Running and Bone Health

More often than not we see running as a way to lose weight or enhance stamina and cardiovascular endurance. Yes, it definitely helps us achieve all these goals, but there many more benefits attached to running. Bone diseases like arthritis and osteoporosis, which rob people of the active lives they love, can be prevented by running on a regular basis.

The most common myth associated with running is that it ruins your knees. But the answer to this is a clear no. Knee pain associated with running is often caused by muscle imbalance and weakness, not running itself. In fact, many clinical studies have shown that a regular running regimen enhances the health and strength of our bones and muscles.

Running helps to optimize bone density. While walking is a good exercise, various studies have shown that regular runners tend to have even higher bone density levels than those who walk on a regular basis. The metabolic activity of the bone becomes more favorable with consistent running. Runners accumulate a higher concentration of bones building hormones and enzymes such as Calcitonin, Parathyroid hormone, Vitamin D, and many more. This then leads to increased uptake of calcium by our bones which ultimately increases bone density. During running, the muscles and tendons apply tension to the bones, which stimulates the bones to produce more bone tissue. As a result, bones become stronger and denser and the risk of osteopenia (low bone density), osteoporosis (bone loss), arthritis (pain or stiffness in joints), and fractures decreases.

Apart from the positive effects on bone density, running helps improve muscle profiles as well. Regular running helps benefit the hamstrings, quadriceps, and calf muscles, especially the gluteal muscles which are more active in runners than in persons who only walk daily. Runners, unlike other non-running cardiovascular sports, have a higher muscle fiber development in the gluteus muscle complex. The gluteal muscle activity is optimized only in runners and these muscles are critical in maintaining core strength, endurance, and lower extremity balance and stability. Another important benefit is the high metabolic output of this large muscle group. Many recent studies have shown that runners with stronger gluten and hamstring muscle profiles have less risk of sustaining sports-related injuries.

Our bones are a vital component of our health. Bone is a living tissue that responds to exercise by growing stronger. Bone loss is a silent condition and most of us begin to lose bone density after our third decade. It has no symptoms and occurs slowly over the years. But we can prevent this bone loss by switching to healthy practices like regular running that will help build bone density throughout our lives.

Dr. Gitika Verma is a long-distance runner. She has done her BDS and MDS (Endodontics) from King George’s Medical University, Lucknow. She is currently working as a Dental consultant in a Govt. District Hospital. She has more than a decade of experience as a Dental Practitioner.