From the moment I started running in half and full-marathons my parents continuously worried about my knees. I can still hear my dad saying, “All this running can’t be good for you,” and, “If you keep running like this one day you’ll need two knee replacements.” A part of me started to believe him, and dreaded the fact that my new found love for running could lead to long-term consequences on my body.
This was until I met running legend Bill Rodgers the day before my first full marathon in Hartford, CT in 2013. Bill is a famous American runner best known for winning the Boston and New York marathons four times. Bill has completed 60 marathons and countless road races throughout his running career. A few weeks before meeting Bill I had become engrossed in his book, Marathon Man, so I became instantly star struck. My dad on the other hand marched right up to him to ask him about his knees. Bill joyfully chuckled that his knees are in great shape! He’s never had knee pain or needed any knee replacements. He then told me to eat an entire pie after completely the race! It’s safe to say I’m still a Bill Rodgers super fan.
Meeting Bill Rodgers before running the 2013 Hartford Marathon
While studies on the matter have found varied results, the most recent findings prove that running could actually improve knee strength.
“Epidemiological studies of long-term runners show that they generally are less likely to develop osteoarthritis in the knees than people of the same age who do not run,” says Gretchen Reynolds from the New York Times.
Findings do seem to be mixed on the matter though. “Some scientists have speculated that running may protect knees because it also often is associated with relatively low body mass. Carrying less weight is known to reduce the risk for knee arthritis,” says Reynolds. “But other researchers have wondered whether running might have a more direct impact on knee joints, perhaps by altering the working of various cells inside the knee.”
So, is running actually that bad on your knees? Well, it’s hard to say. Based on the research, I’d argue that the health benefits of running far outweigh the small risk of eventually needing a knee replacement. The one piece of advice that Bill gave me, which I try to follow is to run on softer surfaces like sand and dirt rather than pavement.