Thursday, June 10, 2010

Something So Good Must Be Bad For You

When I started running back in 1989, nobody ever told me that running was bad. In fact, there were a lot of female runners in California doing races from 5Ks to ultra-marathons. People who I ran with talked about the benefits of running for both men and women. But when I moved to Germany, it was amazing how many people told me that running was bad, especially for women.

I met a lot of people who supposedly knew someone who died of a heart attack while running. While it does happen, like at the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials, it is a rare thing. The reason that death by heart attack while running is publicized is because it happens so infrequently. But with all of these friends (or acquaintances) of friends keeling over from heart attacks on the run, you'd think it was the world's leading cause of death. As my late running partner Bill put it about a person dying of a heart attack while running, "At least he went doing something that he loved."

Non-runners also like to bring up Jim Fixx, who died at a young age of heart trouble. He was a runner. In fact, running helped him to live longer than he would have if he was sedentary. Many of his sedentary family members died in their 30s and 40s from heart disease. He died at 52, which is still young but "old" for his family.

People also like to tell me that running will damage my knees. I do have tendinitis in my knees. But the only time that it acts up is when it's time to get new shoes. When my shoes are not ready to be retired, my knees are perfectly fine. Even long runs in the hills don't bother them. I recently read an article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine which said that running is good for the knees and can actually prevent arthritis. A group of long-time runners was compared with a non-exercising control group. At the beginning of the study, about 5% of the running group had arthritis in their knees, while nobody in the control group did. But at the end of the study several years later, no additional runners got arthritis while about 15% of the control group developed it.

Many Germans, especially women, have told me that women shouldn't run because it's bad for them. Most of them couldn't give me an explanation of exactly how running is bad for women, while others said that it would harm my organs, damage my pelvis, or cause infertility. A female cardiologist even told me that long distance running was bad for women. But to give her a break, she was from a country in Eastern Europe that's about 4 centuries behind Western Europe or North America.

There's a saying about junk foods...the better they taste, the worse they are for you. I guess non-runners must feel the same about running. If it's fun, it must be a bad thing. I don't care what others think; I plan to continue my "bad running habit" as long as I possibly can. When I'm a senior citizen, I want to be like the older folks that I see running on the trail.

By the way, my heart is in great shape, my knees are fine, my organs and pelvis are undamaged, and I'm not infertile. And if my heart decides to stop while I'm on the trail, I'd want people to say that I went out just the way I wanted to--doing something that I love.

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