Science reveals potential running benefits may be linked to better health in our older years. Weight-bearing exercise like running is key to maintaining bone health. Older adults’ muscles normally become less efficient and use as much as 20 percent more energy to walk the same distance as young adults. But older runners maintained that youthful, muscular whole-body efficiency. Running has already been associated with many health benefits that may help combat the challenges of aging.
Running is a vigorous aerobic activity: It gets the heart and lungs pumping, which is crucial for cardiovascular health at any age and especially in our older years, when the risk for chronic disease increases. Aerobic activity causes the blood vessels to relax and in doing so helps to keep blood vessels elastic and helps prevent high blood pressure. High blood pressure is associated with heart attack, stroke, dementia, kidney damage, sexual dysfunction, vision loss and maybe even bone loss and sleep apnea.
Bone health declines in older age. Our bone mass peaks at around age 30, and then it declines at a rate of at least 1 percent each year after age 40. Too much bone loss leads to osteoporosis, the condition marked by brittle bones that break easily. Weight-bearing exercise like running is key to maintaining bone health. Bones are living tissue, and placing force on them stimulates new cell growth.
Running isn’t the right exercise for everyone. If you have osteoarthritis, a wearing away of the cartilage in your joints, running may make joint pain worse, although it’s not clear if running causes more degeneration of the joints. Running also puts older adults at risk for falls and injuries. A running regimen can also be risky for people with untreated heart or lung disease, since aerobic activity puts a big demand on those organs and may increase the risk for a heart attack or stroke.
To Run or Not to Run.
Before starting a running program, you should consult a doctor if you have chronic disease, including heart disease or osteoarthritis, or if you have any concerning symptoms. If you haven’t exercised in a while, that fact alone may warrant a doctor’s consultation before lacing up your sneakers, to make sure you’re healthy enough to get moving. Don’t despair if your doctor determines that running might not be the best fit for you. There are other ways to exercise aerobically, with less impact on your joints, such as swimming, cycling and using an elliptical machine.
However you choose to exercise, start slowly and build your endurance and intensity over time. Join a walking or hiking group, if you get to a point where you feel like you want to try running, start in small increments and consult your physician before you start. It doesn’t matter if you’re an exercise or running rookie or a lifelong devotee – you’ll reap the rewards as long as you keep moving. And it may even make you feel like a kid again.