Can running help you stay young?

I was raised around running. My dad was a runner his whole life; in high school, he held the school’s record for the 400 meter sprint. (A record which, as he always admits he broke at the last meet of his senior year, only to have it broken by someone else at the first meet the next year.)  When I was a  younger, my dad would frequently compete in various races and track meets all over the local area, and when I was in seventh grade, I began running with him–or should I say running behind him. That fall I enrolled in Cross Country and that spring I did track, two sports I participated in every year from then until I graduated.

During that time, I had heard about the many health benefits of running, although that was not something that I paid attention to. I was into running because it was fun, not because it made me healthy benefits. That’s not something that had occurred to me as a twelve year old. But now, as a 19 year old, I have started to pay attention to the health aspects. Many are rather immediate, such as improved cardiovascular health, stronger joints, and the burning of calories. These benefits are the reason many people continue to run for many years.


According to a recent study, however, the effects of running could be much more long-term than just burning some of your daily caloric intake. Apparently, running could actually help you live longer than non-runners.

The study, published by Stanford’s medical school is a longitudinal study, as it studied the same participants for 20 years. The participants were chosen from a group of people 50 years or older, back in 1984. There were two major groups of people, the first was runners, of which there were 538. The second group was made up of non-runners, and was approximately the same size.

The study was started in response to the popular scientific opinion at the time that supposed that intense exercise like running held a negative effect for older people. This belief most likely arose from the fear that it would cause more older people to break some of their bones, now feeble with age. The researchers disagreed with this supposition, believing that running could make basic tasks, such as walking, easier to accomplish even with the difficulties of aging.

With that in mind, the alternative hypothesis was that running would help slow the effects of aging, while the null hypothesis was that running expedited them.

So, in order to set up the study, participants were asked to answer a yearly questionnaire, about how well they were able to perform these basic tasks. By 2008, when the study was published, only 16% of the runners had kicked the bucket, while 34% of the non-runners had gone the same way. The group was significantly less able to perform the basic tasks at this point, but the runners became that way on average 16 years after the non-runners.It is important to note though, that the runners began the study completing on average 240 minutes a week, compared to only 76 minutes in 2008. The researchers involved in the study believe the mechanism for these results lies in the runner’s more slender body-types, as well as their commitment to health.oldmanrunning

In this case, the alternative hypothesis is to be accepted, as it seems clear that not only were the runners having an easier time participating in basic everyday activities, but they were also living longer lives. Back in 1984, this would have been considered an unusual result. The study typifies science’s anti-authoritarian nature, and how our knowledge is constantly changing. As far as I could find, however, there are not many other studies of this nature that have been done, an occurrence that could be explained by the file drawer problem. The court of opinion about elderly runners could have been so strong that studies looking to disagree with it may have not been published or even attempted.

The study isn’t perfect of course. 538 people is a relatively small sample size for each group, although perhaps any more might be difficult to keep track of over such a long time. Additonally, the results of the study could be due to chance, although from the data it seems relatively unlikely. The results could also be due to confounding variables, such as genetic predispositions to cancer and other illnesses that could have caused participants to die, partially skewing the statistics. It’s definitely a study that could benefit from meta-analyses, or even similar studies of the kind, to see if they could replicate similar results.

At least for now though, it would seem that running in the autumn of one’s life is advisable. It could make life easier down the road. Just being able to put clothes on and walk upstairs to the bedroom increases one’s quality of life as an older person. Most people say that being old is not that great, but if running is a part of their life, it need not be so bad.

Picture One Source

Picture Two Source

Cardiovascular Health Source

Stronger Joints Source

Study Source

2 thoughts on “Can running help you stay young?

  1. Olivia Frederickson

    I really enjoyed this post especially since I have recently taken up running as a vice to relieve myself of stress, and just as a way to burn energy and calories. I was a competitive swimmer for the majority of my life and, I’m gonna be honest, swimming may be more demanding of multiple muscles, but running is very impactful on the body since unlike in the water, your body is constantly pulled down by gravity into a hard surface, which is not easy. I run 2-4 miles every day, 5 days a week usually for about 9 months now. Recently, I had my yearly checkup with my doctor where they took my blood pressure which they recorded as quite low. The nurse told me this and proceeded to ask how much I exercise, but particularly perform cardio. I then told her how I have taken up running and she said that my blood pressure was very healthy and was the result of running. With my anecdotal data and your research, I believe that running is very good for maintaining good health for life, and that in accordance with maintaining a low blood pressure by staying active (but particularly running), my future self might thank me when my cardiovasular health is still on par in my mid 70’s.

  2. Olivia Watkins

    Nice job! This leads the question to: does staying active increase mobility in older age? The answer is yes. Keeping yourself active and continuously stimulating your brain will increase an elders chance of staying independent. There are studies that have been done that compare non-active and active individuals and the results are fascinating. I was all about track in high school and am pro running. The only negative side to running is that it is very bad on your joints, especially if not treated correctly (icing, stretching, tylenol if needed).

Leave a Reply