Is running good for you?

The pros and cons of running

Is running good for you? Running has often been viewed as a potentially dangerous activity. But can a sport that improves your cardiovascular fitness really be bad for you? Here's an assessment on whether running is good or bad for you.

A common point of discussion amongst runners and non-runners is weighing up the benefits (or not) of running training. Detractors will discuss valid points such as joint problems and repeated muscle injuries, whilst advocates will enthuse about cardiovascular benefits and the freedom that running can bring. So who’s right and who’s wrong, or is there some middle ground? In this article we aim to put the record straight with a balanced assessment of the pros and cons of running that’ll help you decide on whether running is right for you.

To keep the assessment balanced, we have listed our top six discussion points with the arguments from each camp (for and against), together with our overall verdict on whether running really is good for you or not.

Running causes joint problems and impact injuries

  • Running is good for you: Running strengthens your joints and bones and provided you wear well-cushioned shoes, run off-road regularly for improved shock absorption, and avoid heavy training mileages, you’ll not experience problems.

  • Running is bad for you: Repeated pounding takes its toll (in both the short and long-term) on bones, particularly on joints such as the knee, which is particularly susceptible to injury.
Regular running will strengthen the skeleton but equally, if you always run on pavements, have unsuitable footwear or focus on long distances on the road, you can get injured.
Running sunset

Running is boring

  • Running is good for you: The great outdoors, off-road exploration and the freedom that running brings means that it’s never boring.

  • Running is bad for you: Plodding around the same routes week in, week out is dull, dull, dull. Exercising without any purpose (as opposed to running during a football game or sport) is pointless.
Running can be boring because by nature it is a repetitious activity. However, by varying your routes, distances and training sessions, training with friends as well as alone should mean that you never get stale.

Running causes imbalances in the body

  • Running is good for you: Running mainly strengthens the legs but the upper body is also employed for posture and driving the arms, particularly on hills.

  • Running is bad for you: The majority of runners have muscle imbalances because they neglect upper body training and tend to opt for more running. Hence they can become susceptible to injuries and typically have limited upper body strength.

A great many runners are imbalanced with weaker upper bodies. Running does build strong legs but every runner should devote time to all-round conditioning to build upper body strength and maintain complete postural balance.

 Runners are inflexible and frequently get muscle injuries

  • Running is good for you: Providing you warm up well and include flexibility exercises in your training schedule, runners should not experience strains and muscle pulls.

  • Running is bad for you: The primary topic of conversation on any running club night or the start line of any race, is who’s currently injured, who’s been injured and who’s coming back from injury. Injuries and running go hand-in-hand.

It’s true that far too many runners get injured and needlessly so. Following correct training protocols and focusing on regular flexibility training, particularly for the older runner, should ensure that you can continue to train unhindered. Neglect this key area of training and you’ll be on the sidelines more often than not.

Running is inherently dangerous to your health

  • Running is good for you: Running brings a whole host of physiological benefits, including an improved cardiovascular (CV) system, stronger heart, greater blood volume and improved resistance to infection to name a few.
  • Running is bad for you: Running is a killer. Remember Jim Fixx, the American running guru that died whilst on a training run? More recent examples of fatalities in the other major running events show that it is a dangerous activity.

Yes, Jim Fixx did die whilst running and of a heart attack, but his sedentary father died similarly when he was ten years younger than Jim. It is likely that Jim Fixx’s devotion to running gave him an extra ten years of quality life that his father didn’t enjoy. The percentage of fatalities in races is infinitesimally small and regular running provides a great many health and fitness benefits that outweigh rare instances of heart attacks or other medical problems that may occur whilst training or racing.

Running is unhealthily obsessive

  • Running is good for you: A good run gets the blood coursing through your veins, improves your mood, is a great weight management tool and because of all these positives, makes you want to continue repeating the experience. That makes for a long term commitment to a healthy lifestyle.
  • Running is bad for you: Runners are over-focused on weekly mileage, never missing a training session and manipulating their day around their training run so that it dominates above all else.
Running is an obsessive activity and can attract obsessive characters. Equally, it brings a whole host of physical and psychological benefits every time you run. The key is to keep your running in perspective and in balance with the rest of your life so that it enhances your life rather than dominates it.

The verdict on whether running is good for you

Both camps have valid points. As a healthy active living website, advocating activities such as running, it would be very easy for us to categorically promote running and disregard the valid and real problems that running can bring. However, to remain completely balanced, that would be an invalid assessment.

Consulting our team of professional specialists, all with many years experience of training and racing, overall our assessment is that running is a life enhancing activity that can be enjoyed at every age and level by whoever puts on a pair of training shoes.

But, and it’s a big but… similar to any activity, there are sensible and necessary precautions to take that will ensure you are able to train safely and can continue to train long-term. To get the most out of your running, keep it in balance with everything else in your life: your work, family, relaxation etc. Then, as a health and fitness activity, it’s pretty hard to beat. In our view, it’s neither a killer nor a cure-all but the positives of running outweigh the negatives by a considerable margin. 

