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Running: Advantages & Disadvantages


QUESTION:

I remember the late 1970's when jogging was the latest fitness craze and the marathon was the personal goal of many running fanatics.  I was one of these people.  I now see that gyms have all sorts of new machines and more people seem to opt for exercising indoors instead of running outdoors.  Is this because running is bad for the body?  I have not run in more than 20 years but am playing with the idea of starting again since I once enjoyed it.  Should I try to once again to "get into" running for fitness and weight control?

ANSWER:

Let me address the negatives of running first.  Jogging is a form of what is known as weight bearing exercise.  As such, too much of it can cause overuse injuries to joints, including the ankle, knee, hip, and lumbar vertebrae of the lower back.  Jogging also stresses the front region of the lower leg, commonly causing pain and connective tissue irritation that we refer to as shin-splints.  Consequently, for all of these reasons, jogging may not be the best initial exercise choice for people who are considerably over-weight, unfit, or who have a naturally stocky (short, heavy set, and muscular) physique.

However, it is also worth noting that because running is a weight bearing exercise, it also stresses the bones of the lower body in a positive way.  Weight bearing exercise causes the bones to retain minerals and thus supports the rebuilding/maintenance of strong bones.  Running also effectively stresses the cardiovascular and muscular systems, which improves endurance fitness.  In addition, the use of large muscle groups results in a large calorie burn and thus favors weight loss (body fat reduction).  Given all the positives, if jogging is right for your physique, then I say go for it.  To ensure a safe start, get the okay from you doctor, purchase good running shoes, and start slow!  Begin by integrating short segments of running into a walking program.  Over time, lengthen the running segments and shorten your walking segments.  Be gentle with yourself ... a lot of changes occur in our bodies over a 20 year timeframe!

The next important issue is to aspire to realistic goals.  I think the worst development in the jogging craze of the 1970's and early 1980's was to make the marathon the ultimate goal of running.  The marathon is just too much distance for most people.  Aiming for such long distances can increase the chance of overuse injuries and cause the failure of the jogging program.  Set your aim on shorter distances, such as 5 km (~3 miles).  By choosing shorter distances as your goal, your health and fitness rewards will still be great and the enjoyment factor even greater.

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Our expert, Dr. Sharon E. Griffin, holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in the areas of exercise science/physiology.  She also holds a second M.S. degree in Nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist and an ACSM certified health and fitness instructor.

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