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How Running Impacts your Bone Health

Hey Angels and Alphas,

In the world of male and female fitness, when people imagine a “runner”, you get one of two basic stereotypes. 

You either get the runner who is super fit, in optimal health, and looks unstoppable – someone who is going to be racing marathons in their 80s. 

Or you get the second stereotype: the person who is constantly trying to manage pain, injuries like stress fractures, and struggling to add more miles and go further than they did the month before.

And do you know what the difference between those two people is?

Bone density.

Depending on your lifestyle, training, and diet, you may actually be setting yourself up for a life in which running makes your bones stronger… and you could be setting yourself up for a life with issues such as osteopenia in the far future.

So how should we optimize our running and training? How should we go about creating our running routine, so we’re not damaging our future and instead building a solid foundation that helps us grow our bone density and become better, stronger runners?

The first and most important element is consistency.

Running technically counts as a weight-bearing activity which is, in its own right, good for bone health. Even if you were to just run one minute every day, you would still reap health benefits and that’s actually proven. 

When you’re putting a load on your bones you’re essentially improving them and remodeling them. Unlike, let’s say, a cyclist or a swimmer, a runner is performing an endurance activity that is also load-bearing. With every single step, you’re actually delivering force through your legs as your weight is hitting the ground. According to studies, running is actually on par with weight training when it comes to helping you develop bone density. If you’re a trail runner who is constantly jumping over roots and rocks, you have an even bigger advantage since the added plyometrics can further help improve bone density. But that doesn’t mean you should be skipping your strength training.  

The second element is performing weight-bearing activities.

As you’re getting older, strength training is absolutely crucial for increasing bone density. This doesn’t mean you have to head to the gym and do reps with massive weights without a clear plan. Lifting weights, or doing things such as bodyweight exercises, is a good way for runners to add extra intensity to their routines. 

But runners must make an extra effort to ensure they’re performing weight-bearing exercises with perfect form. If you don’t feel ready to start stacking a weight bar, grab some resistance bands and start building a foundation you can use to grow stronger later on.

The third element is perfecting your run form.

If you’re a runner, you have to take steps toward strengthening your hips and glutes. Making these muscles stronger is key to perfecting your run form and ensuring better mileage. If you’re working with a certified PT, you have to make sure you’re prioritizing your obliques and hip abductors so you’re more stable during runs. 

As you’re getting fatigued, you naturally start running differently and this can stress the body in a variety of ways, causing stress fractures or other issues. Fatigue is another great reminder that you might be reaching into overtraining territory. Which brings us to our final point… 

The fourth element is making sure you’re not overtraining.

This is especially vital for runners since the correct volume to achieve optimal bone density is unknown and too much running can cause wear and tear on your joints. 

Everybody has a different balance point between enough training and too much training, where doing too much would be counterproductive toward the goal. If you’re overtraining, like a lot of runners do, while also undereating, like a lot of runners do, you can compromise your bone health instead of improving it. 

You might be led to believe that the majority of stress fractures and overtraining occur in high-level runners, but the exact opposite is true. If you want to avoid stress fractures and guarantee good health while also reaping the benefits of your running routine, you have to give your body adequate rest. 

There’s no way around it. When it comes to running, never push through pain and never keep running if you experience pain.

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