Joints are just fine, thank you

Let me preface this column by saying there are quite a few people like me who enjoy spending a couple of hours on a Sunday morning getting some exercise by running up and down riverside trails. Or urban paths. Or roads, if we have to, during the winter.

We pass the time between water stops talking, sometimes about what our sedentary friends say about our habit.

It was like that this past weekend, about 18 kilometres into a leisurely long run. One of our athletes – Will – who will be 62 when he runs the Berlin marathon this fall, complained about how a woman at work said that at his age he can't have too many kilometres left in his legs.

"Isn't it hard on your joints?" she asked. "Your knees must be killing you."

If they are, he's showing no sign of it. Will clocked an impressive-for-any-age three hours and eight minutes when he ran the London marathon in April. Good enough to place 10th in his age group.

That joint question always makes me cringe. Whenever someone asks me how my joints are, I want to answer, "Like they were in university - tightly rolled."

If you're afraid of wrecking your knees or developing arthritis later on, get off the couch and get moving. The major risk factor for doing permanent damage to those joints is carrying around too much weight - something a sedentary lifestyle is pretty good at promoting.

Running does amazing stuff for your cardiovascular system, but all that pounding can't be good for your feet, hips and knees. Right?

While it's true that active people may run a higher risk of getting injured than people who don't exercise, people who do exercise tend to experience less muscle and joint pain than their sedentary friends. And if you already have arthritis, using that as an excuse to avoid exercise isn't doing yourself any favours.

Of course there are exceptions. But – in most cases – exercise helps strengthen muscles and tendons and that can only help your joints.

As in anything, you can start getting into trouble when you overdo it by:

  • Exercising too much.
  • Going too hard, too often.
  • Not getting in enough rest days.
  • Wearing worn out shoes.

But you don't have to become one of the obsessed who spend two hours on a fine weekend morning putting in kilometre after kilometre with a bunch of like-minded folk and then gathering for coffee later to trash-talk each other to realize the benefits of exercise.

A study out of Australia last year found that for middle-aged and older people, as little as 75 minutes of moderate activity a week helps keep joints flexible, muscles strong and keeps off weight – reducing the risk of developing arthritis.

So cycle, swim, walk — do anything. Your joints will thank you.