Some Ironic Link Between Running and Bone Health

July 2, 2023 0 Comments

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When you imagine runners, two stereotypes come to mind: first, the ultra-fast runner, who is healthy and seemingly unstoppable; the runner who will still run Marathons in her 80s. Then there is the second type of runner: the one who is constantly struggling with health-issue such as stress fractures, struggling to cover more kilometers and go further than the previous month. What you don’t see in these two runners is the difference in bone density.

Depending on your diet, lifestyle and training, you may be preparing for a life where running strengthens your bones, or you may be preparing after for bone density problems and problems such as osteopenia.

Here, Therese Johnston, PhD, Physiotherapist, researcher and runner, shares some tips on how to optimize your training for better bone health.

KEEP RUNNING FOR BONE HEALTH

Running counts as a stressful activity that is good for bone health. Even a Minute of running a day has been associated with better bone health in women. “You have to load bones to reshape it, modify it and improve it,” says Johnston. Unlike cyclists and swimmers, runners practice an endurance sport that is also stressful. With each step, you give strength through your legs when your weight hits the ground, and according to a 2009 study and another study conducted on marathon runners in 2016, running was on par with strength training when it came to developing better bone density. Trail runners who are constantly jumping over rocks and roots could have an advantage, as jumping and plyometrics can also improve bone density. This does not mean that you should skip strength training, because you still want to build upper body and core strength, but if you haven’t started yet, you don’t need to panic. You are on the right track.

DOING STRENUOUS ACTIVITIES

Especially as you get older, it is important to increase bone density through strength training. This does not necessarily mean going to the gym and randomly picking up a dumbbell bar and lifting it without a Plan. Lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises, all runners can try. “To protect the joints, I think everything needs to be done without going too far,” says Johnston. “That said, I’m fine with weighted activities if they’re done right. Runners must first find a coach or trainer who has the necessary knowledge to guide them.”If you don’t have anyone to help you or if you are not interested in going to the gym, Johnston recommends buying resistance bands and working with them instead of weights to get the effects of loaded exercises with less risk.

PAY ATTENTION TO OVERTRAINING

“Everyone has a different point of balance between when it turns into too much load, where it actually causes the breakdown,” Johnston adds. Although running can improve bone density, overtraining — especially when combined with malnutrition — can adversely affect bone health. “Once a runner has a stress fracture, she is more likely to have another one,” says Johnston, who has treated it herself.

You may think that this is not you, that stress fractures and overtraining only occur in high-performance runners, but this is not the matter. To avoid stress fractures and the consequent negative health consequences, make sure you take enough time to run, refuel your training appropriately and give your body a break if you feel pain during a run. Most of the women who suffered stress fractures in a recent study published by Johnston said they went through the pain to keep running.

PERFECT YOUR RUNNING FORM

“I’m a fan of strengthening the hips and glutes at the gym and making those muscles stronger so that they fail less when they run,” says Johnston. If you are working with a personal trainer, be sure to prioritize hip abductors and obliques to stabilize yourself on the track. However, Johnston quickly notes that the right running form is just as important as the right squat or deadlift form. “When you’re tired, you run differently, and that puts a strain on your body in a different way, which can lead to stress fractures that, over time, can lead to a deterioration in bone health,” she explains. Fatigue is also a good reminder that you can get into overtraining territory, so don’t be afraid to do short runs or go slow to fast.

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