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Health News and Tips

Beginner's Guide to a High Rise Building Stair Workout

Posted on June 22, 2018 at 1:50 PM

Beginner's Guide to a High Rise Building Stair Workout

Note: If you are concerned in any way about your knees or other health conditions, check with your doctor before doing this workout!

Why climb stairs for exercise? Think about it, people all over the world are stuck in office buildings for work. Right outside their office door is a great workout waiting to happen beneath the heels of their feet (notice the emphasis on heels here)! Let's face it, excuses abound when it comes to exercise! Adding to the excuse list is the gym is far away, inconvenient, or it's too hot or cold outside to walk or run. Many of these stairwells are air-conditioned, simply cooler or warmer than outside, protected from the sun, rain or even in allergy season, protected from pollen! Yes, on the perfect days, get out and exercise! But on those not so perfect days, consider the office stairwell!

Outdoor parking garage for shade and fresh air!

Climbing stairs for exercise can be one of the best exercises for cardio/respiratory health, muscle building and coordination. Full body workouts can be designed around using either home stairs, stadium stairs, parking garage stairs or office building stairs. All levels of exercisers can create workouts that will allow them to build at whatever pace they choose while creating more body power. It’s not just for the very fit, but for beginners as well! And, one of the great things about doing these workouts is that it can be done right in your office building either before work, after work or on your lunch hour. Hint: Buy a cooling towel and keep it around your neck to prevent excessive sweating!

If you are overweight or unable to run or bike for other reasons, one of the best ways to build muscles and increase your heart rate and increase breathing rate is by climbing stairs. By simply walking up stairs your heart rate and breath rate will increase. The longer you walk up the stairs, the more the pulse/respiratory rate will go up so office buildings and parking garages that allow for long, continuous climbs are best. By increasing your heart and breathing rate, you help to build your cardio/respiratory health, increase lung capacity, improve circulation and movement of lymph fluid (thereby improving the immune system). You can monitor your heart rate using one of the many watches available like FitBit and Garmin. However, keep in mind you should pay more attention to your perceived exertion because many of the devices can be slow to catch up to the actual heart rate. Keep reading to find out how to protect your knees!

Even if you are not a beginner or are already running or walk/jogging, climbing stairs is a great way to both build muscle and improve your cardio/respiratory health which will improve your overall running ability. When you run up stairs, running flat surfaces will begin to feel much easier and your pace will improve over time. One thing to keep in mind is protecting your knees. You can help to protect your knees off the stairs by strengthening your hamstrings and glutes with various floor exercises and gym equipment. Do this on the stairs by focusing your attention on keeping your weight in your heels and not pushing off on your toes too much. Think of it this way: pushing off on your toes will use more of the quadriceps, and keeping the weight in the heel will use more of the hamstrings and glutes. Overdeveloped quadriceps and underdeveloped hamstrings are one of the leading causes of knee injuries. After your glutes and hams become stronger and your overall stair run/walking gets better, you can then push more off on your toes, which creates more speed!

Last but not least, you should push yourself, but also feel comfortable with the level in which you know you can handle it safely. The more you practice, the more secure you will become in what your body can handle.There's a saying, "It never gets easier, you just go faster," which basically means it should never be easy and you should keep pushing!

This workout for stairs focuses on using stairs in an office building or parking garage; however, remember that there are many different ways to take the stairs to allow for a full body workout and still protect compromised muscle groups. One staircase level in this workout means if you go up one level, you will be on the second floor. The next level will be the third floor, etc.

Beginner’s Guide Stair Workout "The Steps"

Warm up by walking, moving side to side, or even skipping (when no one is looking).

Put one foot fully on a step, putting the weight in your heel, which helps to take weight off the knee.

Keep the same foot on the step and go up and down 10 times, then change the foot. (Notice in the photo that you skip one step.)

Now walk up as many levels as you can without stopping (again keep the weight in the heel). Of course you should stop if you feel unsteady or dizzy at any time.

Check your time and remember or record it.

Descend the stairs sideways changing directions after each flight to alternate the weight bearing leg. This way you will protect the knees on the way down while continuing to get the benefit of the flexed knee position. Notice that the knee is never beyond the toe in alignment and the weight is in the heel! (Again, skip at least one step.)

