Women’s Running: Health Q&A

The Runner’s World Complete Guide to Women’s Running is the essential guide for women everywhere.

Running is a simple sport, but it's not always easy to take the first steps towards a new you, so we've put together this guide to help you become the runner you want to be. The Runner's World Complete Guide to Women's Running is packed with expert training advice, proven weight-loss strategies, can't-fail motivation tips and inspirational real–life success stories.

This book will empower you to challenge your physical and mental limits and have fun as you work towards your running goals, whether that's to get in shape, finish a your first 5K or run a marathon.

With chapters on training, health, nutrition, weight loss, running and pregnancy, motivation, cross-training and racing, the Runner's World Complete Guide to Women's Running will help you to discover the power of running.

Get your copy of the Runner’s World Complete Guide to Women’s Running for just £9.99 including P&P.

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Do women sweat less than men?

Yes, even though women have more sweat glands than men. Contrary to popular belief, however, women dissipate heat as well as men. Women are smaller and have a higher body-surface-to-volume ratio, which means that although our evaporative cooling is less efficient, we need less of it to achieve the same result. Nonetheless, drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. 

Is running good for my bones?

Yes. In fact, running is the best exercise for adolescent girls hoping to build maximal bone-mineral density (BMD), according to a study by Australian researchers. Other studies have shown that the more BMD a woman can create, the better her chance of avoiding osteoporosis.

The Australian team compared the BMD of four groups of teenage athletes who had been training for six to seven years – runners, cyclists, swimmers and triathletes. The runners had greater overall BMD than the swimmers, and compared with the cyclists, runners had greater leg BMD.

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Does running reduce my risks of developing cancer?

A Harvard University study found that women who run produce a less potent form of oestrogen than their sedentary counterparts. As a result, women runners cut by half their risks of developing breast and uterine cancer, and by two-thirds their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.


I’m a mature runner. How much training can my body handle?

To run strong at age 60 and beyond, pay attention to these four points:

If you’re new to running, start off by walking, then add short jogging intervals. Work up to continuous running. Or just find the walking and running mix that works for you.

Lift weights to slow bone and muscle loss, and improve balance. If you’ve never lifted weights before, seek help from a personal trainer who works regularly with people your age. Choose a weight you can lift eight to 10 times without stopping.

Wear comfortable, supportive running shoes.

Stop if you experience dizziness, chest pain, nausea, shortness of breath, heart palpitations or a sharp headache. 

Why do my breasts hurt when I’m running?

The pain is probably caused by the movement of your breasts. This movement stretches the thin Cooper’s ligaments that surround the breasts, which is why it’s crucial you invest in a good sports bra that fits properly. And no matter how good it is, you should replace it when it shows signs of wear and tear. If it’s not supporting you properly, you may as well not be wearing it.

Choose carefully when buying a sports bra. Go to a running store, which will have high-impact sports bras for runners. Look for one with wicking fabric, so you stay cool, and make sure the seams won’t chafe. And remember, your sports-bra size may not be the same as your usual bra size. 

Can using the pill reduce aerobic capacity?

Some studies indicate that maximal oxygen capacity (VO2 max), which measures the greatest volume of oxygen that can be dispatched to your muscles during exercise, falls in active women who use oral contraceptives. Other studies suggest that women on the pill lose some endurance and strength. But some women feel it helps performance by reducing menstrual symptoms. Talk to your doctor for more information on the pill and athletic performance. And even then be sure to weigh up your options carefully.

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Can I run my way through the menopause?

It isn’t clear if running alleviates the symptoms of menopause. Some studies suggest running may help reduce the level and frequency of mood disturbances and hot flushes, and one study found that female runners were less likely to experience the weight gain associated with menopause. However, there is evidence that runners hit menopause before non- runners. The reasons for this are unclear. 

Some women report a falloff in athletic performance during menopause, but, again, it’s not clear whether this is a result of the menopause itself or if it’s the effects of ageing. Here are a few tips to help you through the menopause:

Incorporate strength or resistance training at least twice weekly to develop and maintain active muscle tissue. Your metabolism will rise and your bone density and joint stability, both of which decline post-menopause, will improve.

Keep track of the calories you burn and consume. Some of the weight you put on may be related to fuel quantity or quality, while some may be due to hormonal shifts and a natural decline in your metabolism. 

Among the most common side effects of menopause are hot flushes and sweats. Because they come without warning, it can be hard to track your sweat rate. One way to keep tabs is to note the colour of your urine. If you are well hydrated, it should be pale yellow, except first thing in the morning, when it’s likely to be darker. 

Is it common to have a leaky bladder while running? 

Yes. As many as 30 per cent of female runners have experienced urinary incontinence while running. The incontinence that occurs when running is referred to as ‘stress incontinence’, meaning that when stress is applied to the bladder, it leaks. In this case, the stress is the physical exertion of running. Weakened pelvic muscles that surround the bladder and pelvic area are believed to be the cause. 

Childbirth, surgery, diabetes, obesity, age and even some medications can lead to muscle weakness. Strengthening the muscles of the pelvic floor using Kegel exercises can help alleviate symptoms. To find the pelvic floor muscles, stop your urine stream while going to the bathroom. Before you get out of bed in the morning, contract the muscles for 10 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeat 10 times. Do the same thing throughout the day. 

How does my period affect my running?

‘That time of the month’ is not the time when women run their worst. The hardest time for women to run fast is about a week before menstruation begins (a week after ovulation). That’s when women’s levels of progesterone peak, which can lead to a higher-than-normal breathing rate during exercise. This tends to make running feel more difficult than usual.

If you run so much that your periods become light or nonexistent, you may be endangering your bones. Amenorrhoea (lack of a period) means that little or no oestrogen is circulating in your body. Oestrogen is essential for the replacement of bone minerals. Amenorrhoeic women can stop
– but not reverse – the damage by taking oestrogen and getting plenty of calcium. If your periods are infrequent or nonexistent, consult your doctor.

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Does running affect sexual performance? 

Many women experience an increase in their sex drive as they become fitter, although this leap in libido is likely to be more psychological than hormonal, according to Dr Mona Shangold, author of The Complete Sports Medicine Book for Women. Research suggests that while there is a temporary increase in testosterone production when women run (which can raise libido), the effect is too short-lived for it to raise sex drive. 

The more likely explanation for why female runners may experience an increased sex drive is that running improves body image, energy levels and confidence. It also helps to reduce stress and improve your mood, both of which will tend to make you more amorous. Be warned, though: overtraining can reduce sexual desire.

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Do women pick up fewer injuries than men? 

We all have our strengths and weaknesses. One important study of running injuries found that women are much more likely than men to suffer ankle sprains, shin splints, stress fractures and hip problems. 

However, women are much less susceptible to achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis and quadriceps injuries. To help you avoid injuries, make cross-training a regular part of your programme. 

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What can I do to keep my complexion clear?  

Running in hot weather can leave skin spotty, flaky and flushed. Use a cleanser before running to remove traces of dirt and pollution that might mix with sweat to clog your pores.

Next, apply a moisturiser with SPF protection. Opt for an oil-free, lightweight formula that won’t melt as you sweat – and don’t forget to treat your hands, too.

Post-run, your skin will be more sensitive because of the heat and sweat, so give it another thorough going-over, this time with an oil-based cleanser. “The oil lifts trapped sebum – the waxy substance released by the pores – to prevent breakouts,” says skin technician Sarah Chapman (sarahchapman.net). Make sure that you also exfoliate, so there are fewer dead skin cells to trap sweat and sebum.

Read about the active woman's diet in another preview from the Runner's World Complete Guide to Women's Running, or buy the book now.

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