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Why natural running and why now?

By Staff | Jun 24, 2011

A family physician who has worked in primary care clinics for 20 years, I entered this field of medicine since it seemed to be the area where one can have the most influence and impact on healthy lifestyles. I offer the prescription of daily exercise to every patient and ask what activity they can and like to do. A common reply: “Well, I can’t run…” My response is always, “Tell me a little more about that.”

The conversation flows from, “I have a bad back, knee, ankle…” to “My last doctor told me to do something safer” to “It’s too difficult and painful.”

I continue “Tell me some more about that.”

We are now at minute 14 of the traditional 15-minute visit, and this is not even the reason they came to see me. How much training did I get in medical school or residency specific to evaluating, preventing and rehabilitating running injuries? The answer is near zero for me and for most physicians, and what we did learn was always based on treating a symptom, not the cause.

I am here to tell you that you were designed to run, and yes, you can run. There is no pill invented for prevention of chronic disease. In certain high-risk situations, there are medications that reduce risk of future events, but true prevention is not allowing the condition to evolve.

Diabetes and heart disease prevention? The evidence is strongest for the largest prevention being in the form of the daily walk or run.

The current natural running movement is the confluence where doctors, other health professionals, coaches and runners are now joining and discovering the prevention prescription.

We are ready to launch a national site called The Natural Running Center. Our website is nearing completion (naturalrunningcenter.com).

The NRC provides physicians, healthcare providers and runners with the tools to educate and inspire runners to relearn how to run like they did when they were children and to improve their health.

Why is this occurring now? In most large-scale changes involving health issues, we have waited for the “top-down” declarations. This is where academia announces important discoveries and tries to move the discovery into a physician’s daily practice. This is a slow process and on average it takes 10 years for an important medical discovery to become routine in a clinician’s practice. The elements of modern treatment of heart attacks took this amount of time to become routine in emergency departments.

The movement toward a healthier and sustainable way to run is occurring in a large-scale “bottom-up” revolution. This is where the people are the gathering force. Runners like myself who have discovered the benefits of barefoot, legions of Chi Runners, the thousands adopting minimalist shoes and followers of Chris McDougall’s best-seller “Born to Run” are all figuring out how to run again and spreading this message up into the health care offices. It has taken the works of an evolutionary biologist Dan Lieberman and McDougall to bring to a large public audience other important scientific work and writings supporting the principles of proper movement patterns and the dysfunction triggered by elevated heel and overly cushioned shoes.

The NRC’s two primary goals are to:

Support the runner with accurate, clear and understandable information and tools to help a runner make a transition to better running mechanics.

Establish a site for the health care community to learn and evolve along with the runner.

The NRC will be a convener to advance dialog and action towards new paradigms in healthy movement and running. We will provide resources and training on how to make a safe transition. To ensure that the natural running movement reaches a scale that can have large, long-term impact, we have engaged scientific leaders in trans-disciplinary fields to communicate to the growing audience in a forum more accessible, relevant and readable than the scientific literature database.

The problem:

Up to 70 percent of runners get injured every year.

Modern running shoes have not proven to decrease injury or provide meaningful protection against it.

The medical model of treating these injuries rarely factors in the physiology, functional movement and biomechanics in addition to evaluating the anatomic part injured.

Direct costs of treating running injuries for some may start to outweigh the costs of the illnesses that the physical activity aims to prevent.

Rates of obesity and associated chronic diseases have skyrocketed in children and adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention documents that more than one-third of adults in the United States are considered medically obese and therefore more likely to develop major chronic diseases such as Type-2 Diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

NRC will help connect people and science to solve the problem.

In summary, I go back to a quote from the late George Sheehan who wrote in 1975, before I ever thought of running for sport or health,, “If athletes were given less care and more thought, the doctors might come up with some original ideas on why illness persists, why injury doesn’t clear up. If more non-physicians could be induced to lend their ideas and talents, we might see a completely new approach to sports medicine.”

We are finally seeing the perfect alignment of health professionals, teachers, coaches, writers, media, shoe industry and, most importantly, legions of individual runners who are discovering a better way and learning how to accurately teach the methods. The NRC provides physicians, healthcare providers and runners with the tools to educate and inspire runners to relearn how to run like they did when they were children and to improve their health.

Come visit the flagship Natural Running Center Store in Shepherdstown at Two Rivers Treads. We have six partner stores nationwide now and growing.