Do one set of 10 dips and one set of 10 push-ups while your legs recover

Repeat one time and check your times. If you notice you fatigue earlier between levels, only climb to the level where you felt fatigue on the next round. Repeat dips and pushups after each descent. As a beginner (first time), you should only do your ascents about 2 to 3 times max, although you may feel you can do more. Often, the next day you will feel soreness particularly in your calf muscles. 

Stretch your hamstrings,glutes and calf muscles after the workout

Stair Calf/Achilles Tendon Stretch (Notice the heel below the stair surface. Keep the leg straight for a bit then try bending at the knee while keeping the heel fixed. This stretches both the calf and Achilles Tendon)

Allow about 48 hours or until any soreness has subsided, before doing it again. Check your soreness the following day after each workout to see if the soreness is decreasing. You can increase the number of ascents, levels, or the intensity (going faster) when you notice this decrease in your soreness level. If you have less time, and feel safe doing so, go faster!

Try to vary the workouts, after doing them awhile, between focusing either on intensity, duration, or frequency (number of times per week), or combining all! And remember, ALWAYS warm up before, stretch after, and protect your knees in the ways demonstrated. 

Try a stadium workout when you are not at work! One of these long stadium stairs typically will amount to between 2 to 3 flights in 1 travel upward!

Happy stair climbing!


A year with Laura! (scroll down for other news)

Posted on October 12, 2013 at 10:45 AM

A little over a year ago, my client, Laura Meidinger, contacted me about fitness training.  She is 51 years old, 5'2, and a year ago, weighed about 190 lbs.  She had just quit smoking a few weeks before, and decided it was time to change her life.  She wanted me to help.


Laura had never really focused on exercise or diet.  Like many people close to her age, she ate and drank what she wanted.  As with most people, it finally caught up with her.

As part of her plan, we started with her diet. To change her old habits, we decided she should try the juice fast I recommend on my juice fast page.  Neither Laura nor I had any idea how long she would last on the fast, but her intention was to go at 30 days.  She made it an amazing 24 days!  During the fast, she lost just over 16 lbs.  More importantly, it helped her to reset her eating habits away from processed foods and too much meat.  

When she was getting ready to end her fast, I came to her house and we fixed some meals from my website that would insure that she transitioned smoothly to a whole food, plant based diet.  She had decided to follow my recommendations completely and see how she felt. 

I never expected what happened next!  She felt so much better as a result of changing her diet, she eventually decided that she would remain a vegan!  I am not even completely vegan! 



For her exercise program, we did cardio/respiratory stuff like biking and running.  Mostly running, and not necessarily by choice in Laura's book! But she could see that it was helping so she pressed on with my encouragement!!

You could hear Laura coming for a long time before you saw her as she ran on the American River Bike Trail. Sometimes it was her laughter at herself you heard; sometimes it was her telling me how much she "loved" me as I made her run for the very first time in her life; and, sometimes, it was her "smoker's wheezing" breath you heard as she tried to run a few hundred feet.

After a few weeks of running we clocked her time at the American River College track at 12:20 mile.  Not bad for a beginner! 

After a year of training how is she doing?


  • Last timed mile was 7:54
  • Completed the Reno/Tahoe Odyssey, a 178 mile relay race with me and  a group of friends 
  • Santa Rosa Half Marathon completed in 2:06 hours
  • 8 mile, Rock the Eighties run

Laura's medals so far...



 Laura after the Santa Rosa Half Marathon...   


Laura still wants to lose about another 10 or 12 lbs, but I wanted to share her inspiring story after 1 year to show it is possible to transform your life at any age or weight!  

Don't worry...she will do it!! 

I will keep you up to date with her story (and others) on my commercial Facebook page, Find me on Facebook, Get Fit with Monica!   

Terry's Transformation

Posted on September 1, 2012 at 9:30 PM

Terry on a search and rescue mission before weight loss

*Note: The positive results that Terry experienced were not simply due to his weight loss, but also because he chose a nutrient rich, plant based diet. Doing this gives him the fuel he needs to sustain a vigorous work-out routine.


