A growing number of seniors are embracing competitive long-distance running—causing some experts to question conventional wisdom about exercise and its effects on older bodies.


Last year The Atlantic published “Running Into Old Age,” an article which profiled some inspirational people in their 60s and beyond who are completing marathons and triathlons. A lot of them were training harder than they ever had in their lives—and some felt their athletic ability was improving with age.


Peaking in one’s 60s is unusual, however; muscle strength gradually begins to deteriorate around age 35. At 60, that gradual decline becomes much steeper. Only a third of Americans over 65 are considered physically active. (*20% of adults do not get the recommended amount of exercise each week)


Be that as it may, more than 50% of men and more than 40% of women who cross marathon finishing lines are over the age of 40. This represents a substantial demographic shift; in times gone by, the majority of finishers were younger competitors. This attests to medical and cultural advances in recent years, which have enabled seniors to live healthier lifestyles for longer.


Older runners have more to gain than just a medal:


  • Medical research has shown that exercising maintains fitness and that a sedentary lifestyle contributes to the physical deterioration we associate with aging. Older adults who train for marathons and other athletic competitions have a reduced risk of developing age-related chronic diseases. By training for marathons, seniors can regain a lot of what is usually lost with aging. As the Atlantic article shows, you don’t need to have been a fitness freak in earlier periods of your life. If you are more used to a sedentary lifestyle, it is important you start off slow, and discuss your new fitness regime with a doctor.
  • Any vigorous activity may reduce the decline in aerobic capacity (the heart and lung’s capacity to deliver oxygen to muscles) by up to 50%.
  • Furthermore, older athletes who exercise regularly have shown more muscle strength, which can decrease the risk of falling.
  • They also benefit from stronger bone density, which reduces the risk of osteoporosis and arthritis.
  • In one study of 55- to 73-year-olds, weekly exercise was shown to decrease rates of chronic disease and depression.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, plus two sessions of muscle-building exercise. The health.gov


Though exercise cannot reverse the aging process, it can reduce the severity of natural decline, leading to a longer and perhaps better life.


*CDC 80% of American Adults Don't get regular exercise. CDC: 80 percent of American adults don't get recommended exercise - CBS News May 12, 2013