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Run for your life / to prolong life

Posted Aug 23 2008 3:21pm

Advances in medical science paired with behavioral and social changes has led to an increase in life expectancy and lowered death rates. With these advances unlikely to stop, quality of life becomes the focal point.

A 21-year study examined the effects of running on disability and mortality rates of adults over 50. At the start of the study in 1984, many scientists thought vigorous exercise would do older people more harm than good. Some feared the long-term effects of the then “new” jogging craze would be floods of orthopedic injuries, with older runners permanently hobbled by their exercise habit. Emeritus Prof. of Medicine James Fries came up with a hypothesis called Compression of Morbidity, which holds that healthy lifestyles will not only prolong survival, but will also decrease the number of years with disability.

The researchers at Stanford began tracking 538 runners from a running club over age 50, comparing them to a similar group of non-runners. The subjects answered yearly questionnaires about their ability to perform everyday activities such as walking, dressing and grooming, getting out of a chair and gripping objects (this served to assess disability). The researchers used national death records to learn which participants died along with the cause of death. Nineteen years into the study, 34 percent of the non-runners had died, compared to only 15 percent of the runners. Death rates were higher in every category {Cancers, Cardiovascular (strokes and coronary artery disease), Neurological, and Infections (Pneumonia)} for non-runners when compared to the runners. 

On average both groups in the study became more disabled after 21 years of aging, but for runners the onset of disability started later. “Runners’ initial disability was 16 years later than non-runners,’” Fries said. “By and large, the runners have stayed healthy.” Not only did running delay disability, but the gap between runners’ and non-runners’ abilities got bigger with time.  

A companion paper also debunked the long standing myth that runners have a higher prevalence of knee and joint problems. The paper also showed that running was not associated with greater rates of osteoarthritis in their elderly runners. Runners  in the study did not require more total knee replacements than non-runners.  

The basic message of the study states that exercise at any age helps reduce disabilities while increasing longevity. That said, the overall feeling of well being and the reduction of tensions as a result running would have been more than enough reason to continue my running habit. Being a relative newcomer (1 year) myself, I will post some tips on how to start running and keep at it. 

 

8/14/08 – 2.32 miles in 18:15 (7:51 per mile pace)


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