My client, Terry, loved red meat. In fact, any kind of meat was good with him. If you said, "Terry, would you ever become a vegan?" he would laugh at the idea! Terry's typical day consisted of the following meals:


Breakfast: Three fried eggs, bacon, and toast with butter and jelly, or doughnuts (and he always had seconds).


Lunch: Sandwich or leftovers from his previous dinner until he was full.


Dinner: A big steak, chicken, or pork; a loaded potato or other starch and bread; and very small portion of vegetables (he hated vegetables.). He rarely ate fruit—maybe an apple a week.


Evening: Lots of red wine (on weekends, any type of alcohol) and ice cream or yogurt.


Not surprisingly, at 62 and after years of eating this way, Terry weighed 231 pounds, had an overall cholesterol reading of 249, and was on several medications for both blood pressure and heartburn. As for exercise, Terry had been active in the past, but was not doing much now. His poor diet had pretty much taken over his body, and he certainly did not have the strength to exercise. But the defining moment came for Terry when he was diagnosed with gout, a form of inflammatory arthritis, in his big toe. Apparently this can be quite painful, and Terry found himself essentially crippled by the gout and unable to go to work.

This down time, and the subsequent loss of work, afforded him the time to research his gout problem. The advice that kept coming up in his research was to change his diet to plant-based foods and stop eating red meat and alcohol, especially red wine.

Terry, being a strong-willed individual, decided to commit to a purely plant-based diet. That meant no meat, dairy, eggs, or cheese. He also decided to quit drinking alcohol for health reasons.

Terry and his girlfriend, Brenda before weight loss. BTW...Brenda later lost 7lbs (on a 4'11 frame) just by participating indirectly with Terry's new eating habits!


Terry was also inspired by the health results of another client of mine, Bob Browning, Terry's boss, who was achieving improvements to his health through diet and exercise. Terry and Bob would swap stories about the changes in their diets and lifestyles and tease each other when they caught each other eating cake or candy. (In fact, Bob was starting to see changes in the health of the employees throughout his company, and these employees attributed some of their changes to his example.)

Terry (after weight loss) and Bob. Terry's boss, Bob, was one of many inspirations along the way for Terry's transformation. (See Bob's Juice Journal on my Client Juice Journal page)

Now Terry's typical day consists of the following meals:


Breakfast: An apple, banana, grapes, and nuts or a cup of oatmeal or quinoa.


Lunch: Nuts, fruit, and a salad maybe consisting of spinach with seeds, tomatoes, avocado, onion, garlic, and balsamic vinegar half mixed with a store-bought vegan dressing.


Snack: Nuts and/or fruit


Dinner: A couple of vegan tacos made from plant-based ingredients or a portabella mushroom burger with sweet potato fries, almost always accompanied by another salad and some fruit.


The real kicker to Terry's story is not just the drastic change in his lifestyle, but how in an amazingly short time period Terry saw results. Terry changed his lifestyle in April 2012, when he weighed 231 pounds and had gout. Now, as of August 28, 2012, he weighs 189 pounds. His gout symptoms have almost disappeared, his cholesterol is now in the healthy range of 181 (tested July 31, 2012), and he is completely off all medications!


What about exercise? Terry started walking to work in April 2012, after he changed his diet. Then, inspired by my client, Bob, and our workouts at American River College, he began to run the track instead of simply walking the track. He could barely make it around one-quarter of the track without stopping when he ran instead of walking. However, he kept pushing and soon was running a consistent 14-minute mile. He kept plugging away at his running and now? He can run 7.3 miles in about 1 hour and 12 minutes! He recorded a 9:22 mile during our last run, and an average of 10:07 overall on a 7.3 mile run!

Terry after his weight loss giving my business a plug!

Terry often complains to me that he can't do something, but he pushes through somehow. He has not been without pain; changing this fast does not come without a few problems. For example, he had a calve problem, and it cut into his running. However, I got him to slow down a bit, do some yoga, and incorporate other therapeutic remedies into his routine, and then he achieved the 10:07 time on the 7.3 mile run—his best ever run time! And, just a few days ago we recorded a 8:55 mile! Not bad for a man who could barely run a ¼ of the ARC track a few months ago!


