Joggers: Some News About Your Knees

Article posted in: Fitness
person jogging

You’ve probably heard that running will “destroy” your knees, but new science from the journal Arthritis Care & Research shows it’s safer than you think to lace ‘em up and jog.

“A history of leisure running is not associated with increased odds of prevalent knee pain, ROA [evidence of arthritis], or [symptoms of arthritis]. For knee pain, there was a dose-dependent inverse association with runners.”

Forty-one percent of non-runners reported frequent knee pain compared to 39 percent for those who reported having done 800 lifetime running workouts over an average of a 64-year lifespan. Those who were still running had less knee pain, at 21 percent, than those who had quit running, at 25 percent.

There’s a risk of “confirmation bias” in that last number—people who have knee pain quit running for a reason, while those without knee pain would continue to run—but the numbers show that you’re about as likely to experience chronic knee issues if you don’t run than if you do. So if it’s an exercise strategy that you’re interested in, don’t let the fear of joint deterioration stop you. Talk to your doctor to see if a running regimen could be right for you, and then try these strategies for starting out your jogging regimen knee pain-free:

1. Don’t stretch: Warm up.
Stretching before your workout has been shown, in some athletes, to reduce strength and speed during the exercise session. More important, it doesn’t help increase blood flow to your muscles, which you’ll need while you exercise. In one study, 70 percent of men who ran hard without warming up showed abnormalities on an electrocardiogram, a measure of heart function. After a two-minute warmup, only two of 22 study subjects were still showing such abnormalities.

So two minutes is all you need: Before your next run, try this 10-10-10-10 warmup. Perform each move for 10 seconds, then move to the next warmup exercise. Do three rounds, which should take two total minutes.

Exercise 1: Jumping jacks
Exercise 2: Knee hugs: Walk forward, bringing your knee up towards your chest with each step. Grab your shin below your knee and pull it up a little bit, creating a stretch in your butt and hamstring.
Exercise 3: Side shuffle: Without crossing your feet, shuffle to the right for 5 seconds, then left for 5 more.
Exercise 4: Ankle circle: Hold one foot in the air and circle your foot 5 times clockwise, then 5 times counterclockwise. Repeat on the other leg.

2. Try running uphill.
Just as downhill running can cause more impact on your joints (because your leg falls further before hitting the group, increasing the forces your knees and ankles take on), uphill running can reduce joint pounding by reducing the force of each impact. A bonus: It’s great for burning calories and fat—one study found that for every increase in incline of one percent, calorie burn was increased by nine percent.

If you’re outside and have a good hill to run, try doing laps that create natural intervals: Run up the hill hard, then walk down to rest and recover. Repeat.

If you’re on a treadmill, consider hitting that oft-ignored “incline” button, even if it’s just to one percent: According to a 1996 study, treadmill running at one percent is a more accurate equivalent to outdoor track or trail running than 0.0 on the machine’s incline.

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3. Mix up your speeds.
If you want your run to burn fat, turn off your internal cruise control: Interval cardio, where high-intensity work is alternated with bouts of slower exercise, has been shown in multiple studies to burn more fat than “steady-state” cardio, where the speed remains the same.

Creating intervals can be as simple as “wogging,” a combination of walking and jogging. To do it, jog or run hard until you’re feeling winded, then walk until you recover. Repeat until you’ve run for the distance or time you’ve set as your goal.

If your ultimate goal is to run in a race, try the intervals in the popular “Couch to 5k” program. This nine-week program has helped thousands of people run their first 5k through a three-times-per-week interval program. Each session takes about 20 minutes, with instructions for alternating between easy pace and faster paced jogging, working you up to three straight miles of running. The best part? The program is free!