Facebook Pixel
EmpowHER Guest

What effects do running have on women?

By Anonymous June 22, 2009 - 3:55am
Rate This

I want to run a half marathon (13 miles) but my friend tells me that long distance running creates cysts on your overies (sounds a bit far fetched) and that women that run can't have children later. Does long distance running have those effects, or any other effects on women?

Add a Comment11 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Thanks for your info everyone. This is one incredibly helpful site. I've begun my training - and its going well. I did pull a muscle in my ankle, and that's pretty much better, though it does hurt if I push it to much. Definitly don't want a permeant injury! Thanks again.

July 19, 2009 - 4:12pm
(reply to Anonymous)

Ooh, pulled muscles can be so frustrating. Be sure not to push yourself to much -- take plenty of time off from running completely until the pain has gone. If it still bothers you when you run, that's a sign you haven't let it recover enough. Other than that, I'm so glad your training is going well! Please keep us updated!!

July 20, 2009 - 10:01am

I'm cutting/pasting the below comment that I'd recently posted in another conversation about long distance running in case it's helpful here.......This isn't about developing cysts on your ovaries from running per se, but is about how I came close to being dangerously ill from too much running......

The big thing I learned from all of my distance running over the years is that you have to find a good and healthy balance. At one point in my life (my teens and early 20's), I was running too much and couldn't keep enough body fat on my body to have periods. I was competing on my high school's, and later, on my college's cross country teams and also competing in marathons. On a typical day, I would run 15-18 miles. One of my biggest accomplishments was running the Boston Marathon in a decent time, but I weighed only about 90 pounds which was not at all healthy for a 5'9" 19-year-old girl.

With all of the running I was doing, it was really impossible to eat enough to make up for the calories/fat that I was burning each day. So even though I was an athlete and thought I was in great shape, I was not healthy, and at one point when I was 20 years old, I ended up in the hospital for several days and needed a blood transfusion. My body fat percentage was so dangerously low that my internal organs were rubbing against each other and causing internal bleeding. There was just no padding on my body, which is very dangerous. I had to get 2 pints of blood, which was a huge wake-up call. Under doctor's orders, I gave up running for a year and focused on gaining weight. My period started several months after my hospital scare for the first time in my life.

Fortunately, I recovered from being completely caught up in my running -- I'd let it take over my life and it nearly killed me. I think we can do just about anything in excess until it's harmful. I was lucky that the experience didn't impact my ability to have kids -- I've had four babies, including a set of twins. Fertility was never an issue for me, but my doctors are always amazed that I didn't have a period until I was 21.

I guess, long story short, that my experience with running when I was younger is a good example of what not to do -- don't go overboard with your running. Don't take it to the extreme. But if you want to train for a half marathon, and you follow a good and healthy training schedule, take care of your body and rest when you have pulled muscles or any aches/pains, etc., then go for it. You can always shake up your training by substituting some runs with cycling, swimming and/or fast walking, so that you still get the same cardio benefits from exercising in a way that isn't as rough on your joints. And don't forget to re-fuel with healthy food, lots of water and rest.

I actually just did a half-marathon in January (I'm 43 now), and it was the first long race I've done since I was in my 20's. I didn't push it at all, didn't go crazy with training, ran it slow, and just enjoyed the fact that my body can still do something that physically challenging at this point in my life. I have no desire to do another one, but it was nice to know that I can run and keep a healthy balance.

June 24, 2009 - 11:06pm
EmpowHER Guest

I would like everyone on here to know that what the woman's doctor told her is completely TRUE! My sister, an avid marathon runner in her past for only 3 years, went to try to conceive and had the greatest of problems. After many doctors and lots of money, she found a doctor who did his thesis on this exact issue and found it to be true for both marathon runners and gymnasts. Lone and behold, that is why my sister could not have kids. After many thousands of dollars later with fertility treatment my sister was able to get pregnant with our little angel Claire, but she is no longer allowed to run at such great distances... So, keep that in mind!

June 23, 2009 - 7:11am
(reply to Anonymous)

I think it's important to keep in mind that each person is different and the impact of high intensity exercise will affect each person differently. Therefore, there cannot be any generalization about the affect of distance running upon women.

