The June 2017 issue of Runner’s World magazine has an article that caught my eye. It’s entitled “Not Fading Away” about runners age 50 and older, which is definitely me. Included are “Tips for Running In Your Later Years”, like “Backing Off” and running on soft surfaces. But what really got my attention was that two of the four profiled runners are younger than I am. That really ruined my day; I didn’t realize I was that old.
But there is a silver lining. The article also includes a sidebar, “Use It Or Lose It” by Amby Burfoot, winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon and former editor of the magazine. When Amby started running in 1963, many people warned him about the wear and tear the sport will have on his body. His knees would give out, his heart would weaken, etc, etc.
Fortunately for us runners, there is solid scientific evidence that says the opposite. The critical analysis began in 1980 with the publication of a special article by James Fries in the New England Journal of Medicine, in which he argued that it was more important to pursue “compression of morbitity” or COM. Basically, COM means staying healthy as long as possible, so your old-age decline should be as short as possible. In other words, think about quality of life, too.
This was tested in something called the Runner’s Study, which began in 1984. The Study followed two groups for over two decades. One group consisted of modest exercisers (a control group), the others were more serious runners, averaging 30 to 40 miles a week.
The result? In 2008, Fries published a paper in the Archives of Internal Medicine entitled (deep breath) “Reduced Disability and Mortality Among Aging Runners; a 21-Year Longitudinal Study” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3175643/ ). The results were that, on average, the runners were living seven years longer than the controls. Not only that, it took the runners 11 to 16 years longer to reach any given disability score on the Health Assessment Questionnaire, a tool which measures such quality-of-life factors as can you dress yourself and prepare your own meals.
Thanks to the Runner’s Study and other research, it seems clear that our bodies are meant to be used. Without use, they age faster. But with regular exercise, both the lifespan and quality of life improve.
But the article still makes me feel old.