Jingle Bell Run for Arthritis

Running and arthritis seem irrevocably linked in the minds of casual observers; we wish we had a nickel for every time someone said, “You’re going to get arthritis!” after learning that we are runners. So when we heard about a great new race called the Run for Arthritis, we figured the name might generate a bit of discussion.

Is there a connection between running and arthritis? Well, yes … but probably not in the way you suspect. But before we get to that, let’s talk about the race.

The Jingle Bell Run for Arthritis takes place on Saturday, December 11th at Lover’s Point Park in Pacific Grove. The timing is ideal, as December has been a blank entry on our local race calendar in recent years. Even better, it has a fun holiday theme, includes special children’s events, and encourages participants in all shapes, sizes, and breeds.

Festivities kick off with a kids’ “Fun Run with the Elves” at 8AM, followed by a timed 5K run at 8:30. Everybody is welcome to take part: walkers, parents with strollers, wheelchair athletes, dogs on leashes … or even cats on leashes if you could somehow manage it. Entrants are encouraged to wear holiday colors, decorative costumes, jingle bells on their shoelaces, or any other creative getup to help celebrate the holiday season. It’s rumored that Santa might even show up to say hi to the kids.

You can register on race morning beginning at 7AM, or prior to race day online at www.jinglebellrunpacificgrove.kintera.org. The local event is part of a nationwide effort by the Arthritis Foundation for fundraising and awareness regarding the leading cause of disability in the United States.

Which brings us back to the question: does running cause arthritis? Contrary to what you’ve probably heard, there’s no increased incidence of arthritis among runners compared to the general population – in other words, if you’re genetically predisposed to getting arthritis, it will probably develop at the same rate whether you’re a runner or a couch potato. In fact, some studies suggest that running might actually DECREASE your risk of developing arthritis.

Leg strength built through running helps the muscles around the hips and knees support the joints more effectively. Running also improves overall bone density, giving the cartilage at the end of each bone a firm platform to anchor itself. Erosion of cartilage is what causes arthritis pain – so if your bones give it a strong support system and your muscles protect it from excess impact, you can see how running contributes to improved joint health.

We figured the perfect person to ask about this would be Dr Marc Lieberman, an exceptional local runner and veteran of more marathons than we can count, who also happens to be a rheumatologist and member of the advisory board for the Arthritis Foundation. He told us about Stanford University studies showing decreased knee and hip osteoarthritis among recreational runners – although the rate was somewhat higher among elite (national-caliber or better) runners, presumably due to their extremely high training volumes.

Dr Lieberman pointed out two other factors, calcium deficits and high body mass index, which both carry an increased risk of osteoarthritis. He recommends that runners take calcium supplements, and to exercise consistently for weight management and general overall health. “Run to stay healthy, and stay healthy to run” he says.

So follow the doctor’s orders, as well as your authors’ recommendation, and take part in this year’s Jingle Bell Run for Arthritis to celebrate the season in a healthy, fun manner.

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