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January 26, 2017

The notion that running can damage your knees is practically common knowledge.

Running, the theory goes, contributes to the deterioration of cartilage in the knee joints, and can even cause arthritis.

But a new report, published in the European Journal of Applied Physiologyat the end of 2016 suggests the opposite. Running isn’t just a part of healthy lifestyle, the (small) study found—it could actually prevent degenerative disorders.

Researchers at Brigham Young University studied synovial fluid from the knees of 30 young, healthy individuals. While only six runners were able to provide complete blood and synovial fluid samples, the data was “interesting and consistent,” noted the New York Times. The small pilot study showed drastically decreased levels of inflammatory molecules after a 30-minute run, compared to a control group that had been asked to sit for 30 minutes.

COMP (cartilage oligomeric matrix protein), a substance prevalent in the synovial fluid or diseased or arthritic knees, also decreased in runners. Sitting, on the other hand, produced increased levels of COMP and one of the key inflammatory cells.

“What we know now...is that for [healthy individuals] exercise creates an anti-inflammatory environment that may be beneficial in terms of long-term joint health,” Robert Hyldahl, the report’s lead author, said in a statement from the university.

As The New York Times noted, studies of long-term runners have already indicated a decreased occurrence of osteoarthritis than non-runners in the same age group.

For some travelers, this could be read as a great excuse to explore a new city by foot and enjoy that runner’s high. But if you’re not inspired to lace up the cross trainers and go for a jog, the data gleaned from the control group is equally enlightening.

Running may be a proactive way to prevent or delay the development of joint disease. But sitting still could actually make the knee “biochemically more vulnerable,” suggested Times writer Gretchen Reynolds.

So the next time you’re on a long-haul flight, do yourself a favor and take a stroll around the cabin a few times, and don't forget a pre- and post-flight stretch.

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