I wanted to write this story about Terry because it so clearly demonstrates the power of how a person can transform their life when committed to exercise coupled with a healthy, plant-based diet. Many people question whether they will feel healthy, and strong if they eat nothing but plant based foods. Terry is a good example of someone who made the change and achieved phenomenal results. He now says, “I feel grateful for getting the gout because it lead me to change my lifestyle.”


Not everyone will see results this quickly, or choose to eat only plant-based foods, but the main objective is to move yourself toward a healthier lifestyle in a manner that you know will work for you on a permanent basis.




Two of my star clients!

Kris' Story; The Key to success!

Posted on February 22, 2012 at 2:00 AM






The new and improved Kris above!

Kris has been my client since last November.  She started just before the holidays.  What a time to start in with a personal trainer!  She was determined to lose weight, and decided to give me a call after coming across my business card.  We met, she paid the money, and now, there was no turning back!

She tried Nutrisystems, calorie counting, and even lost 20 lbs on her own.  The problem was, it did not stay off, and she didn't feel that she looked, or felt,  as good as she does now.  So far she has lost approximately 35 lbs (and counting) even with the muscle gain!  The difference now?  Muscular, cardio development and an overall balance of proper nutrition, and  a well rounded work-out routine.  AND, last but not least, a desire to achieve specific goals!

Kris did have a weight loss goal, but in addition to that, she wanted to be able to feel good when taking a picture; go on vacation, and not have to diet before going on vacation, but instead, enjoy her vacations in a healthy and fit body.  I found out what her goals were, set up a plan to get there, and made sure she knew that canceling was not an option.  In other words, she had to make this one of her first priorities.  And that meant not just working out when she was with me, but doing it on her own, and using my website to help with nutrition ideas.

When we first started there were quite a few obstacles for Kris, but nothing more than what most of my clients experience.  For instance, many clients experience nausea when they reach their physical threshold.  In the beginning, she experienced this right away during our plyometrics portion of the workout. NOW? It is rare for her to experience nausea during a workout!  And believe me, I push her hard!

Another example was her running ability.  One of her goals was to become a better runner (she was a good runner before she had children several years ago).  She could not even run a mile without stopping. NOW?  She can run 10 miles!  And, her best time (so far) 8:16 mile!

In approximately 8 months, Kris has accomplished the following;

- Loss of 35 lbs (and still going)

- She is now a good runner, and hill climber.  She actually increases her speed on the hills (and working on becoming a phenomenal runner for a 41 year old)!

- She is developing beautiful muscle tone (I can see it moving when she is doing those push-ups!)

What makes Kris a great client for me? As a trainer, it can be almost as discouraging for us as it is for the client when they don't succeed. 

It is pretty obvious personal training is not one of the highest paid industries, and most trainers are doing it because they really want to help people (at least the good ones).  Usually because we ourselves have experienced some type of life changing event that was the result of physical fitness improvement.

So when our clients actually apply our methods and succeed, it can be almost as gratifying to us as it is to our clients.  We are working toward the same goal.

The keys to Kris' success;

-Once Kris wrote the check she said to herself, "I am not going to just throw this money away, I am going to use it to my best advantage!"

-She set up an appointed time 3x per week, and stuck to it.  I can count on one hand how many times she has had to miss an appointment, and usually she lets me know days or even weeks in advance if she is going to have to miss.

-She does her "fitness" homework

-She does her "diet" homework (This means following my suggestions:) and figuring out which ones work for her lifestyle)

-She does not let a "plateau" get her down.  Sure, she feels bad when she does not make a set target or goal when she wants to, but she gets over it, and we work on ways to get her through the inevitable plateau.  Patience and steadfast determination is the key!

-She gave herself enough time to do it in a healthy and safe way to avoid overdoing it too soon, or risk getting injured, and as a result, have to quit.

I thank Kris for letting me share her story as I truly believe it can help others who face the same challenges Kris has faced.  You may contact Kris @kris399@yahoo.com. Or, post a comment below, and I will make sure Kris reads it.

