Whether it’s an early morning or an after-work detox, getting out for a run can be a liberating workout to fuel your mind and body.
When the runner high kicks in and the endorphins are pumping, you may feel invincible, but that doesn’t mean you are. Going out for a daily jog has the potential to cause harm to the body, rather than just help it.
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lushun Wang said Newsweek which has “a list of worries” for those who go out rushing excessively. The strain of such intense exercise can cause irreparable damage to the body, especially to joints such as the knees and hips.
“Running puts a strain on the joints, especially the knees”
Many people use the phrase “runner’s knees” when discussing joint stiffness or tenderness, but this can lead to a serious problem, according to Wang. Without “adequate rest and recovery,” the doctor says runners can develop osteoarthritis in the knees as a complication of too much stress and impact on the joint.
“Over time, excessive running without proper techniques can wear away the protective cartilage that protects the ends of your bones. This is because running puts stress on your joints, especially your knees,” she explained.
Signs of osteoarthritis include pain, decreased flexibility, and swelling. It is one of the most common forms of arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While there is no cure for osteoarthritis, in some cases it can be treated with physical therapy, weight loss, or surgery. Exercise can also work as a treatment, but it should be a low-impact activity like swimming, cycling or walking.
Too much of a good thing?
Catching the runner’s bug is real: that feeling of being unstoppable on the last run home, with your favorite playlist blaring through your earphones. You may want to add another mile to your route as it gets more comfortable or go out more regularly during your favorite season. But too much running can cause repetitive strain, especially when you’re not paying enough attention.
“Overuse injuries are common in runners who push themselves too hard,” Wang explained Newsweek. “It could be excessively long runs or numerous short sprints of running without proper care. These injuries can range from minor problems, such as blisters, to more serious conditions such as stress fractures and Achilles tendonitis.”
The strenuous nature of running, especially on a hard surface like a sidewalk, can cause wear and tear on your knees and hips. Doing a sufficient warm-up before your run and a cool-down afterwards will put your body in a better position to tackle the course and recover from it.
“More susceptible to disease and infection”
When runners are too busy training for their next race, or are so determined to reach their next goal, they may forget to put their body first. Running takes a physical toll, so forcing yourself to run when that’s the last thing the body needs could make you feel worse, Wang says.
“While exercise generally helps boost immunity, pushing yourself too hard without adequate rest could lead to the opposite result,” she said. Newsweekadding that runners could be making themselves “more susceptible to illness and infection” if they overexert themselves and don’t balance that with enough rest.
It’s often said that fresh air is good for the soul, but it’s also vital to listen to your body and know when it needs rest.
“Hormonal Imbalances and Potential Bone Health”
A lesser-known complication caused by excessive running is secondary amenorrhea, or lack of menstruation.
“Women can experience amenorrhea, which is missed periods, due to excessive running and the stress it puts on the body,” Wang explained. “This can lead to hormonal imbalances and potential bone health problems, such as osteoporosis.”
The most common causes of secondary amenorrhea include menopause, stress, poor diet, weight loss and excessive exercise, according to the Mayo Clinic. This can be checked by blood tests, genetic screening or a hormone test.
If too much exercise or weight change is the problem, doctors will discuss the necessary steps you can take to overcome it and help your body adjust again. This could include scaling up running or other physical exercises.
‘Running could contribute to heart problems’
Running is known to increase cardiovascular fitness, but Wang also notes that it can cause complications that runners need to watch out for. For this reason, he implores people to listen to their bodies and pay attention to any changes they may notice.
“Excessively long-distance running could contribute to heart problems, such as arrhythmia,” he said. “While it’s usually good for your heart health, listening to your body and taking the necessary rest will also yield positive results and effects.”
After sharing the “harmful effects of running,” Wang was quick to add that they aren’t guarantees for all runners, but simply complications that can arise if a runner doesn’t take care of their body.
“Releasing pressure is the key”
There are also mental effects from running. General practitioner Dr. Johannes Uys said Newsweek that overloading yourself with dangerous expectations can lead you to go from an enjoyable exercise to a debilitating commitment.
“One thing I ask runners to be aware of is the potential impact on their mental well-being,” Uys said. “Although running is often touted as a stress reliever, overtraining or unrealistic expectations can quickly lead to burnout and mental fatigue. Especially if you’re training towards a set goal, like a marathon.
“It’s important to find a balance, allowing for rest days and engaging in activities that provide mental relaxation or variety outside of running. You should also be willing to take it easy once in a while, replacing running with a jog or walk.”
He added that “relieving pressure is the key to staying safe” and may also contribute to long-term progress.
Running is supposed to be fun, but if it becomes a laborious chore that runners feel compelled to do, it might be time to think twice and consider another exercise to get the blood pumping.
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