If you could, would you run when you are 80?
My son Cole is now in grade 8. Much to my surprise, he joined the high school cross country team. I am trying to stay cool, but deep inside, I am over the moon! I know that this could lead to a lifetime of great outdoors experiences, a strong body, a social network, and quite possibly a longer life. The math works out that when he is middle aged, I will be hitting my 8th decade. If I could run that long, should I? Could it put me at risk of knee arthritis, or having a heart attack out there? What if people think I am crazy ???
We are all aging, all the time. I am older than when I started that sentence. With age comes biological changes, as we all know. If you are more than about 25 years old, you also know that many of the changes are down right bummers in terms of being a runner. Slowing down ! Sore ankles! And so on….
As we age, staying active becomes increasingly important for maintaining good health and overall well-being. Among the many physical activities available, running stands out as a versatile (you can do it almost anywhere) and accessible (i.e free!) exercise that can significantly benefit individuals as they age. Running contributes to physical health, but it also promotes mental and emotional well-being, making it a holistic activity for aging individuals.
1. Cardiovascular Health:
Running helps to improve heart health by strengthening the heart muscles, enhancing circulation, and reducing the risk of diseases, such as atherosclerosis, stroke and heart attack. As we age, the risk of heart-related issues increases, making running a great way to maintain a healthy heart and prolong life. There are the sad stories of people having fatal heart attacks during marathons. The fact that we hear about it at all shows how rare this type of event is. Trust the internet to tell you about rare, yet frightening occurrences.
2. Bone and Joint Health:
Contrary to a common misconception that running is hard on the joints, moderate and controlled running can actually strengthen bones and improve joint health. Weight-bearing exercise like running stimulates bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures, which are common concerns for older individuals. It also strengthens the knee cartilage. Ultimately, running helps maintain joint mobility and flexibility, easing arthritis symptoms and enhancing overall mobility.
Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for older adults to prevent various health issues. Running is an effective way to burn calories and manage weight. By incorporating running into a regular exercise routine, individuals improve their body composition, and reduce the risk of problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
4. Mental Health and Cognitive Function:
Running isn’t just about physical health—it’s a powerful tool for mental well-being too. Regular running releases endorphins, the “feel-good” hormones that help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Furthermore, it enhances cognitive function and memory by promoting better blood flow to the brain. Running can be a meditative experience, allowing individuals to clear their minds and gain mental clarity. Personally, many of my life’s biggest decisions came while I was out for a run. These include big decisions like moving back to Canada from overseas, to propose to my future wife, and to buy a house.
5. Longevity and Quality of Life:
Studies consistently show that regular exercise, including running, is associated with increased life expectancy. Running helps maintain a higher quality of life as you age by preserving mobility, independence, and overall vitality. It’s an activity that promotes an active lifestyle, encouraging individuals to engage with the world and stay socially connected.It is hard to put a number on it due to so many variables, but fit runners can add years to their lives. The authors of a 2022 study of 750,000 US veterans in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology stated “Being unfit carried a greater risk than any of the cardiac risk factors examined”. The authors of a 2018 study of 120,000 people published in the Journal of American Medical Association stated that “poor cardiorespiratory fitness carries a greater relative risk of dying than being a smoker” . In other words, being unfit is more dangerous than being a smoker (and that’s saying something) !!!
6. Boosting Confidence and Self-Esteem:
Running empowers individuals, giving them a sense of achievement and empowerment. You can even brag on Facebook about it to your friends ! As people age, self-esteem and confidence can sometimes decline due to various life changes. Engaging in regular running and achieving personal goals, whether it’s running a certain distance or achieving a particular time, can significantly boost self-esteem and confidence. If your race goes badly, you also get to work on your personal grit to get over the disappointment. Either way, you get to eat extra pancakes after the race!
7. Community and Social Interaction:
Running is a fantastic way to connect with like-minded individuals. Participating in group runs, joining running clubs, or even competing in races can provide a strong sense of community and social interaction. Social connections are vital for mental and emotional health, especially as we age, and running facilitates these valuable connections.
I can’t lie… it has been a busy, exhausting day. I will head out for a run now knowing I am a little happier with how the day has gone, in a bit better mood, and knowing I have done a little bit to (hopefully) be around for many years to come. So to answer the opening question, if you can run until you’re 80 you absolutely should!
Today is a great day to lace up the running shoes, get a run in, and do something really good for yourself! Better yet, grab a friend or family member to go with you.
- Dan Sivertson (Physiotherapist)
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