Mental Skills for a Better Body

Posted on January 7, 2012 at 2:25 AM

Doing some mental and emotional exercise before you start an exercise program will help to insure success with your exercise program. It can be as simple as committing to reading something inspirational everyday then trying to acquire a deeper understanding of your weaknesses and strengths.


For a deeper understanding of what may or may not be holding you back, it is a good idea to pay attention to your body. Being physically fit depends on listening to your body, and sometimes we do not realize how much we internalize our emotional and mental anguish which externalizes itself in our bodies. Sometimes, but not always, it is through weight gain or simply weakness in the body.


You can feel all things internalized if you pay attention to your body. When you experience upset of any kind, where do you feel your pain? Is it in the so called "pit of your stomach"? Is it the pervasive "pain in the neck"? Is it that inescapable "lump in your throat"? If you pay attention, you will notice that most of the time it appears in certain places in your body.


THIS is your internal gauge; the feeling in your body. It can be your friend or foe. If it is your foe, and you ignore the internal gauge, it can manifest in various forms. Eating to placate the "pit in the stomach" possibly resulting in weight gain or other stomach problems. The "pain in the neck" could result in neck and shoulder injuries, stiffness, hunching of shoulders etc... . The "lump in the throat" leads to sore throats which can sometimes translate to a decreased immune system, or other throat  related disorders. 


Ultimately, most doctors don't know exactly what causes many of the conditions that affect people.  However, someone who is in touch with their body may have a good idea that internalizing emotions does affect the body.


Your internal gauge can also be your friend. Once you have decided where your internalized pain manifests in your body, start to notice whenever you feel it. If possible, try to take a few moments to yourself even if you have to excuse yourself to the bathroom. Sit in repose for a few moments and concentrate on the place where the pain is manifesting.


First, take some deep, diaphragmatic breaths. Second, visualize light and energy toward that area. Then begin to see solutions to whatever it is that caused the upset. They can be complete fantasies; something that could never happen! The most important thing is that you feel the weight of the problem disappear with that solution/fantasy and a lifting of the pain. Even if it is only for 5 minutes, make yourself believe the problem has been solved. This feeling that comes with that fantasy is what you want to try and cultivate in your body. It is not really whatever you are thinking about, but the "feeling" that comes with what you are thinking about and aligning yourself with this feeling.


Do not be mistaken; this is not an easy mental exercise! You may have to practice this exercise 100 times more than it would take you to get good at push-ups! Be vigilant! In fact, probably the best test for this exercise IS when you are in the midst of turmoil. If you can feel good for five minutes in the midst of the problem, you are on the right track! 


For example, my own personal internal gauge is the "lump in the throat" scenario. Long before my marriage failed, I felt a lingering pain in my throat. I even told my best friend that I seemed to have a pain in my throat all the time! There were many things in my life that were going on, but I was ignoring them and it manifested itself in my throat. It took me years to make this connection!


This lump still appears whenever turmoil happens. It usually appears even before I know something is wrong. However, now, once I feel this, I start to pay attention, and usually find the source by paying attention to what I am thinking about when I feel the pain. I don't always correct whatever it is right away, but at least I know I am on the road to fixing it.  When I am on the right track, I feel this beautiful clearing in my throat that comes from a force greater than myself.


The more you cultivate how your body responds to emotional turmoil, the better your understanding of your body. With this understanding comes the aid of forces that cannot be comprehended.


When it comes to your body, it is of the utmost importance that you keep your mental and emotional well being in tact. Stabilize the events and foundation of your life so that you can build the body that will become your vehicle for change in whatever you choose to do with your life!

Moods and emotional well being; why exercise can help!

Posted on July 6, 2011 at 11:53 PM

I believe most people know that regular exercise will improve their mood.  As a personal trainer, this is something I strongly believe!  However, I also believe that getting outside and experiencing nature can also create many of these positive effects.


A good example of this is related to my son, Antonio. When he was about 6 months old, I started jogging and rollerblading with him (in a stroller jogger) on the American River Bike Trail in the evening after work. Sometimes I simply would not feel like doing it. After all, I had to pack up the stroller, get water for him and me, then drive the short drive to the bike trail. However, after I got used to the routine, it was no big deal. In fact, I found that if I did not take him for our nightly run, not only would I be in a bad mood, but so would he! After missing a few nights, then going out again, then missing a few again, I made the connection. When we did not go out, he was cranky and upset most of the night and would not go to bed easily. On the nights when we exercised he had a better overall mood for the evening and then went to sleep more easily. Of course, Antonio's mood could have been responding to my good mood, having had my exercise. Whatever the case, I truly believe that exercising outdoors is great for a parent and child's emotional and physical well-being. 


