Running Improves Disability and Lifespan in Older People
In people 50 years old and older, running may improve functional ability and increase survival over the years. Physiotherapy management of this group will become increasingly important as people take vigorous exercise into older age groups.
Researchers from Stanford University, lead by Eliza Chakravarty and published August 2008 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, have found that vigorous exercise at middle and older ages reduces the likelihood of disability in later life and also carries a worthwhile advantage in lifespan.
The articles states “Age-adjusted death rates have reached record lows and life expectancy has reached record highs in recent years, likely due to a combination of behavior and societal changes as well as improved medical and surgical therapies”. This refers to the United States but the same forces are at work in the United Kingdom.
With the rise in the number and the health of older age groups this segment of the population has become worthy of research.
The authors state “With the rise in life expectancy, it becomes necessary to focus on improving the quality of life and functional abilities as people reach older ages. Regular exercise, including running, may contribute to improved health among older adults.” Physiotherapists will be increasingly involved in this group as they suffer sports injuries and require physio and rehabilitation.
The researchers give several ways that exercise might improve quality of life over the years, by increasing cardiovascular fitness and aerobic capacity, increasing bone density, reducing inflammation and improving mental functioning.
They followed 284 members of a running club from 1984 and 156 healthy controls (i.e. people of the same age and health who did not run). After 19 years 15% of the runners had died, as against 34% of the control group. Disability increased with age overall, but was less marked in the running group.
As people got older, the advantages of the exercise group became greater and the benefits of continuing with vigorous exercise also became greater.
The researchers conclude: “Our findings of decreased disability in addition to prolonged survival among middle-aged and older adults participating in routine physical activities further support recommendations to encourage moderate to vigorous physical activity at all ages.”
And “Increasing healthy lifestyle behaviors may not only improve length and quality of life but also hopefully lead to reduced health care expenditures associated with disability and chronic diseases.”
Reduced Disability and Mortality Among Aging Runners: A 21-Year Longitudinal Study