The short answer is yes. But you could be forgiven for thinking it doesn’t, given the popularity of articles like “What’s Up With That: Why Running Hurts Every Part of Your Body” and news reports like “Training very hard ‘as bad as no exercise at all’.”
Both of these represent pretty terrible news for people who enjoy running, but fortunately both of them are wrong. The first represents a common but inefficient approach to running (and exercise in general): do it til it hurts, and keep doing it. It’s better to start slowly and to treat pain as a problem that deserves a solution. The second is terrible news for expert runners for whom their distances might be a tremendous source of pleasure, mental healthcare, and accomplishment. Luckily for them, the science simply does not support this claim, although it certainly keeps being made (generally by the same investigator).
What should I do with this information?
First, ask yourself whether you are getting the basics (150 minutes of moderate activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, over the course of the week + 2 strength-training sessions). If not, carry on, and keep reaching for them!
Second, ask yourself how well you are varying the amount and vigor of your activity. If you get plenty of light to moderate activity, with bursts of vigorous or “heavy vigorous” activity over the course of the week, you’re doing well. A mix of intensity (how hard you work) is a healthy part of exercise, helping you improve sustainably.
Third, ask yourself “am I getting more capable, or have I plateaued, or do I feel worse when I exercise?” If you can’t seem to improve your exercise ability, or have actually gotten slower or weaker, your body needs rest. You may be coming down with an illness or just need some extra sleep. It is also possible to hurt yourself with too much exercise, and your body will tell you with persistent fatigue and by losing ability. This is rare, but it happens.
Shoot, I hate running, so I welcomed this news
It’s OK to hate running! There is no obligation to enjoy or engage in running, and there are lots of other options for regular activity, including walking, exercise classes, dance, bicycling, rowing, martial arts, and so on — try mixing it up or learning a new activity!
Gif from Parks and Recreation episode, “The Treaty.”