Risks to Running? Should Runners Proceed with Caution?

Did you see the headlines last week?

Could Strenuous Jogging Do More Harm Than Good?

Running Too Hard? Light Jogging Linked with Living Longer.

Want to know my first thought when I read those headlines? It’s a good thing I’m a fricking runner and not a jogger!

I'm Not a Jogger!

Image via MarbleheadMarathoner.com

Want to know my second thought? What a bunch of bullshit.

Screw the Headlines, What Do the Articles Say?

The more I’ve gotten into blogging, the more I understand the power of a good headline. A headline is there to capture the attention of the reader, and in the digital world that we live in, to get them to click a link and read the article.

Admittedly, these headlines accomplished that goal.

I clicked and I read.

And then I lost it.

To summarize the articles, there are serious health risks to running if you run too fast or too often. But slow jogging is ok.

Apparently, light jogging (defined as 12 min/mile pace) is good for you, but strenuous jogging (8.5 min/mile pace) is has hazardous to your health as being completely sedentary.

I’ll pause for a moment to allow that little tidbit to sink in.

What the Articles Don’t Say

The articles talk about a paper that was recently published in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology, which is really just a dissection of of the data in a study that was originally published in The American Journal of Epidemiology back in 2012.

The original study, which only looked at the effect that jogging has on mortality rates, came to the (obvious) conclusion that jogging is a good way to improve your health and live longer.

The second study, that splits hairs regarding pace, frequency, and duration, is the only study mentioned in the articles. Hmmm.

The articles also fail to shine a light on the limitations of the data that is being used in the recent paper.

(Alex Hutchinson did a great job of breaking down the data on the Sweat Science blog over at Runner’s World. If you haven’t read his article yet, you really should.)

To keep it simple, basically the number of sedentary people dwarfs the number of “strenuous joggers” in the study, which causes a dramatic skewing of the data.

During the 12 year period of the study, 30% of the sedentary group died (of any cause) while only 5% of the strenuous joggers passed. But the researchers say that because the average age of the joggers was much younger (37 vs 61) than the sedentary participants, they make the claim that if you adjust for the age difference between the groups, the mortality rates are the same.

Seriously? Seriously.

Honestly, I can’t figure out how this article got out of the peer review process and into a credible journal, but that’s another topic for another day.

Forget the Articles, Let’s Get Real

Is Running Bad for Your Health?

Are these articles going to get me to stop running, or at least slow my pace so I don’t do any damage to my health? Not even close.

I hate to call them propaganda, but you can’t call them science backed. There are simply too many holes in the study that the articles are based on to claim that there are serious health risks to running.

Instead, let’s come to an agreement that exercise (whether it’s running, jogging, cycling, or whatever) is good for us.

Perhaps we can also agree that there may be a point where too much exercise can be detrimental to our health, but as of now, there is no legitimate study available to show where that line is for the general population.

And as more and more men and women (let’s call them freaks) continue to push the limits of what is possible by running ultras, trans-continentals, crossing deserts, and so on, I’m not going to worry too much about any potential health risks of running an 8.5 minute mile.

Did You Read Those Articles? What Were Your Thoughts? Will You Keep Running In Spite of the So-Called Risks?

1 reply
  1. Stephanie Wattenbarger
    Stephanie Wattenbarger says:

    I actually work with Dr. O’Keefe, one of the authors of the most recent Cardiology article. I am made to feel shame for doing what I do. I guess being overweight, having clogged arteries, diabetes, & hypertension are preferable forms of mortality! I say PFFFFFT! And I will keep running! If it kills me, I will die happy!


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