Does Running Actually PREVENT Arthritis?

I'm getting so tired of my husband warning me that all my running's going to wreck my knees, as it did his.

And today, The New York Times' Gretchen Reynolds agreed with me.  Or, I should say, also disputed the threat.

She blogs, "One of the most entrenched beliefs about running, at least among nonrunners, is that it causes arthritis and ruins knees."  But a new study is disproving that, she says. 

The study finds that "this idea is a myth and distance running is unlikely to contribute to the development of arthritis, precisely and paradoxically because it involves so much running."


Reynolds reports that, as long as knees are healthy to start with, running does not substantially increase the risk of developing arthritis, even if someone jogs into middle age and beyond.  I've been running for over 30 years and, full disclosure, I don't run very fast, so that may be part of why my knees are as good as they were when I ran on the playground.

The study (of almost 75,000 runners) discovered “no evidence that running increases the risk of osteoarthritis, including participation in marathons," as Reynolds quotes study authors.

The runners in the study, in fact, had less overall risk of developing arthritis than people who were less active, according to Reynolds.

But how can this be, when running involves so much pounding -- in some cases, eight times your weight! -- especially on pavement and concrete?  The shocking finding was that "the amount of force moving through a volunteer’s knees over any given distance was equivalent, whether they ran or walked. A runner generated more pounding with each stride, but took fewer strides than a walker, so over the course of, say, a mile, the overall load on the knees was about the same," she notes.

Measured over a particular distance, “running and walking are essentially indistinguishable,” in terms of the wear and tear they may inflict on knees, according to Reynolds.

“There’s some evidence” from earlier studies “that cartilage likes cyclical loading,” Ross Miller, now an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Maryland, who led the study. told Reynolds.  By that, he meant activity in which force is applied to the joint, removed and then applied again.

"In animal studies, such cyclical loading prompts cartilage cells to divide and replenish the tissue, he said, while noncyclical loading, or the continued application of force, with little on-and-off pulsation, can overload the cartilage, and cause more cells to die than are replaced," Reynolds points out.

Can't wait to tell my husband he doesn't know what he's talking about, the next time he talks about my knees!   He's just jealous because arthroscopy on his knee for torn cartilage pretty much ended his tennis career years ago.


  1. No problems with my knees either Deb. My hips are a different story. When I run with my dog Moxie, she likes to make unexpected left turns which throws my alignment out. Everything works out fine if we just take it a little slower when we run together.


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