Skip your run in favor of strength training for a stronger and healthier back. You’ll be taller too!
A new study in the journal Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise is one of the first to test how running effects the discs of the spine. The results provide another reason that you shouldn’t bother running if you want to stay lean and healthy.
Researchers measured how running on a treadmill at an intensity of 75 percent of maximal for 30 minutes affects stature and the health of the intervertebral discs. The pounding action of running exerts repeated force on the spine that alters intervertebral fluid and literally shrinks the spine.
Remember, the spine is made up of intervertebral discs and each one has fluid within it. Healthier discs have more fluid inside them, and the least amount of pressure is on the spine when you are lying on your back. More and more pressure is put on the discs as you go from standing upright to seated to positions in which the torso is flexed forward. This is the reason that proper technique and a flat back are essential when strength training so that you don’t put excess pressure on the discs and damage them.
The study used MRI scans to measure the length the spine. They also calculated the volume of fluid in the discs. Results showed that the running trial resulted in a 6.3 percent reduction in the average intervertabral disc height and a 6.9 percent reduction in fluid volume. Normally, you lose about 1 percent of your total stature through the course of the day due to the many compressive loads on the spine from daily activities.
Perhaps more concerning than the shrinkage for long-term spine health is the 6 percent loss of intervertebral fluid volume. You want your discs to by as hydrated as possible to maintain mobility, and avoid chronic pain and injury. Researchers note that although it is necessary to be as physically active as possible in this sedentary society, running may not be the best choice for spinal health.
Compressive loading, which is caused by weight-bearing activities such as strength training, may be a better option than impact loading, which is caused by the landing phase of impact during movements like running or jumping. Compressive loads do put pressure on the spine, but with proper technique they also strengthen bone and build muscle. In contrast, running, especially at an aerobic intensity may degrade bone and muscle. Another well-known value of strength training using multi-joint lifts such as squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, and the Olympic lifts is that it strengthens the muscles of the abdomen and torso, helping to protect the back and spine.
Kingsley, M., D-Silva, A., et al. Moderate-Intensity Running Causes Intervertebral Disc Compression in young adults.Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2012. Published Ahead of Print.