Yesterday I was chatting with a fellow in his thirties who was complaining about his knees. He's training for a big race, running several times a week, and that's a lot to ask of knees, especially if you're sporting a few extra pounds.

He's a smart guy, successful in his career, knows where he's going, with a lovely wife and kid. Apparently he sets high goals and is willing to push through the pain to achieve them. I admire that.

But I also wonder if he's made a good engineering choice for his body. As regular readers know, I see the human body as a moist robot. Happiness is a function of making sure the chemistry of your brain has the right mixture of raw materials. And to get there you need to make good engineering choices plus have a little luck.

As I see it, this fellow has chosen the one sport most likely to destroy his knees: running long distances on pavement. That's like building a skyscraper on a sand foundation. He runs a high risk of blowing out a knee or two, leading to less exercise, higher weight, health issues, and ultimately a suboptimal mixture of brain chemicals. I'll bet you can name three friends who have already taken that path.

By way of contrast, much of my life is designed to protect my knees. My preferred sport is tennis, so we're building a court at our future home that will have a relatively cushioned surface. It makes a big difference on knees, and it's the main reason we're building a home instead of buying one.

My other major exercise is indoor soccer on artificial turf, which is surprisingly easy on the knees unless I get a kick or a twist. The new artificial turfs are better engineered to avoid the injuries typical of the earlier versions. You can run all day on it and the knees feel great.

My non-sport cardio exercise involves a recumbent bike, which is ideal for knees. My doctor recommended it for that reason. Our new home will also have a pool, so I will add swimming to the mix. And I put a lot of effort into staying within my recommended weight range because experts say every pound on your buttocks feels like five to your knees.

You could argue (convincingly) that my choice of soccer isn't a good risk for my knees. But the over-30 league isn't that dangerous, relatively speaking, and I've dropped four pounds since the season started. Okay, okay, I agree that's a rationalization for "I like to play soccer." But you see the point. Be good to your knees or.

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Apr 22, 2009

Who says running is bad for your knees?

Thers is a body of evidence out that that suggests running is actually good for you knees.

Apr 22, 2009
Hi Scott!
How I wish I had had this sort of sensible advice when I was younger - or had the brains and the confidence to figure it out for myself.
I did karate for 20 years and became the British Champion. Just one snag. On July 13th 2004 all the cartilage detatched from the top of my femurs and kneecaps - overnight, surprisingly - and I now have the 'knees of a 90 year old'! I can no longer run, kneel, or do any quick movement of the legs.
As a relatively intelligent person (Assistant School Principal), I often wonder why I found it so hard to think ahead and plan for the future.
It is one of my life regrets. Knees don't grow back. Thankfully I can live a normal life - I just watch sport now instead of doing it. Basketball in the yard is free-throws only!
I hope your readers take the opportunity to reflect on the long term implications of their hobbies...
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