Health myths: Is running on a soft surface better for your body?

As a form of exercise, running can deliver a wealth of health benefits. One study revealed that regular jogging increases the life expectancy of men by 6.2 years, and women by 5.6 years. But Benenden asks – does the surface you run on make a difference?

Benenden

Compared with people who are inactive, or who take non-weightbearing exercise such as cycling, running — done safely — can be more protective against conditions such as osteoporosis, in which bone loss causes an increased risk of fractures.

And there is no evidence that running on a soft surface such as grass is better for the body than running on a hard surface such as tarmac, says Dr Rebecca Robinson, consultant in sports and exercise medicine at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield.

‘Bone is living tissue and it constantly remodels,’ she says. ‘If you start running on a hard surface gradually, and build it up slowly, there can be a positive response in the laying down of new cells, making the bone matrix stronger.’

Running on soft surfaces is lower impact, and good for balance and bounce.

‘Ideally, you should try to mix it up,’ says Dr Robinson. ‘Substitute some road runs with off-road trail, grass or sand runs to create a new stimulus for your ligaments, muscles and tendons. The uneven surface and direction changes promote whole-bone loading better, as can adding plyometrics – jump training – to your training regime.’

People with existing joint or bone conditions might benefit from lower impact running, or alternatives to running. A physiotherapist or sports doctor should be able to help design a programme to get similar health benefits.

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  • Matthew Henson

    Good running form is important: my Pilates teacher helped me get my hip extensors and adductors to join in so I now run with less effort and with less up-and-down movement. To get the best out of uneven surfaces there is nothing to beat running barefoot – though I confine that to grassy parkland. Running barefoot requires fairly strong flexible feet so it’s worth preparing: Katy Bowman’s “Whole Body Barefoot” is very good.