Researchers have extensively studied the relation between running and arthritis of the knees to conclude that running regularly may not increase the risk of osteoarthritis. In fact, running can prevent arthritis of the knee in runners.
This study contained data from 2600 people who used to perform some form of physical activity in their life. Study age groups were divided into 12-18, 19-34, 35-49 and 50 and older. Finally, 29% of the people were runners at some point of time in their lives.
Though some runners had knee pain, it was comparatively lower in intensity than the knee pain experienced by non-runners. The most important fact that emerged in the study was that runners could prevent arthritis of the knee if they ran regularly. Indications were running does not increase the risk of arthritis and so should be encouraged.
I just want to add a few quick thoughts on a study that Amby Burfoot reported on recently. It is a new analysis from Paul Williams' National Runners' Health Study, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, that compares arthritis rates in about 90,000 runners and walkers. Amby's report is very thorough; if you haven't read it already, you should.
In brief, the study found that that runners are about half as likely as walkers to develop osteoarthritis or need a hip replacement. The biggest reductions occured for those running between 7 and 21 miles per week (Amby's post has more details). Most of the relationship seems to be explained by BMI: runners weigh less than walkers, who in turn weigh less than people who don't exercise at all. Less weight reduces arthritis risk.
The idea that running causes arthritis is a misconception that is perpetuated often. This happens even though several studies show that those who run have lower rates of developing this condition than those who do not run. It is highly likely that this misconception is so prevalent because of the number of sports-people who develop arthritis later in life. However, the data shows that this is true among groups of people who have experienced injuries during their sporting career. For example, those who play hockey or soccer will engage in a large amount of cardio exercise during their careers. That does not instantly mean they are at a high risk of developing arthritis, but when combined with injuries, this risk does increase. Too much physical exertion over an extended period of time is thought to be connected to cartilage degeneration.
If you want to protect your body as best as you can, then it is suggested that running a moderate amount is a good way to go about it. Running for pleasure and exercise, instead of running for sport, could help to protect against cartilage degeneration. This could also help to lower the risk of a person developing a condition, such as arthritis, although there are other genetic factors involved too.
Becoming moderately active at a young age and continuing this behaviour into your later years is also useful for protecting your body. Not only should this help to strengthen your bones and your muscles, but it also generally helps to keep your weight down. As we know, an increased body mass can be responsible for a whole host of health conditions.
Dr. Grace Hsiao-Wei Lo from the Baylor College of Medicine said, in an American College of Rheumatology conference, that this study did not determine whether patients with a previous history of arthritis should run or should avoid running. Dr. Grace added that people without complaints should not avoid running in any circumstances. They should rather perform physical activities and exercise in order to improve the health of their knees and bodies.
The research comes forth as heartening news for all athletes, endurance runners, running enthusiasts and marathoners. A lower risk of arthritis should boost the morale of not just the elderly but also the young. Both groups can take up light jogging or running as a regular form of exercise to maintain body weight, stamina and overall cardiovascular and bone health.
1) Contributions made by Dr. Rachita Narsaria, MD