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Running as you get older

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Just because you are getting older doesn't mean you have to hang up your trainers. Running is an excellent exercise at whatever age.

Lean, toned, twenty-somethings may be the media image of a runner but in the real world there are plenty of middle-aged and older runners who run not only because it's good for them but it feels good too.

Running to what age?

You are classed as a veteran in many competitive runs when you are 35, which can be off-putting!

"It's absolutely fine running in your 70s, 80s and beyond," says David James, Professor of Exercise Science at the University of Gloucestershire. "There's an open-ended age limit for running."

Veteran runner Sher Meekings who's nearly 60 and proud of it says: "I run because I enjoy it and because of the health benefits, it helps guard against osteoporosis, improves my cardiovascular health and makes me feel better. Running is as much part of my routine as brushing my teeth."

"In my running club I have a man in his 80s," says running coach and trainer Karen Weir, "and one of my ladies' started running in her late 50s. By her early 60s she was running the Comrades ultra marathon (90km)."

Benefits of running

The benefits of running are generally the same at whatever age. It reduces your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and some cancers. It makes your bones stronger, increases your muscle mass and mobility as well as reducing depression and anxiety. When you get older your risk of developing many of these conditions increases so the benefits of running as you age are therefore greater.

Can it help you live longer?

The vast majority of research suggests that running can help you to live a healthier and longer life.

US research in 2008 published in Archives of Internal Medicine tracked 500 older runners for more than 20 years. It found older runners had fewer disabilities, a longer span of active life and were half as likely to die prematurely compared to non-runners.

A study of more than 5,000 runners and non-runners in Denmark in 2015 suggested that light jogging is better for your health than strenuous running. It found that running too many miles at too fast a pace can be as bad for you as not exercising at all. It recommended jogging for three times a week maximum, for no more than 2 and a half hours in all.

Keith Frayn runs the Silver Joggers group for older runners. He's also retired Professor of Human Metabolism at the University of Oxford.

He says: "There is very solid scientific evidence for the health benefits of keeping fit as we age and there's also good evidence that running does not - as some people think it would - result in knee problems; if anything runners' knees are protected, perhaps because regular runners tend to be less heavy than non-runners."

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