DR Paul Bowen, clinical chair of NHS Eastern Cheshire CCG, and GP with McIlvride Medical Practice, Poynton I’M sure that those of you watching the London Marathon the other week would have been moved by the sight of Warwickshire runner Tommy Lewis helping former Manchester United star Quinton Fortune over the finish line.
As a club runner who had trained hard, Tommy would have been determined to record a good time. Yet, he sacrificed his time to help an exhausted fellow athlete. Tommy’s gesture was typical of the camaraderie that exists in sport.
However, I’m often asked if long-distance running is good for us. Therefore, I thought I’d use this week’s column to offer a balanced argument.
Running provides an efficient full-body workout, burns a ton of calories, tones the body and improves emotional wellbeing. Once new runners have followed the Couch to 5K programme, they often begin training for longer races. What this means is that running long distances is perfectly achievable with the right preparation.
Yet the medical community is still undecided as to whether the benefits outweigh the risks. While more studies are needed, physicians typically consider a runner’s age, size and body mechanics before advising patients on long-distance running.
Almost anyone who has been properly trained, wears suitable footwear and is not injured can run distances. The human body is marvellously designed to adapt to the physical stresses of long-distance running. However, it’s important that runners understand the risks and carefully determine if the benefits outweigh the risks.
For example, swelling and inflammation are common after intense exercise but research suggests that the body will eventually adjust to the increased level of exercise following regular intense training.
A tiny minority of runners have died from heart attacks but in most cases they had a family history of heart problems, high cholesterol and warning signs such as angina.
While research is still limited on any link between running and osteoarthritis, the general consensus is that moder- ate running does not cause osteoarthritis of the knees or hips for healthy people.
In summary, running has profound benefits. It has been shown to decrease the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression while improving bone density and weight control. However, the risks of distance running must be addressed with proper training, nutrition and rest.
Those with heart conditions or biomechanical issues should not begin training without close medical supervision.