It may seem unbelievable that running could prevent osteoarthritis. With the physical impact of pounding the pavement, there must certainly be an adverse effect on your hips, knees and ankles. But a recent study presented at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Meeting suggests that regular running may not be as damaging to the joints as people think. In fact, it may even inhibit a person’s risk of developing osteoarthritis in the knees.
“The study shows that people in good physical condition who are running don’t seem to be developing arthritis despite running, which is positive,” said Jeff Bair, MD, of ProMedica Physicians Orthopaedics.
Many factors contribute to the development of osteoarthritis, a joint disease caused by breakdown of cartilage in the joint. Obesity, age, stress on your joints, and your family history are just a few considerations that can increase the risk of developing progressive damage to the joint.
According to the study, the repetitive loading of joints in running is not necessarily damaging to knees for individuals who run regularly. One reason could be because of the low Body Mass Index (BMI) that is typical in runners.
“If you are already a runner, it’s OK to continue running because you’re getting the benefit of strengthening your skeleton and muscles and reducing or maintaining your BMI,” explains Dr. Bair. He notes that healthy people frequently use running as their primary means of fitness, and that many older adults continue to run into their 60s and 70s. “Certainly, running provides health benefits. If you have a healthy weight and physical condition, running is a perfectly acceptable means to stay active.”
The study did not address the question of whether or not running is harmful to people with pre-existing osteoarthritis in the knee. Dr. Bair advises that running may not be a realistic goal for many patients living with joint pain and who struggle with weight management or have not previously followed a fitness plan.
However, he emphasizes the importance of staying active and using your body: “In some cases, you may have to allow for lower-impact activities like biking or swimming. It is easier and more likely for patients to succeed. They may then be able to transition to walking or running once their weight is managed.”
Individuals who can’t run should consider alternative activities like biking (a good workout for hips, knees, core and back) or aquatic exercises (like traditional swimming or water aerobics). Water provides resistance, but buoyancy takes some of the stress off of joints. Individuals with a higher BMI experience less pressure on hips, knees and ankles but still receive the benefit of physical activity.
“Motion is life and life is motion,” advises Dr. Bair. “If you’re not doing anything – if you’re not active, what is your quality of life? The more you challenge your body the longer you’ll be able to remain active in the future.”
How do you stay active? Share your favorite workout with us in the comments below.