Also remember that the majority of women distance runners are NOT elites or Olympians, and are likely not running more than 20-30 miles/week.

Plus, if the woman already has some underlying health issues that may contribute to the inability to conceive, it would be difficult to point solely to distance running as the cause.

Nonetheless, sure, there are women athletes, even recreational, who do have problems conceiving, or even childbearing, because of their diets and lifestyle. I think it's important to look toward those factors, too.

I'm sorry your sister had trouble conceiving, but happy that your family has your little angel.

June 23, 2009 - 8:24pm

Diane provided great information.

I'm one of the marathoners on board, here, and - so far - have only benefitted positively from distance running. As a lupus patient with a myriad of issues, like rheumatoid arthritis, scoliosis and osteoarthritis, one would think running would be more damaging to my joints than not. Actually, running helps keep my bones and joints healthy.

I've never heard of running causing ovarian cysts. We can develop cysts for no apparent reason. I have a few on my ovaries, but they are not at all serious enough for my doctor to be concerned.

Women do have different issues from men when it comes to running. We have wider hips, smaller hearts, less testosterone, higher body fat, lower muscle mass. We also run differently because our biomechanics are different.

Women make up more than 50% of new runners and walkers participating in distance events each year (I forget exactly where I learned this statistic), which is why we rarely refer to them as "races," any more. They are events for participants of all ages and abilities.

During the last summer Olympics in Beijing, there were several stories about the "older" female Olympians, from swimmers to a marathoner, who were moms. Elites have trained most of their adult lives, so these women were testament to the possibilities of super athletic achievement not hampering childbearing.

Just get out there, get good training and enjoy your run!

June 22, 2009 - 5:03pm

Hi, Anon, and welcome to EmpowHer. Thanks for your question!

(I am tempted to leave it for one of our long-distance runners on staff who are also moms!) I'm sure they will weigh in later as well. =)

I found no evidence that running at all, even long-distance running, causes ovarian cysts. What I'm wondering is if your friend knew someone who found out that they had ovarian cysts because running caused them pain in that area and they went to a doctor who discovered them. That seems likely, as some ovarian cysts can indeed be painful.

Here are two good pages on ovarian cysts, their causes and treatments:



In terms of all aspects of running and how it can affect a woman, I found a great article by Runner's World UK called "30 Things Every Woman Should Know About Running: Health, Psychology, Pregnancy and Motherhood, Training and Racing, All From A Woman's Angle." Here's a link:


That article covers all kinds of interesting things. For instance, runners have half the risk of breast and uterine cancer and only a third the risk of diabetes than do their non-running peers, partly because the estrogen they produce is less potent. Women runners need to keep track of their levels of iron. And infants dislike post-exercise breast milk, which is higher in lactic acid.

And here's an ongoing study that shows how running benefits women:


One of the things that WILL hurt a woman is overtraining and undereating, such as losing your menstrual period or making your bones more vulnerable to injury. Here's an article that discusses this:


And here are a couple of sites specifically geared to women runners:


So get yourself a great pair of shoes, and enjoy!!

June 22, 2009 - 8:20am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Diane Porter)

I found this to be very helpful to me. Thank you!

June 30, 2009 - 6:30pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Diane Porter)

Diane: Thanks so much for your mention of Traxee.com! You have cited some excellent articles here on the health effects of running on women. The "urban myth" that running actually damages womens' health is one that has been floating around for a very long time, and certainly has no foundation in fact (or medical evidence). However you are also correct when you say that women athletes must be extra mindful of their nutritional needs. Many of the documented effects of prolonged intense exercise on women's reproductive cycles can be corrected with proper supplements and diet. To learn more ladies, check out the articles Diane cites here. There are also several excellent posts on Traxee.com on this subject. Happy running! Beth Moore, Founder, Traxee.com

June 25, 2009 - 7:27pm
EmpowHER Guest

Could you share what these unique effects on women are??

June 22, 2009 - 8:19am
Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy
Add a Comment

All user-generated information on this site is the opinion of its author only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for any medical conditions. Members and guests are responsible for their own posts and the potential consequences of those posts detailed in our Terms of Service.


Get Email Updates

Fitness Guide

Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!