The Risk of Arthritis for Runners
Do runners have a higher risk of arthritis? This simple question is surprisingly difficult to answer. Some studies say yes, some say no.
A new study followed the largest cohort to date, 74,752 runners and 14,625 walkers, to provide a higher quality answer to this question.
They found that in general, runners did not have a higher risk of arthritis. Individuals who ran regularly actually had a lower risk of arthritis than those who did not.
However, once this figure was adjusted for BMI, the reduced arthritis risk for runners was no longer statistically significant.
This suggests that running reduces BMI while improving physical health, which leads to a lower arthritis risk compared to walkers.
Weight Drives Arthritis Risk
Any benefits from not running are likely over-shadowed by the significant benefits of weight loss.
The real culprit behind arthritis is BMI. Higher weight puts more pressure on your joints, particularly your knee.
Individuals in this study had a dose-dependent relationship between BMI and arthritis. The data suggests that your arthritis risk goes up with every additional excess pound.
Walking vs Running & Arthritis Risk
Casual runners have a significantly lower risk of arthritis than walkers. However, high intensity walkers and runners both had a similarly lower risk of developing arthritis. This suggest that running is not necessarily better than walking when it comes to arthritis, but it certainly isn't worse.
Arthritis Risk for Marathon and 10K Runners
Marathon runners and competitive 10K runners likely run more than anyone else. Training for a marathon often involves running 10 miles a day for months in order to get in shape for a 26 mile race.
Researchers in this study followed 22,705 runners who had run at least one marathon. They found that running more marathons has no effect on arthritis risk, even in those who ran 2-5 marathons per year.
Similarly, 10K race performance times had no effect on the risk of developing arthritis.
Key Takeaways & Study Weaknesses
As shown in the evidence score above, we only gave this study a 2/5. While this is one of the better studies so far in this space, it suffers from some significant shortcomings.
The data shows that generally, individuals who run regularly have a lower risk of arthritis than those who don't. This is great news. However, it tells us nothing about running vs cycling and swimming. If a runner switches to cycling, which burns calories with less impact on the knees, would they have a lower arthritis risk?
It does good evidence that on a whole, running is beneficial for reducing arthritis risk. Avoiding running to reduce arthritis risk is likely not a good strategy. The benefits of weight loss far outweigh any possible risk of arthritis when it comes to running, if there are any at all.