I recently took up running after months of telling my jogging friends I never would. And I quite like it, though it took a while to get to that point. I hated it for weeks.
Interestingly, many people think running's a terrible thing to do. "Isn't that really bad for you?" one asked. "I hear it's nasty for your back."
"My sister blew out her knee running," another told me.
There are many stories about joggers who "can't run any more" because of some injury or another. Is it too hard on the joints? Can the right shoes make things better?
Are runners safer bumping along on dirt or grass rather than concrete? What about all those dropped-dead-while-jogging tales?
And will I get addicted to the burn?
In short, am I doing a nice thing for my body or just creating future problems?
What the experts say
"Individuals who haven't exercised need to make sure they don't have any underlying conditions. Answer the questions to the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire used by the YMCA to screen for conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease. If your running shoes are six months old and used for walking, they can have lost cushioning. Running on concrete can be traumatic. The goal is to run at a sustainable effort level. Pick a pace at which you can go for 20 to 25 minutes. It takes eight to 12 weeks to get over the hump. If you stick with it three or four times a week for eight to 12 weeks, you will notice a difference. But you have to get past the point where it's terrible."
MARK BAYLEY, medical director, Neuro Rehabilitation program, Toronto Rehab
"During the time you're out running, your chance of dropping dead is higher than if you were sitting. However, for people who run regularly, the risk is substantially lower over the total 24 hours than for those who don't run. By exercising, you lower your overall risk. Is there a greater risk of sudden death when you're excited at a football game or having sex? Yes. The notion that running wears out your joints is not supported by the evidence. If you're running 20 miles a day for 50 years, that might be too much. But in general, running is good for your joints. A caveat: if you have a prior traumatic injury, later on you are more likely to develop osteoarthritis."
STEVEN BLAIR, professor, Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, Columbia
"It has not been established that running leads to degeneration of cartilage, which is the hallmark of osteoarthritis. If you have pre-existing trauma or injury to the joint, it might become a problem. People who get injured are often doing too much or at too great an intensity. Research says that if the shoe is comfortable, you're good to go. Try on 10 different shoes and leave with the one that feels best. There's nothing I know of in the literature that shows you're better off running on one type of surface. Running is fantastic cardiovascular exercise, and by doing it you're not likely to run into problems like type 2 diabetes."
SCOTT HOWITT, chiropractor, director, Sports Performance Centres Ltd, Toronto
"For some, running becomes a way of life. If they don't run, they feel bad, depressed, guilty. Usually it's people who start running 3 miles, then 5, then marathons, and then marathons aren't enough. There is a group for whom running becomes addictive. Two things may be going on. The body's endorphins may be released, which act like morphine and have pain-relieving and euphoric results. The other neurotransmitter, dopamine, is involved in addictive behaviour. When people take drugs, there's an increase in dopamine. But there's almost no research on exercise and dopamine in humans."
ROBIN KANAREK, interim dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston
"Stretching is important, but it's more important for runners to ensure their muscles are balanced. Running doesn't work the inner and outer quads evenly, so a common issue is that outer quads become tight and overused while inner quads remain weak. These imbalances can lead to knee problems. You don't use your gluteal muscles when you run. The gluteus medius is a hip stabilizer, and weak glutes can lead to injuries. Running compresses the spine. Yoga decompresses the spine. Runners' hamstrings can be tight, which is connected to lower back pain."
CHRISTINE FELSTEAD, director, Yoga for Runners, Toronto