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Why you shouldn’t be afraid to start running after middle age

Vaseline 2 months ago

LONDON, April 21: As someone who took up marathon running in mid-life, I know how many aches (and doubts) you can have when taking on the challenge of taking up running at an older age. But as an orthopedic surgeon who has replaced thousands of worn-out hips and knees over my career, I also know how much exercise actually helps the joints.
Stumbling through my orthopedic hospital after my first marathon led me to research runners. After taking a thousand MRI scans of the joints of mid-life athletes (both runners and cyclists) and couch potatoes, I now better understand how beneficial mid-life running is for the knees, hips and spine.
The findings were very surprising to me, especially in the knee study. The high-resolution MRI scans showed that most of the 115 middle-aged participants had abnormalities in their knees before they started marathon training. In the past, half of these abnormalities would usually have required keyhole surgery.
But no knee abnormalities stopped them from completing the marathon. And on MRI scans taken after the marathon, there were no signs of deterioration of their joints. This completely changes the way we can advise potential runners who show an abnormality on the MRI scan of their knee.
Amazingly, we also found that some runners’ bones improved after the marathon. In ten volunteers with changes in their bone marrow that would normally have signaled pre-arthritis (which occurs before even other early signs of arthritis do), these signs disappeared on MRI after the marathon.
A commonly accepted view is that exercise damages the joints and can lead to osteoarthritis (also called ‘wear-and-tear arthritis’) later in life. But while osteoarthritis becomes more common after middle age, it may actually be a lack of activity that leads to osteoarthritis. The more a joint is used, the stronger the bone and muscles around it become.
Research on inactivity has shown that to remain healthy, bones need to be stimulated by mechanical stress (physical stress) – such as the impact of walking or running. Both bed rest and weightlessness in space result in reduced bone quality and strength (osteopenia and the more severe osteoporosis).
This is because our bones are alive, with cells continually building and removing bone. Mechanical force is needed to stimulate the cells that build bone and inhibit the cells that remove bone.
Running provides a very good stimulus for the bone-building cells. Having healthy bone under the joint surface is especially important to prevent osteoarthritis.
Inactivity also causes muscle wasting (sarcopenia), which affects the way the joints move. Decreased muscle use, whether due to inactivity or sarcopenia or both, also reduces the production of anti-inflammatory myokines by the muscles.
These chemicals are released when we exercise and help reduce joint swelling and soothe irritated joint linings. This effect is pronounced in runners because running uses some of the largest muscles in the body, such as the glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings.
Another benefit of exercise is that it improves the way our cartilage surfaces move over each other. This keeps the joint stable as we move and ensures that any pressure is applied evenly to the joint surface.
Strength and conditioning exercises (such as using resistance bands or doing reformer pilates can further improve muscle function and therefore cartilage function – especially for the cartilage in the joints of our main limbs.

Where to start

In general, the best way to support our joints is a combination of different exercises, including muscle resistance (such as strength training), bone impact (such as running) and stable joint movements (such as cycling).
If you want to start running, the main message is to take it easy to reduce the risk of injury. This should help reduce the risk of injury.
One of the best ways to ease into running mid-life is the NHS Couch to 5K running program. It’s a free guide to help you gradually work your way up to running a 5K in just nine weeks. It’s also designed for everyone – including absolute beginners.
The plan involves three runs per week, with a rest day in between, and a different schedule for each of the nine weeks. It also uses a mix of running and walking to build your fitness and endurance. This will help prevent you from overdoing it and giving up.
Of course, there are some cases where running can damage our joints. These are usually the result of a past injury, for example when there is a broken bone that extends into the joint, causing an uneven cartilage surface.
Another example is when a ligament is torn and the joint becomes unstable. An unstable joint moves abnormally and can damage the cartilage. An unstable joint can also be caused by abnormal muscles around the joint.
If you have experienced any of these problems, you should be careful when exercising to avoid further damage. It’s best to talk to your doctor to create an exercise plan that works for you.
Running is a great way to keep bones and muscles healthy and help prevent damage and even osteoarthritis. Make sure you take it easy at first. (The conversation)