If your friends and family don’t run, you probably find that you have to spend a lot of time defending your love of logging miles, and explaining what running is all about.

Here are some of the most common myths about running, and some of the most surprising realities behind them.

Myth #1: Running will ruin your knees.

You will likely hear this many times in your running life, but science has proven that this is just not true. It’s long been known that running increases bone mass, and even helps stem age-related bone loss. And researchers have shown that running actually improves knee health. According to data from the landmark National Runners Health Study published in the February 2013 issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, runners are nearly half as likely as walkers to develop osteoarthritis or need a hip replacement. The study examined data from nearly 75,000 runners and 15,000 walkers over seven and five years respectively. Researchers contend that running lowers body mass index more than walking, which helps prevent arthritis.

Myth #2: The miles you run give you carte blanche to indulge in carbs.

Sadly, your regular three-miler does not entitle you to a lifetime of everything bagels. A runner’s diet must include a healthy balance of carbs, protein, and unsaturated fats at each meal. If you take your daily workouts as licence to binge on processed carbs like white bread and pasta, there is no amount of running that can stave off weight gain. Fruits and vegetables like bananas, apples, corn, and sweet potatoes can provide many of the carbs you need to energize your workouts. Plus they nourish your body with essential vitamins and minerals that will improve your overall health. Lean protein from low-fat dairy products, fish, and lean meat can help repair torn muscle tissue so you can gain strength. And unsaturated, heart-healthy fats from foods like nuts, avocados, and salmon can provide the nutrients you need to stay injury free. Aim to consume 55 percent of your daily calories from carbs, 25% of your daily calories from protein, and the balance from healthy unsaturated fats.

Myth #3: Running is the only thing you need to do to stay fit.

You have got to do more than run in order to stay in shape, maintain your weight, and stay injury free. Strength training helps build bone mass, which deteriorates with age, and boosts metabolism, which slows with every passing year. A study published in the December 2014 issue of Obesity showed that healthy men who did 20 minutes per day of weight training gained less belly fat over 12 years compared to those who spent the same amount of time doing moderate to vigorous aerobic activity. There is no one particular strength-training routine that offers the absolute best workout for runners. The ideal strength training routine is convenient and enjoyable enough that you will be motivated to do it consistently over time. Be sure to switch up the number of repetitions, the amount of weight you lift, and the routine you do so that you can continue challenging your muscles and building strength, and avoid falling into a fitness plateau. Cross-training is also a vital part of your workout routine, as it will help prevent burnout and allow you to maintain your cardiovascular health while giving your bones and joints a break from the pounding of running.

Myth #4: You must rest completely twice a week.

Once you become accustomed to the mental boost you get from daily doses of outdoor exhilaration, you may find it increasingly difficult to take a day off to rest. Without the opportunity to physically release your energy and burn off stress, you may find it difficult to concentrate, focus, and maintain an even keel. That’s no surprise. And it doesn’t mean you’re an exercise addict. Research has proven that running improves productivity, mental focus and mood. And moderate exercise helps people cope with anxiety and stress even after they’re done working out, according to a 2012 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise. So how do you give your body a chance to recover from the stresses of training and get stronger, and still get the exhilaration you crave? Rather than force yourself to do no activity on a rest day, choose another low-impact activity to do during the time that you would typically run. Take a walk or hike in the woods. Practice yoga. Go for a snowshoe or a cross-country ski. Spend that time riding your bike, working in the garden, chopping wood, or even shoveling snow. If you enjoy your gym routine, hop on the elliptical machine or stationary bike for a 30-minute session at an easy effort. If you feel like you have to hit the road, keep the workout to one to two miles at an easy pace. If you have trouble holding back when you’re on your own, make a date to run with friends who maintain a slower pace and stick with them.

Myth #5: Running gives you license to be lazy the rest of the day.

One would assume that runners live active lives, and so are immune to the higher risks of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and other chronic health issues that go along with sedentary lifestyles. But new research is revealing that runners who log lots of miles also spend plenty of time sitting down—in their offices, in front of computers, and watching TV. And their regular workout routines don’t inoculate them from the risks that go along with sitting. According to a study published in January 2014 issue of the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, half-marathoners and marathoners who log 30 to 40 miles of running per week, sit an average of eight and 11 hours per day. And unfortunately, the time runners spend sitting cancels out some of the benefits of the morning workouts. In a study published in the July 2014 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers calculated the degree to which time spent sitting negates the fitness gains from regular workouts. They found that each time unit of sitting cancels out eight percent of the gain from the same amount of running. So if you run for an hour in the morning, and then sit for 10 hours during the day, you lose roughly 80 percent of the health benefit from your morning workout. So find ways to work more activity into your each day, even if you work out on a regular basis. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park in the most far-flung spot in the lot, and set a timer at your desk to get up at least once an hour for a five-minute walk. Meet friends for walks and hikes instead of coffee. Many companies now provide standing workstations. Look into getting one. Chances are the extra bouts of activity will boost your energy and fend off stiffness for your next run.

About Jen Van Allen

Jen has spent the past six years working as Special Projects Editor for Runner's World magazine, and writing stories for the magazine. Her books, The Runner's World Big Book of Marathon and Half-Marathon Training, (Rodale Books, June 2012) The Runner's World Big Book of Running for Beginners and The Runner's World Training Journal for Beginners, (Rodale Books, April 2014) are available wherever books are sold. She is currently at work on her next book, The Runner's World Guide to Weight Loss, which will be available in stores in January 2016. She also contributes stories to The Washington Post, and The Portland Press Herald.

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