Running and Health of Elderly Persons – Positive Link Shown

Mar 3, 2009 by

Running and Health of Elderly Persons – Positive Link Shown

An American study has shown a positive link between running and health of elderly persons.

This study dispels myths about how running may be damaging for older persons by potentially causing injuries.

Running Towards Health – Study Shows Running Also Benefits Older Persons

by Reuben Chow

We have already known for some time that exercise, including running, is good for health. But there have always been fears about what running could do to the bones and joints of older persons. Those doubts may well have been put to bed by the findings of a research team from the Stanford University Medical Center in California.

The team recently reported their findings on the health benefits of regular running for elderly runners in the Archives of Internal Medicine. These include a lower risk of premature death from illnesses such as cancer as well as fewer disabilities.

Details of the Study

The study started in 1984 and 538 runners who were in their 50s at its commencement were tracked for over 20 years and their health status was compared with a similar group of non-runners.

The subjects were asked to fill in annual questionnaires on their ability to perform daily chores, such as walking, dressing and grooming, eating, getting up from a chair, gripping objects and other routine physical activities, as well as on their weight and exercise frequency. National death records were also used to track which subjects had passed on, and the reasons for their deaths.


19 years after the start of the study, 34% of the group of non-runners had passed on, while only 15% of the group of runners had died.

The incidence of disability, as expected, increased with age for both groups. However, as compared to the non-runners, the group of runners only experienced the onset of disability much later. “Runners’ initial disability was 16 years later than non-runners,” said Professor James Fries, lead author of the study and an emeritus professor of medicine at Stanford.

“By and large, the runners have stayed healthy,” he added.

The runners experienced lower incidence of early deaths from various illnesses, including cancer, infections and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, as well as a slower rate of death from cardiovascular diseases.

In addition, the runners enjoyed a longer span of active life, meaning they were able to carry out their own chores for more years.

Overall, the difference in health between the two groups became more pronounced with time, even as the subjects hit their eighties. This is something which surprised the researchers.

“We did not expect this,” said Professor Fries. “The health benefits of exercise are greater than we thought.” The widening gap in levels of health between the two groups was likely because of the runners’ greater lean body mass and overall healthier lifestyle habits, he added.

How long did they run?

On average, at the start of the study, which was supported by grants from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases as well as the National Institute on Aging, the runners exercised for about four hours each week. By the time the study was 21 years old, this figure had been reduced to just 76 minutes, yet the health benefits were still apparent.

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