As Ron Adams neared his 50th birthday, he started to think more about his health. Like a lot of people his age, the Victoria native felt that he had to get into better shape, but he also wanted to do something to challenge himself. There was one activity that fit both criteria: running.
Now, 16 years later, Adams has run more than 20,000 kilometres. He’s completed four full marathons – the first one was at 50, the most recent in 2013 – and 40 half marathons. While those accomplishments feel good, the best part about running, he says, is that it’s made him a healthier person.
Naturally, people who exercise should be in better shape than those who don’t, but recent research has shown that running has unique health benefits for older people, such as lowering the amount of energy a senior uses when doing slower tasks. “When you’re older, you want to do things as efficiently as possible,” says Rodger Kram, professor of integrative physiology at University of Colorado Boulder.
By age 65, most people’s efficiency has dropped by as much as 25 percent, making routine things like a short stroll, gardening or cleaning the house a lot more tiring. If someone can maintain their efficiency in older age, then they’ll be able to do those tasks with much less huffing and puffing.
Kram and his colleagues tested the amount of energy 30 seniors, with an average age of 69, used while walking. Half the participants ran at least three times a week, and had been doing so for years, while the others were regular walkers. He found that the runners used the same amount of energy as a walking 22-year old, while walkers, still a healthy bunch, were average for their age group. “Running helps with muscle efficiency,” says Kram.
Older runners had fewer disabilities, were able to be active for longer and were half as likely to die an early death than a group of non-runners.
Other studies line up with Kram’s research. A 2008 Stanford University study found that older runners had fewer disabilities, were able to be active for longer and were half as likely to die an early death than a group of non-runners.
If you’re not a runner, don’t worry, it’s not too late to get started. Begin by alternating running and walking – take turns doing each for one minute – then gradually increase your running time every week.
Also build in “recovery days” says the semi-retired Adams, who now works part-time at the Running Room. “I never run two days in a row,” he says. While he loves the sport, he also knows that he can’t overdo it. He wants to be able to stay active – and stay healthy – for years to come. “I’m rarely running hard,” he says. “I’m not going to win any races, but I never have.”