Posted by: Joe English | January 25, 2009

Commentary: Is Marathon Running Good for Your Health?

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

I seem to get asked all the time whether marathon running is actually good for your health. The question typically comes from a non-runner imagining the grueling miles and the stress on the knees, feet and heart.

If you were to ask my mom, she’d tell you quite for certain that marathon running is simply no good for you. In fact, she tells me every time I talk on the phone with her. Almost without fail our conversations start like this:

Mom: “So, are you still running?”
Joe: “Yes, of course, I’ve been doing it all my life and it’s my job.”
Mom: “You know, you’re going to ruin your knees if you keep running.”
Joe: “Yay, I know, that’s what you keep telling me.”

I’ve given up trying to convince her otherwise. I’ve had some of the best sports medicine doctors in the world, much less her own doctor, tell her that running is not going to ruin my knees. In fact, many say, running strengthens and increases the longevity of the joints, especially as compared to those who don’t exercise at all.

The heart muscle too benefits from being used for running. Sure there are risks to running, but when comparing the health and quality of life of runners and non-runners, I think the runners are the healthier of the two groups.

A new article in this weekend’s Atlanta Journal Constitution asks the question and offers a few answers. Here’s something that makes sense to me, based on years and years of running:

Running is good for you if you do it right,” says Kevin Jacobs, Ph.D., exercise physiologist at University of Miami. “It builds your aerobic capacity, so your body is better able to use oxygen, which is good for you. It can improve blood lipids and blood glucose if they’re abnormal. You sleep better. You feel better during the day.”

I’ll let you read the article and come to your own conclusions. I’m pretty sure that when done right, marathon running has a positive impact on health. I know that it has helped me keep lean, keep my heat-rate low, and keep me calmer and happier than I would otherwise be.

My mom’s probably not going to come around to agree with me on this point.

What do you think?

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Running Advice and News



  1. Thank you! I’ve had this discussion lately (with people who are not runners in the least) who want to warn me that I may be damaging my body. Of all the things running does for my body, I’m far from worried about it damaging me. I understand that it is important to “do it right” though.

    I’m currently in week 10 of a 12 week marathon training plan for my first ever 26.2 and I’m sad that I’ve only now discovered your blog. I love it and plan to add you to my blogroll for useful resources. Thanks for the tips!

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