Relay runner
Photo by Braden Collum / Unsplash

When they say running ruins your knees, it's time to lace up and head outside. To run.

First of all, that's balderdash. Second, it's balderdash. Third, okay okay.

Some years back I declared to a friend of mine, four years older than I am, that I was getting ready to run again. I was in my early sixties at the time. The very first thing out of her mouth was


I've written about this before. But, we forget, and those who influence our lives can talk us out of the very thing that we most need to be doing: move.

Let's take a look at the folks MOST likely to dissuade you from running:

  1. Non-runners
  2. Barclay loungers
  3. Never-exercisers
  4. Folks with knee injuries that have nothing to do with running and a lot more to do with bad habits, poor judgment and excuses vs. reasons to exercise

The woman in question, who was at one point an excellent soccer player, hadn't run for years. She had begun to shrink in that way old ladies do, curving over with a widow's hump at the base of her cervical spine. She stopped walking, swimming, everything.

This is who I get my exercise advice from?

Are you nuts?


As I recover from rotator cuff surgery exactly a week ago, I am just about ready to start speed-hiking again. As soon as impact doesn't hurt the shoulder, I'll be running. Because, research shows time and again that running helps, not hurts, the knees.

Let's talk. First, this article in the New York Times pretty much says it all:

The research is unequivocal. While extreme endurance running isn't for most of us and does indeed cause wear and tear, bottom line is that running is an excellent way to keep those knee joints strong and healthy.

Here is a critical quote which explains why what was once conventional wisdom is now balderdash:

....Cyclic weight-bearing activities like walking and — wait for it — running squeeze the cartilage in the knee joint like a sponge, expelling waste and then drawing in a fresh supply of nutrient- and oxygen-rich fluid with each step. Instead of an inert shock-absorber doomed to get brittle and eventually fail with age, Ms. Khan said, cartilage is a living tissue that adapts and thrives with regular use. That explains why, for example, in a small study from 2010, non-runners who followed a 10-week running program saw a 1.9 percent improvement in a marker of cartilage strength and quality.

You will forgive my pointing out the key phrase:

adapts and thrives with regular use.

This is true for the body, mind, spirit and intellect, but we're just discussing knees here.

So. To my not-so-helpful and woefully under-informed friend, you might wanna lace up. Because as she ages towards 75, she is creeping into a C shape, and slowing down for lack of use.

You could argue, and you'd be perfectly right, that brisk walking does wonders as well for those who can't run or just hate it. The point is MOVE already. Brisk walking every single day for the rest of your life, barring getting run over by someone on a scooter, will likely do you a poo-load more good than taking a load off. The reason you have to take a load off, more likely, is that your knees and the cartilage and muscles and tendons around them are weakass from lack of effort.

The more studies that we conduct the more we return to the basics: we are made to move. Move. Move.

Deposit photos

MOVE. What doesn't move dies in place.

Even better, the article explains why leap-frogging to a different sport to give those knees a rest isn't good science. To that:

It also helps explain why swapping one form of exercise for another at the first sign of knee pain may be counterproductive. People with incipient knee problems often switch to low-impact activities like swimming and cycling because they believe it will protect their joints, said Jackie Whittaker, a physical therapist and arthritis researcher also at the University of British Columbia, “but actually what they’re doing is starving the cartilage.”

Can you really hurt yourself? Can exercise do you in? Turns out, yes, but there's a catch. The real reason we cripple our knees is torn ACL and other catastrophic injuries, if we only address sports. Those really serious injuries can lead to less exercise, gained weight and all the things that prevent the cartilage from having a chance to heal. So yes, you can do serious damage, but after you heal, it's still essential to lace up rather than give up. What cripples us is lack of movement, which is the mother's milk of mobility.

For those of you whose ski season (on fake snow, because climate change) just began, there's this:

As it turns out, the most serious long-term risk from activities like skiing isn’t the prolonged squatting. Instead, it’s traumatic knee injuries like a torn A.C.L., which in roughly half of cases will lead to osteoarthritis within five to 15 years. That’s partly because of lingering damage or instability in the joint, but also because people tend to be less active and consequently gain weight even after the knee heals. In fact, according to one study, the higher risk of knee osteoarthritis observed among former elite athletes in sports such as soccer is largely explained by a history of traumatic knee injury rather than by accumulated wear and tear.

And one more thing. Weight gain also affects the knees, in that for every ten pounds you add to your body weight you put an additional 15-50 pounds of pressure on your joints. If you're big-boned, that's one thing. However if you're bird-boned like I am, and you add that kind of weight, you're aging your knees in multiple ways. Too many obese folks don't exercise, which means that the cartilage is starved while overworked and stressed simultaneously. If you don't believe me please see this:

Stay Informed | OA and Obesity Risks
Learn how extra body fat can cause or worsen osteoarthritis and why losing weight can relieve OA pain.

You can be big and fit. But not if all you do is sit. And eat. And sit. And eat.

You can get braces and supports, but those don't replace movement. You may not want to run, but you can walk. At least most of us can.

I can't speak for you. But I can speak for my knees. They've been through hell and back with my accidents and sports, but they are strong, supple and only bark once in a while.

And it's time to let those dogs out to run again.

Photo by Juli Kosolapova / Unsplash