Can running prevent arthritis?

Contrary to popular belief, new evidence has emerged which suggests exercise could actually prevent joint problems...

Can running prevent arthritis?

10 million people in the UK currently suffer from arthritis, a condition often linked to old age. But before you hang your running shoes up for good, a recent study has found that maintaining an active lifestyle could prevent arthritis, effectively reversing the negative aspects of ageing.

Sedentary side affects 

As part of his research Harvard Professor and co-author of the study Daniel Lieberman analysed bones from 2015 to as far back as 4000 BC. Interestingly, Lieberman found a considerably higher percentage of arthritis in skeletons from the 20th century compared to their predecessors.

'One of the things that's really shifted in our world today is that we sit all the time, and kids sit all the time,' says Lieberman. 'And that may be affecting how our joints are forming and how our joints are ageing.'

Perhaps most obviously, humankind has no reason to hunt for food compared to our active ancestors. Instead we spend increasingly greater periods of time sitting at desks, in cars or watching television. Thus, the modern, and specifically western world are becoming less active, and therefore more prone to joint problems.

How exercise can help

In welcome news for runners, keeping active could actually prevent the onset of joint problems. 'Cartilage gets thicker; the muscles that support and protect the joints get stronger,' argues co-author of the study Professor David Felson. 'And joints are hardier when you're active, so the absence of activity isn't necessarily good for our joints.' 

Reassuringly, further research found no link between exercise and arthritis, so if you're thinking about taking up running, the time is now. A 2008 study also found that runners experienced significantly less musculoskeletal problems than their less active peers — and even a 39 per cent lower mortality rate. What more excuses do you need to go out for a run?

Proceed with caution

While evident suggests that physical activity can prevent joint problems, sadly this doesn't mean that running is a direct antidote to arthritis. If you currently suffer from arthritis or any kind of joint pain, it's important to proceed with caution before starting a new fitness programme.

Low-impact exercise can help to alleviate pain and offer respite, but it's best to seek advice from your GP first, as certain movements can increase friction on the joints. 

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