To read further about the connection between moods and exercise, read this link to a recent NY Times article about how exercise boosts mood.







Fly Fishing? Exercise from an unlikely source!

Posted on January 20, 2011 at 2:17 PM

By Frank Siefert

Owner of Off the Hook Fly Shop (offthehookflyshop.com)

The ways we can get exercise without even trying is amazing. Sometimes a fun hobby can lead to a great form of exercise. I started fly fishing several years ago and I fly fish out of a float tube. Not only am I having a blast doing it, but it is a fun and exciting way to get some exercise.

A float tube, also known as a belly boat or kick boat, is an inflatable boat that is human powered. You sit above the water, with your feet hanging into the water, and use a set of fins attached to your feet to propel yourself around the lake, similar to what a scuba diver uses. You also wear waders and stay completely dry. The boats are so quiet and smooth that you create a stealthy approach to the fish. I always knew that float tubes were a great way to catch fish, but I never considered the exercise benefit until I introduced it to a few of my older friends. These gentlemen had given up on fly fishing completely. The local streams and rivers had become too tough for them to hike. They had been fly fishing their whole lives and the fact that the fishing years were over was depressing to them. One morning in the shop, one of the older gents overheard me discussing how much fun float tubing could be and asked if someone his age could do it. I said, “It doesn’t matter how old you are, and for that matter, you might get some exercise.” I agreed to take him out the next week.

From the start of the float tube trip, I could tell he was going to enjoy this new way of fishing. All day I heard screams of joy as he caught fish after fish. It had never been so easy for him. We were able to sneak up on the fish, and we even saw them swimming under the float tube. When the day came to an end, my friend gave me a big hug and said that he felt great and that I had added years to his fishing. At the same time, the exercise from paddling around the lake made him feel great. My friend is now float tubing two to three days a week and his family says he hasn’t looked this good in years. We have added several more older people to our group of float tubers and I know for a fact it has helped them stay healthy. One gentleman is approaching 90 years of age. 

If you enjoy fishing (or want to learn) and could use a little extra exercise, I would give float tubing a try. You’ll be happy you did.

Frank Seifert owns Off the Hook Fly Shop (offthehookflyshop.com) and is one of two people (Frank and his cousin) to complete the California Department of Fish and Game’s California Heritage Trout Challenge completely out of a float tube (http://www.dfg.ca.gov/fish/Fishing/Recognition/HTC/).


Do Marathons Hurt Your Knees?

Posted on October 13, 2010 at 10:50 AM

Below is an article about bone/knee health and running.  The article concludes with the idea that the knee adapts to the conditions imposed.  There is a possibility your knees could get stronger. Most of the runners studied, showed more cartilage than sedantary people.  Whether it was growth or simply bone preservation is still unclear.


In kinesiology, we learn that when you give impact (or loading)  to your bones, the bone will remodel itself over time to become stronger to resist that particular type of loading.   The opposite is also true; when the loading on a bone decreases, the bone will become weaker.


Here is a good article from the New York Times that discusses the study.


Do Marathons Hurt Your knees?


NY Times

October 13, 2010


About this time every year, with the fall marathon season at its zenith, racers in training begin to hear the refrain, ‘‘You are going to ruin your knees.’’ The idea that distance running inexorably leads to arthritis is deeply entrenched, despite the publication of a number of recent studies (detailed in a Phys Ed column last year) that have found otherwise. In one representative experiment, the knees of experienced marathoners, with multiple races behind them, were scanned with magnetic resonance imaging technology, and then scanned again 10 years later. The runners’ knees were and remained robust throughout that time, with few significant cartilage abnormalities. The only truly unhealthy knee in the study belonged to a former marathoner, who had quit the sport. In the years since he stopped running, his joint had deteriorated badly.


