Run, don’t walk, into your senior years

Run, don’t walk, into your senior years

If you’re looking for the Fountain of Youth, it turns out that all you may need is your own two feet and a good pair of running shoes.

According to a new study from the University of Colorado Boulder and Humbolt State University in St. Arcata, Calif., seniors who run several times a week had the metabolism of a person in their 20s.

The research, published this week in the journal PLOS ONE, studied 30 adults over the age of 69 who reported running or walking for exercise at least three times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes. The researchers then measured the subjects’ oxygen consumption, a key indicator of how efficiently a person’s body is using energy and hour efficiently their metabolism is working, found those who ran expend about the same amount of energy walking as an average 20-year-old.

Those who walked for exercise were found to expend the same amount of energy as those seniors who didn’t exercise regularly.

“The bottom line is that running keeps you younger, at least in terms of energy efficiency,” said Rodger Kram, associate professor of CU-Boulder’s Department of Integrative Physiology and co-author on the study, in a statement.

Dr. Charles Crotteau, family medicine physician at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, says he’s not surprised by the study results.

“Being an avid runner myself, I know personally how being active keeps me young,” he says. “I definitely stress all the health benefits of running to my patients, even as the winter weather sets in.”

Dr. Crotteau says getting your exercise by walking still has many health benefits, including decreasing your risk for heart disease and stroke, helping to avoid weight gain and assisting with depression. However, he says that, according to the results of this study, it appears walking doesn’t have a direct metabolic benefit to seemingly slow the aging process.

Dr. Kram says that, because he and his fellow researchers didn’t find any external biomechanical differences between the older walkers and runners, they theorize the higher efficiency of senior runners comes directly from the cells in their muscles.

He says that they believe mitochondria are involved. Mitochondria, small bodies found inside cells known as the cell “powerhouses,” generate the chemical energy adenosine triphosphate, which powers muscle fibers for activities like movement, including running. Those who work out regularly generally have more mitochondria in their cells, providing more energy to power larger muscles, Dr. Kram says.

“Including running in your exercise regimen might provide benefits beyond the known cardiovascular improvements many runners see,” says Dr. Crotteau. “Of course, it certainly makes sense for anyone contemplating a significant increase in the intensity of their workouts to consult with their primary care physicians.

“This is just one more reason to hit the treadmill, running path or trail and sweat it out, no matter your age.”

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  1. Good info. I am wondering if performing intervals on a treadmill (i.e. 4 miles/hr at elevation 3 for 4 min, then elevation 9 for 2 min etc) would serve the same purpose as running?

  2. Be that as it may, many seniors are not capable of running. At least walking may be safer and offer health benefits. How many people over 69 do you know who run??

  3. I’m not even close to age 69, but a life of running and tennis have taken too much of a toll on my knees and was told by my physician that my running days are over for me. I loved running and miss it — have yet to find an expercise that provides the same great feeling as I had with running. I’m wondering after a long live of sports and exercise, how many seniors have the knees to keep running…

  4. I’m about to turn 60 and had been a lifelong avid runner. I completed 3 full marathons and countless halfs, 5 and 10K runs. However, after 5 knee surgeries between both of my knees my running days are over. I no longer have any cartilage in my knees I try to walk 45-60 minutes at a pretty fast pace 4-5 days a week. Do I miss running, absolutely but at this point I have no other option but walking.

    If I had the chance to do it all over I’d cut way way back on the running. I don’t think anyone’s knees are made to take that constant pounding. I don’t see how someone over 69 can start running.

  5. Katie Renz

    I wonder if other exercises like biking or swimming would be just as beneficial?

  6. I want the author & Dr. Crotteau to address what should the other posters here should do if running is not an option, since their bodies can’t take it. How about it????

  7. Agree with earlier posts regarding knees, hips, feet that just can’t take the pounding. Does using an eliptical trainer have the same effect?

  8. Charles Crotteau
    Charles Crotteau November 26, 2014 at 8:24 am · Reply

    As a runner myself, I admit I am a bit biased towards my sport. In addition, I have heard time and time again patients or friends of mine told [by “experts”, i.e. other docs or well meaning folk] that they cannot/should not run–it damages your knees, your hips, etc., etc. I do not believe that this commonly offered advice is consistently accurate.
    To address earlier posts, I do believe that being active however you can be active is critical. When my mother saw the article she wondered if her daily walking was in vain–of course not, keep at it, Mom!! I believe and cousel my patients that daily exercise has profound benefits on one’s cardiovascular and metabolic systems. There are also rewards for one’s cognitive abilities and central nervous system health that we are just beginning to understand. So whether it is walking, biking, swimming or running, keep moving [and getting your heart rate up!] every day. I also enjoyed the comment about intervals walking or jogging on an incline–another way to do this important work!
    Lastly, having met successful runners who kicked off their runnings careers in their 50s, 60s and 70s, I do believe that anyone is ever too old to run. There may be other reasons to not run [injuries, arthiritis], but I do not believe that age disqualifies anyone from the benefits of running.

    • Thank you so much for the clarification, Dr. Crotteau. I think this is also great information for younger people, so they begin running or other exercise now to reap the benefits in the years to come.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.