter for all levels
So like any form of exercise there are pros and cons. However there are simple ways to mitigate the risk of injury and get the most out of running.
- Start at an appropriate level – if you are a beginner start with some walk-jog intervals and build up the time running gradually.
- Get good trainers – a gait assessment is best. Good trainers will ensure that you stay injury free. Many running shops can do a gait analysis that will make sure that you get the right ones for your particular style of running.
- Get to a run ready weight – if you are very overweight, start with lower impact exercise like cycling, rowing or swimming. Combine this with a healthy eating plan until you are at a reasonable weight to start some walk runs; then build up from there.
- Include strength training as part of your routine. Strength training exercises like squats, lunges and planks will help to stabilise your knees, hips and core, making running safer and easier. This is especially relevant for women – studies show that women runners are more likely than men to get injured. Mitigate this with some running specific strength training.
- Run on the right surface – constant pavement pounding will increase wear and tear. Try to run on grass or even on a local running track. The treadmill also provides lower impact levels than running outdoors.
- Try uphill intervals. Running uphill is both more challenging and also makes for much less impact. The muscles work harder while the knee joint does less
- Trade distance for speed. A high weekly mileage will start to degrade joints and muscles. Instead of just going for distance do shorter interval running or even sprints. The faster you go the more your energy is transferred forward and the less up and down. So there is actually less impact the faster you go.
- Enlist professional help. A personal trainer or even a running coach for a session or two can help you get good technique and give you the most effective exercises to be a strong injury free runner.