Thursday, May 12, 2011

Running is Bad for your Knees

posted byCharlie Nickell
At lunch, a friend of mine goes into this long-winded diatribe why running is going to “ruin my knees.”

If one more person tells me that running is bad for my knees, I’m going to vomit. These are the same individuals who knew me when I stunt doubled for Kiko the orca in “Free Willy.” It all seems very ironic. When I was overweight, nobody felt compelled to inform me that my body mass was unhealthy. No one warned me about my 240-point cholesterol level, rapid/irregular pulse, horrendous triglyceride count or weakening back.

Nope, but after years of solid running, people close to me are all of a sudden outspoken health experts and extremely concerned about my well-being. They all mention running pioneer Jim Fixx’s infamous fatal heart attack or sprint record-holder Florence Griffith Joyner’s early demise. Everyone brandishes some obscure exercise-death fact or famous fluke fatality myth. The whole conversation is as off-course as the Exxon Valdez.

Let me tell you what’s bad for your knees: inactivity, bowling, football, basketball, sitting, aerobics, reality shows, small children, begging, laying carpet, catching a baseball game and owing certain people money are all legitimately risky for the knee caps. Week leg muscles lead to deteriorating support ligaments, tendons and bones, which, in turn, lead to bad knees. Running strengthens ligaments, tendons and bones.

The list of knee-deterioration culprits is long but running doesn’t fall into the top 25. So, why the confusion, misguided concern and annoying conversation about my running and my knees? It’s a given. Most people have no clue what they are talking about (including me) outside their microscopic zone of expertise. But, even that doesn’t explain it.

Last checked, there is a 99 percent chance you’ll die from heart failure or heart disease. Why is it my south-county neighbors know more about their imported cars than the thing ticking inside them that’s going to silently kill them in the middle of the night? Most people can tell you what type of gas mileage their SUV gets but ask someone their resting heart rate, and they look at you as if you just asked, “What’s Starbucks?” or “I’ve never been in a Mercedes before, are they expensive?” Why do kids know more about their iPod’s processing speed and their computer’s storage then their own precious hearts?

Fact is, we’ve forgotten as a society what our bodies were designed to do. By looking at our physiological construction, it’s obvious we weren’t designed to drive cars. If we were, we would have evolved with tiny little legs, superior eyesight, patience, fully rotating heads and a cell phone embedded in our craniums. We weren’t really designed to ride bikes as our body disintegrates (as with cars) at impact speeds greater than our structures can withstand. We are as a population, designed to run. It really is that simple.

Biologically, evolution moves slowly, and by most accounts we aren’t much different than the hunter/gatherers who preceded us eons ago. Those early versions of humans hunted in small groups (like trail runners) and wore down their prey by literally running them into the ground. Man was the undisputed endurance king, and for a million years we ran (running), killed (competition), ate (aid station) and slept (recovery). What happened to this fantastic lifestyle? What happened to the human race?

It’s a classic tale of mind over matter. From a developmental standpoint, the human mind is light years ahead of our physical bodies. Mentally and, subsequently, technologically we have rocketed forward while physically we haven’t changed one iota. Anytime you have a discrepancy like that crammed into a 6-foot-by-2-foot shell (the body), something has to give. And, it has.

What happens to caged animals denied the ability to hunt and run free? Just go to a zoo. They are out of shape, depressed, grumpy and lazy. Sound like anybody you know? What happens to people shoved in cubicles, forced to sit all day and nourish themselves at Taco Bell? Those are loaded questions. We all know the answers.

Do me a favor, runners: The next time someone tells you that running is bad for your knees (or your health), just remind them that they can live 100 or more years without legs but they’ll last less than 60 seconds when their heart stops. And then ask, “What did you say your resting heart rate was again?”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was actually looking for an article on how to TRAIN for longer distances while sparing an already bad knee, but this was so much more fun! I've been told not to run on my injured knee since the fifth grade and I wish I'd had something this well-articulated to say in response; next time I will!