Sunday, June 22, 2014

My Doctors Have Always Been Athletes

I sat in the office of very nice doctor.  I was there to support my friend. My friend was there for what could have been bad news.  Everything was fine.  We were both very relieved!  The conversation turned to running.  We're both runners.  The physician my friend was being referred to is a runner.  My friend's doctor stood there in her lab coat, very trim-figured with sensible shoes.  I pegged her for someone with a positive view about running.  I was wrong.   She spoke the words that made my head want to explode, "Just speed walk for thirty minutes three times a week," she smiled, "That's all you need."

I couldn't help myself, I listened as politely as I could.  I was a little exasperated as this was the second time I'd heard physicians speak unfavorably about running. I controlled my voice and cautiously said, "I think a little tendonitis is a lot less serious than a cardiac episode, don't you?"  She puffed out little gasps of air and stood there silently for a moment as she thought.  She had a retort and I clamped down on my thoughts, reminding myself that I was here to support a friend, not argue with her doctor about running.  
I actually listened to what she had to say but she didn't offer any facts or quote any studies.  She just went on to tell me that people get injured from running and that recreational speed walking is a much better, safer exercise.  I respect her right to her opinion.  I respect her medical degree.  I even like her as a person but I was a little frustrated with her response.

Washington Post
 I'm not denying that there is a certain sense in what she had to say.  Athletes do get extreme, especially runners and sometimes that gets us injured.  It's a strong part of our mental makeup. Push, achieve, push harder.  It's what makes us who we are. Maybe it also makes us a little bit responsible for the attitude of some members of the medical community.  This doesn't mean we should stop running.  It does mean that there could be a lesson to be learned.  In my experience, mature athletes have learned that along with push, achieve, push harder comes rest, being in tune with the body and nourishing the entire entity.  That process has kept them in the running game for a long time. But are there any studies that actually prove running is detrimental to health?  That runners suffer more injuries than other sports players?  Are we truly at an increase risk for injury over sedentary people?  I really don't know since I can't find any studies comparing sedentary peoples' injury rates to those of athletes but it's a fairly basic assumption that it's pretty hard to get injured sitting on the couch. What I can find are studies like this one in the Washington Post. A study that indicates the more sedentary you are the more likely you are to die.

The Wall Street Journal, "Why You Should Step Up Your Workout"

Some studies show an increased health benefit from running more mileage.  Dr. Paul Williams studied over 100,000 runners for nearly 20 years.  He made some interesting discoveries.  He claims that surpassing the federally recommended exercise guidelines can positively impact the risk of several preventable diseases such as glaucoma, stroke, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  Not only does his research demonstrate the benefit of increased weekly mileage, it shows a strong impact on the body's ability to ward off certain conditions.  We're not talking about small margins.  We're talking about significant health gains.  

 So besides our own hard-headedness why does it seem that a large majority of healthcare providers are of the opinion that running is not the best choice for exercise?  A clue is quoted from the same Wall Street Journal piece.  Author of the article, Kevin Hilliker writes"Chief of cardiology at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, Dr. Thompson notes that vigorous exercise regimens can lead to injury. And he also observes in many patients a fragile motivation to exercise. Among those currently meeting or slightly exceeding the guidelines, a daunting new challenge might prove discouraging, he says. 'And if you make them run more and they get injured, then they wind up running less.'"  

I don't disagree with Dr. Thompson.  With the incredible obesity and cardiovascular incident numbers in this country it is easy to see his point of view.  A lot of people are starting from an older or no athletic background.  I just don't agree with his direction.  The answer is not to discourage or limit.  The answer is more education and encouragement.  The answer is to evaluate people that are happily active runners and support their progress.  The answer is to work harder to help runners understand what causes injury and how to avoid it.  The answer is to help patients find the running programs that will allow them to sensibly increase their mileage and draw on the experience of people that have been running for years. The answer is to work harder to start children in athletics at a younger age and to retain and utilize physical education time.  We must teach our children how to exercise for a lifetime.  We all stand to benefit when we set goals then persistently and intelligently obtain them.  The answer is education all around. 


  1. I have enjoyed reading your blogs. Although I am relegated to walking (Speed would be an over statement), I have thoroughly enjoyed getting back "out there". I have had some physician friends criticize running due to. the impact. I do recall back in my running days attending some seminars prior to the Atlanta Peachtree 10K. One was a running MD that had studied the cardiac benefits and concluded that 20-22miles/week was the optimum mileage for cardiac benefits. Mileage beyond that was strictly for training effect only. Who knows, but I believe that mileage is an individual thing and one has to be astute enough to read their own body and make the necessary adjustments. Keep up the good work. I love the events you and your husband organize.

  2. Jim,
    Thanks for sharing! I can't wait to see you at the Pleasure Island Bridge run. I agree with your statement about reading your own body. I think that's a sign of athletic maturity and I'm not referring to age. :)