Running For Your Life
There's an old joke that runners tend to live longer than the rest of us, but they spend all their extra time running. Regardless of whether or not that's true, there's some new research that indicates that the benefits of running continue late into life, and even runners in their 70s and 80s are living longer, healthier lives.
Stanford University researchers began tracking 284 members of a nationwide running club in 1984, when many doctors thought that kind of vigorous exercise might do older people more harm than good, causing a variety of injuries that would leave them hobbled by their exercise habit as they aged.
The researchers sent the subjects, who were in their 50s at the time, questionaires every year asking them detailed questions about their exercise habits, weight and ability to perfom everyday activities such as walking, dressing, grooming themselves. They did the same thing with 156 similar people who never went running, and tracked who in the two groups died by 2005
The runners slowed down over the years -- running an average of four hours a week at the beginning but only an average of about 76 minutes a week by the time they hit their 70s and 80s. And their ability to perform every day tasks also declined. But their vitality tended to last late into life -- they didn't start to show the signs of aging until about 16 years later on average than the non-runners. And as a group they remained much more vital than the non-runners. In fact, as time went on the gap between the group widened.
In addition, the runners had a significantly lower risk of dying -- not only from heart attacks and strokes but also from cancer, infections and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's, the researchers reported this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine. After 19 years, only 15 percent of the runners had died compared to 34 percent of the other group.
Contrary to predictions, the runners were also no more likely to develop arthritis as they aged, according to another paper by the same group in this month's issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
So even if runners do spend their extra time in their jogging shoes, they seem to be enjoying their lives a lot more even when they're off the track.
What about you? Are you runner? Still hitting the pavement late in life?
If you've got more questions about running as you get older, check out the MisFits column in next Tuesday's Health section, where Howard will discuss why worries about hurt knees are now excuse to slack off.
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