Comments (12)

  • Sue 'Who knows?!!! I certainly don't think that running is for everyone. I tried it last year and ended up hurting my hip. I'm pretty sure I overtrained. That was a school girl error I know but I just don't think it's for me. I love swimming however, and am quietly convinced that that has got to be better for you.'

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  • adam_s 'I agree with the stuff about runners neglecting their upper body. I like running but I balance it out with weight training because I want to build up....'

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  • HAN75 'Running is certainly not without its costs in terms of niggling injuries, but in terms of general improvement to your well being I think it's worth the odd ache and pain. As long as I mix things up with a bit of swimming I don;t suffer too much.'

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  • haveago 'Like most sport, there's always an element of wear and tear on the body, but I'm sure the benefits far outweight the drawbacks. I'd rather run than not at all - it seems the only way I can regulate my weight.'

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  • adam_s 'Surely running is better than not doing any exercise at all? Obviously there are less high impact on the joints sports out there such as swimming or cycling, but if you like running, then provided you can get by relatively injury free, then go for it. '

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  • ahlh 'Was having this discussion with someone at work yesterday - she's just joined a gym and have been running on a treadmill. Since I discovered running I have cancelled my gym memebership. Her argument for treadmill running was it was gentler on her knees and she couldn't afford "proper" running shoes. Turns out my motion control Brooks "proper" running shoes were £20 cheaper that her pink and silver gym shoes! (and hey, my local authority don't charge me £50 a month to run down the road and I can go whenever I want!). But regardless of all that, I strongly believe that the best exercies I what you enjoy and feel confortable with, although there is always room for pushing yourself. But you're only going to push if you'r happy - I've always cycled and will push myself up steeper/faster hills, but I'm comfortable with that because I'm comfortable with cycling as a whole. I took up running partially for convinince and partially because I thought I couldn't do it. A decent pair of shoes and a few hot baths later, I proved myself wrong and my GNRunner friend right! Surely the benefits of exercise outweigh the injuries? Or do you just swap cardiac disease for bettered knees? '

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  • zippysam1 'Well Hi there, I am new to this so bear with me. I am going to start running but I have a baby and do not know anyone who is in my town running with a buggy or jogger as they are now known. I have a regular buggy and a Quinny, a 3 wheeler lightweight buggy. Does anyone out there jog with a baby if so what do you do and how is it going? I use to run before having my child but this was years ago and now I am a lot heavier and would also like tips on how to start out. Thanks in advance!!'

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  • fabrice 'Running is a great sport, it put's you to the test each time you hit the street's ok it's not easy but given time and more training you will get there. you must stay at it stick to a program good luck and happy running everyone'

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  • thewie72 'Hiya all I was thinking of doing the exercises, not actually do the exercises for ages. I just mentioned to my brother that I would take up running. Two weeks ago he gave me a copy of the beginner programme from "Running Made Easy" - oh I enjoyed it so far!! I bought TWO proper pairs of running shoes from the January sale knowing that a pair would be worn out in six months if used regularly. I also cancelled my gym club membership after a year of not going! I try not to think of the amount of money I've wasted! Yes running's *FREE* for life! After only a day's running I have noticed a very small difference in myself...I felt a bit less tired after getting up in the morning. If the running is going to be a benefit to myself, I shall give up my anti-depressants cos I've read somewhere that exercises do replace the anti-depressants. I can't wait to go running tomorrow (today was my rest day). I will have to consider the upper body training - any ideas?'

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  • snoozyhen 'i admit running is a good way to build up stamina and muscle but does it actually keep your weight down?'

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  • runningfool 'I have run for years without ant serious problems apart from a niggling knee condition that keeps cropping up if i over train, until last year when i slipped a disc resulting in four months of painful Sciatica.this eventually went away until a few weeks before the Bupa London 10k when i found my legs were aching and heavy even after short runs.on the day of the race the pain in my legs and back was chronic and over the past week or so it has got worse,even jogging aggravates it and now the only stamina training i can do is rowing as even sitting on a bike hurts like hell.'

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  • SuperCaz 'My life has certainly improved since I started running. The health benefits are a lot wider ranging than losing a bit of weight. I now sleep better, feel more positive, cope with stress better, have less aches and pains (except tired muscles), get less migraines and generally look forward to life more. My blood pressure has dropped from about 148/98 to 112/75. There are also lots of other ways that running improves your life. There is the social side - I know a lot more people than I used to, both through the club and by seeing the same faces at races. I am also much more aware of my surroundings. I notice the seasons and really appreciate how good the weather is in the UK (it always looks worse from the comfort of a house). As for combating injury - doing a range of exercise suits me best becuase then some muscles can recover while others are being worked. Coupled with massage and daily stretches I have managed to keep injury at bay for a year now.'

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