But then came the latest study on the issue, this one from researchers at the University of California at San Francisco, using a more sensitive type of M.R.I. technology than had been available in the past. For this study, the researchers recruited a group of beginner marathon runners. The runners were 40 and younger and had completed fewer than three marathons in their lifetimes. Some were training for their first. At the time they enrolled in the study, none of the runners reported knee problems. ‘‘They had virgin knees,’’ said Anthony Luke, M.D., director of primary care sports medicine at U.C.S.F. and the study’s lead investigator. In the days before the runners’ marathons (either the San Francisco or Nike women’s marathon), they scanned the racers’ knees, employing a type of M.R.I. technology that evaluates the metabolic activity and health of the cartilage at a cellular level. They repeated the scans within 48 hours after the event and again about three months later.


The results, published earlier this year in The American Journal of Sports Medicine, are eye-opening. On these more-sensitive M.R.I. scans, the researchers found evidence of significant biochemical changes in the runners’ knee cartilage, particularly in the days immediately after the race. According to their postrace scans, the racers had elevated values for two technical measures of the health of their cartilage matrix. Elevations in these measures, known as T2 and T1rho values, have been linked to cartilage degeneration and incipient arthritis in other studies of the knee.

Three months after the race, the runners’ T2 values had returned to normal, but their T1rho values remained elevated, although they were declining. Whether the remaining increase was permanent and whether it indicated that, at some deep, molecular level the marathon had changed the runners’ knee cartilage, ‘‘is simply unclear at this point,’’ Dr. Luke said.

In other words, the issue of whether distance running does or does not harm your knees would appear still to be open (to the considerable satisfaction of some of my nonrunning friends).


Yet another new study, however, offers some additional and consequential evidence. For that study, published in July in The Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, compiled and reviewed several decades’ worth of studies about activity and knee health. The reviewed studies involved a variety of sports, not just distance running. But those other sports, notably basketball and soccer, demand a considerable amount of running.


What the researchers found was that, at first blush, strenuous physical activity does seem to damage knees. Activity, especially lots of it, was ‘‘associated with an increase in radiographic osteophytes,’’ or bone spurs, the authors wrote, a condition that long has been accepted as an early indication of knee arthritis. Some of the studies under review had, in fact, concluded that activity must eventually end in arthritis, since the examined knees appeared to be imperiled.

But as the Australian researchers pointed out, some of those same studies, as well as others, did not find other characteristic changes in the knee that indicate damage. There was, for instance, almost no joint-space narrowing in active people. Joint-space narrowing is a necessary if unwelcome step on the way to full, bone-on-bone knee arthritis. The shock-absorbing cartilage in the joint wears away, the bones move closer together, and the space between tapers. Active people did not display this narrowing. In fact, according to a number of the studies reviewed, active people had greater cartilage volume than sedentary people. They weren’t losing the tissue; they were vigorously maintaining it.

Why, then, were their knees so often sprouting bone spurs, supposedly a marker of damage? The answer may be that in an active person’s otherwise uninjured knees, spurs are healthy, said Flavia Cicuttini, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University. The spurs, she said, ‘‘may simply be a way that the bones adapt to forces pulling on the joint.’’

Similarly, adaptive transformations may underlie the cartilage changes visible in the U.C.S.F. marathon study, Dr. Luke said. ‘‘Running a marathon involves a lot of repetitive forces moving through the knee,’’ he said. ‘‘That kind of force is bound to have consequences’’ within the knee joint. ‘‘But that doesn’t mean,’’ he continued, that the molecular changes necessarily are destructive. ‘‘It’s my personal opinion,’’ he said, that the same signals on an M.R.I. that would suggest incipient arthritis in a sedentary person’s knee ‘‘may indicate some kind of necessary adaptation’’ in the knees of a marathoner.


There remains ‘‘a lot of research to be done,’’ though, he cautioned, before that theory can be proved. ‘‘The main thing we’re learning at the moment is that cartilage’’ and knees are ‘‘far more complex than we once thought.’’ Still, the bottom line, based on the current science, is cheering. ‘‘There’s no strong evidence,’’ he said, that, if your knees are healthy to start with, ‘‘running a marathon will hurt them.’’