Is Running Bad For Women? A Doctor Explains

If you’re over 35, can running hurt your joints or pelvic floor health? Dr. Danielle Martin separates fact from fiction.

woman running

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Q: I’m 40 and have been flirting with taking up running, but hear it can be bad for joints, and not great for women’s bodies in general. Is there any truth to the idea that running is bad for middle-aged women?

I would never discourage anyone from taking up exercise at any age. Marathon running isn’t for most of us, but the idea that recreational running isn’t good for you after age 35 is a myth. It’s such an easy way to hit the recommended 150 minutes of activity a week. There are no barriers to entry — you don’t need any equipment, or a gym membership, or a trainer. All you need is a pair of shoes and a little time. How To Run: A Guide For WomenHow To Run: A Guide For Women

Running gets your heart rate up, which is important for lots of reasons. Regular exercise can help prevent high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and other chronic diseases. But like any other activity, there are ways to do it that can minimize the risk of injury. Wearing proper, supportive running shoes and reflective gear if you’re running at night is really important, as is running on a safe surface so you don’t risk a fall.

For people with significant arthritis, a lower-impact activity like speed walking may be better – but running isn’t bad for healthy joints. In fact there’s some evidence that it might actually benefit the knees by reducing inflammation, and keeping the biomechanics of the joint healthy. And if running is part of a lifestyle that keeps you at a healthy body weight, that’s great for your knees!

For women there is also often concern that jogging is bad for pelvic floor health. For those who have significant pelvic floor dysfunction, running might not be the best activity to take up right away. But the pelvic floor is a set of muscles that can be strengthened. Pelvic physiotherapy can help get make those muscles stronger, so running becomes an option again. And if you have a strong pelvic floor, jogging won’t cause it to become weak. My Run With Vi, The (Artificial) Personal Trainer Of The FutureMy Run With Vi, The (Artificial) Personal Trainer Of The Future

Of course, anybody who has pain while running should see their doctor. And if you’ve never run before but are thinking about doing one of those couch to 5k programs, check in with your health care provider. They can help you confirm that it’s an appropriate form of exercise for you.

Running is better for the cardiovascular system and bone health but for most women it should be complemented with strength- and balance-focused exercise as well.

The bottom line is that the best form of exercise is the one that you will enjoy, and therefore continue to do on a regular basis. For most people that shifts at different stages of life, but there is no reason why women at all ages can’t enjoy running.

Danielle Martin is a family physician and vice-president, medical affairs and health system solutions, at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto.