Why Older Adults Should Run More

By Ryan Halvorson
Jan 14, 2015

It’s best to slow down as we get older—or is it? A new study in PLOS ONE (2014; doi: 10.1371/ journal.pone.0113471) suggests otherwise.

The study was focused on running and its association with walking economy—the rate of O2 consumed per distance covered—which is thought to be a predictor of mortality risk. Essentially, the researchers wanted to know if older-adult runners were better walkers than nonrunners. To do this, they studied 30 individuals around 69 years of age. Half of the subjects walked for at least 30 minutes, three times per week, and the other half ran for at least 30 minutes, three times per week. The scientists gauged walking economy via gas analysis and measured ground reaction forces to determine walking mechanics.

Runners had 7%–10% better walking economy than walkers. There was no significant difference in walking mechanics among all subjects.

“Running mitigates the age-related deterioration of walking economy, whereas walking for exercise appears to have minimal effect on the age-related deterioration in walking economy,” the researchers concluded.

While this study suggests that older adults interested in improving their longevity odds should lace up their running shoes, it’s important to ensure safety and movement quality for this group.

“At any age, running is one of the simplest forms of exercise,” explains Roseland, New Jersey–based Frank Pucher, CEO
of Fitness 121. “Having been a runner for nearly three decades I’ve certainly seen it all and learned much along the way. And while the training for runners is always subjective, there is a particular set of principles that apply specifically to older-adult runners.”

Here are Pucher’s top tips on highlighting safety, performance and fun for this group:

Progress safely. If you want to become a better runner, then run. As an adult runner, you can generally increase your weekly training volume by 10% each week and avoid injury. Of course, be sure to set an appropriate cap to the total weekly volume based on your goals, needs and limitations. More isn’t always better!

Run less. Cross training won’t make you a better runner, but it will keep you fit while giving your body a break from the pounding of logging miles day in and day out. Cycling and swimming are good nonimpact options for adult runners seeking to keep fit and minimize wear and tear.

Strength train. Adult runners lose muscular strength faster than they lose cardiorespiratory fitness. Keeping your body strong will go a long way toward preventing common injuries like plantar fasciitis, runner’s knee, muscle strains, etc.

Recover. This is often the most neglected aspect of any runner’s program, and for older–adult runners it is more essential than ever. There are many ways to expedite recovery, and the best plan will always be subjective with an ongoing cycle of trial and error. But proven strategies include proper nourishment, foam rolling, compression wear and good sleep.

Have fun. Unless you make your living by running and training, the whole point of running (or any exercise for that matter) lies in the joy it brings to your life. Explore different running routes. Invite a friend to join you. Join a local running club.

The great thing about running is that, at any age, you can always find a small victory in getting out the door and returning home safe and sweaty.

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Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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