Run for Your Life
September 25, 2008—Running may seem hard on aging joints, but its benefits far outweigh its harm. A new study found that senior runners are healthier and live longer than people in the general community.
The 21-year study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, included 538 members of the 50+ Runners’ Association, a nation-wide long distance running club, and 423 people from the general community (control group) who were 50 or older and healthy at the beginning of the study. Their health and exercise habits were monitored through annual questionnaires.
Outrunning disability and death
At every point during the 21 years of follow-up, runners had lower disability scores, meaning they functioned better in eight areas of daily living skills. Scores increased over time in both groups; however, they increased more slowly in the runners, resulting in a widening gap between the groups. The average disability score among runners at the end of the study indicated mild functional disability, while the average score among controls indicated moderate functional disability in two of eight areas of daily functioning or complete disability in one area.
After 19 years, 15% of runners had died and 34% of people in the control group had died. Compared with runners, people in the control group had nearly double the risk of cancer deaths, 2.5 times greater risk of cardiovascular deaths, and 3.2 times greater risk of death due to neurological diseases including dementia. Death from all causes was 39% lower in runners.
Keep on running
The importance of staying active into older age has never been more apparent. Numerous studies have demonstrated the importance of regular exercise in healthy aging. The results from this study show that real differences in overall daily functioning can be achieved through vigorous exercise, and suggest that the length of time and degree of disability could be significantly lower in runners as they approach the upper limit of a reasonably expected lifespan.
“Our findings of decreased disability in addition to prolonged survival among middle-aged and older adults participating in routine physical exercise add support to recommendations to encourage moderate to vigorous physical activity at all ages,” said Eliza Chakravarty, MD, at the Stanford University School of Medicine. “Based on our results, getting elders to exercise would be expected to lead to personal gains in lifespan and quality of life, and could additionally lead to societal gains such as reduced health care expenditures associated with disability and chronic diseases.”
The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 30 minutes per day of moderately vigorous exercise five days a week or 20 minutes per day of vigorous exercise three days a week for people over 65 to reduce the risk of chronic disease related to inactivity. Older people who have been inactive and want to get started on an exercise program should consult with their doctor before doing so.
(Arch Intern Med 2008;168:1638–46)
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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