Running… is it good or bad for your body?

Running is an exercise most able bodied people either are participating in currently, have done so in the past or have thought about as an exercise to help improve their fitness or even to lose weight. The big question I get asked frequently is “Is running good for you?” and to that there are multiple answers. I know people in their late 60’s – early 70’s that have been running for over 30 years with no problems but I also know people in their early 30’s that have been running for less than 2 years with major injuries caused from running. What is the difference between them, that one person can run injury free and the next not?

There are a couple of variables that will help you stay injury free (not guarantee you will always be injury free). The first variable is the individual’s body shape and make up. Someone who is overweight with a high body fat percentage is going to be at a higher risk of injury just due to the amount of weight your joints will have to carry with each foot strike. Your knees will have to carry 3-4 times the weight while running as opposed to walking (e.g a 90 kg person will be carrying almost 400 kg on each foot strike in their knees). Individuals that are well built with good body muscle percentage will fair better than those that are carrying more body fat weight as the extra muscle will provide a supportive structure for the joints and help to prevent injury better.

The next variable is running style. Each individual runs differently just as each individual has a different walking style. Biomechanics is a huge topic of discussion with runners and runners trying to achieve the best and most efficient running style sometimes to the detriment of their body.

Shoes, shoes, shoes… one of the most important pieces of equipment or clothing for anybody, walking, running or not doing either your shoes are your contact to the ground. Having the correct shoes for your feet and activity will make a huge difference in whether you will be able to run comfortably or not at all. Your feet are your base for your body, having the incorrect shoes will cause a misalignment with your feet, this will be become exaggerated as you move up the body and may cause you backpain, shoulder pain, hip pain, knee pain and ankle pain. This is one of the most important areas of any runner or walker’s injury free journey.

Where do you run or walk? on grass? on gravel? on a road? on a track? on a treadmill? this is important as no one of these is the same. the grip is different,  the hardness of he ground is different and the obstacles you face are different. Grass allows you to run barefoot (some say this is the best and most natural way to run), a treadmill has “give” to allow you a softer foot strike but the road, most tracks and gravel have little or no “give” and this has a big impact on your ankles, knees, hips and back. If you run on the road regularly, do you run on the same side all the time (e.g left side)? have you ever noticed the camber in the road? This camber causes one foot to consistently be lower than the other causing extra strain to one leg resulting in tight ITB and among other reasons this leads to knee pain. try running on the left side of the road on your way out and on the right side on the way back (effectively the same side of the road out and back) e.g. with traffic one way and against traffic on the way back. This will help prevent this problem occurring.

Are you flexible? do you stretch after your run? flexibility is a another big part to any athlete’s training (and yes if you run or walk as exercise, no matter how far or how frequently, you are an athlete). Having muscles become tight after exercise is normal for most people but how flexible are you? have you had your flexibility tested and compared to other people your age and gender? Being flexible will help prevent muscle or tendon strains, even tears and misalignment at the ankles, knees, hips and lower back.

How to start your running or walking training is important. Progress your speed or frequency too quickly and you will end up with pain and injuries such as compartment syndrome and shin splints. These injuries majority of the time can be avoided through a guided exercise/ training program. Don’t progress your intensity (duration or speed) of your running before you are ready to. Rather take is slowly and be pain and injury free.

Strength and endurance. If you are weak you will injure yourself. you get tired quickly and you feel as if you are running in lead? or you are cramping at a certain distance and can’t seem to “break through the barrier”? Supplement your running training with a gym program to help improve your strength and endurance. Using gym training to improve athletic performance is the norm these days. No top athletes will just run or cycle or swim to be the best they can, they have to supplement this with core strengthening, upper and lower body strengthening to improve their performance and help prevent injuries.

Genetic predisposition… unfortunately there are those who are faced with being predisposed to injuries from weak tendons to weak bone structures and muscles. These most of the time be corrected with the right treatment and training.

All the variables mentioned in this post can be corrected with the correct guidelines and support from those who know how to help you. If you are wanting to start running to lose weight or if you are a competitive runner looking for that something extra to help you “break the barrier” why not see a Biokineticist, they will be able to guide you though the correct process to help you be injury free and have a long running career.

So, to answer the question “is running good o bad for you” is all up to the individual. Each person is different in their approach to running.

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