Another reason to pull on the lycra and get fit!

I have decided that I really have to start running again. A couple of weeks ago, when I was moving, I stumbled across my old lacrosse training diaries. In these, I meticulously documented my training, what food I had eaten, and tactics we had covered in sessions. Although I have no desire to return to this level (I am definitely not going back to the 6:30am sprint sessions!), it did guilt me into thinking about getting back in shape.

So this morning, possibly inspired by the morning sunshine streaming through my windows and the beautiful clear blue skies, I packed by running gear into my rucksack and headed off to work. The intention is that I will embark an invigorating run home at the end of the work day. However, right now the grey clouds have rolled in and the chill in the air is noticeable – do I really have to run home…??

It has been very well documented in the scientific literature that exercise is very beneficial to your health – among other things it reduces risk of cardiovascular disease and mental illness. It is all very compelling, but what about my poor joints?

The repetitive impact of your feet with the tarmac sends vibrations up through your leg. On top of this, when running, you exert 8 to 10 times your body weight on the ground – and the pressure of this is buffered by the joints in your leg.

This is actually something which has to be considered when designing prosthetic limbs – and is something I found out a little about when working with Jonnie Peacock and Stephanie Reid, the inspiring Paralympians featured in Channel 4’s Inside Incredible Athletes.

It has long been the popular notion that the stresses and strains of running have a negative effect on your joints, and especially yours knees. But in a paper published this month, researchers indicated that running might actually be a benefit and even reduce the risk of developing osteoarthritis (OA).

The scientists, from research institutes in Australia, examined a variety of existing studies to draw some conclusions about the effects of physical activity on the knee joint. The knee is a complicated joint, consisting of a variety of different structures carefully crafted to offer maximum support whilst allowing free movement.

The authors looked into studies which had examined, among other things, the presence and effects of tiny little structures called osteophytes. These are tiny little bony projections, known as bone spurs, which form along the linings of joints. They are thought to develop in order to increase the surface area of the joint, thus spreading pressure exerted on the joint over a larger area. However, they also limit the motion of the joint and can cause severe pain!

Studies have found that there are an increased number of these little spurs in the joints of people who run, but studies also found that people who ran were less susceptible to OA. This led the authors of the review to suggest that osteophytes might form even when there is no cartilage damage, and might, in fact, be beneficial.

“…In response to mechanical stimuli, such as physical activity, osteophytes may enhance the functional properties of the joint by increasing the joint surface area for the greater distribution of load or by reducing motion at a joint and improving joint stability.”

However, there are caveats – if you are overweight or have suffered previous knee injury, you might not see this beneficial effect. Still – I think this another great piece of evidence to add to the ‘exercise is good for you’ pile. I suppose I better man up, get changed, and start my run home….

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