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Last updateSun, 06 Nov 2016 10am

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Running may help you live longer

Older runners enjoy reduced rates of disability and a survival advantage. This encouraging result comes from a new study of over-50s in a running club.

Running is known to be beneficial to health but evidence on its impact on older age group was lacking. Researchers in California report on a study of people over 50 in a running club. They found that the regular runners are less likely to be disabled and they also have a higher life expectancy.

Life expectancy has been increasing in recent years and the concern now is to help older people achieve a good quality of life. An important factor is avoiding disability which so often leads to lack of independence. Regular exercise is likely to be an important behavior in avoiding disability in later life, but detailed data has been lacking on what kind of exercise might be most useful.

Researchers at Stanford University, California, recruited 284 members aged over 50 from a nationwide running club and matched them with 156 healthy controls from the same age group. They provided detailed information about their exercise frequency, body mass index and disability level. The researchers also collected mortality and cause of death data for the participants. The study began in 1984 and the participants were followed up for 21 years.

The regular runners tended to be younger, leaner, smoke less, exercised more and were more likely to be male. At the start, levels of disability were low in both groups, but the runners still had the lower levels. The researchers then looked at how disability levels progressed over time. In both groups, levels of disability tended to increase as they got older. But the average disability levels in the running group were lower at all time points. Looking at it another way, the time taken to reach a given disability level was longer for the runners – as if running could hold back the effects of aging and give the participants a few extra years of quality of life (around six years on average).

By the end of the study, 15 percent of the runners and 34 percent of the controls had died, showing that this regular, vigorous exercise confers a survival advantage. Death rates from all causes were increased among controls compared to runners.

These findings reveal that running, and probably other vigorous exercise, has significant advantages for older people. Not only did they live longer, but the quality of that life was enhanced through reduced disability levels. Therefore, if you are already a runner, keep it up! Otherwise, why not try to increase the intensity of the exercise you do?


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