A recent NY Times article discussed the possibility that running can keep a person young, and in a way it can- specifically in terms of being healthy, fit, and keeping your weight down. The article referenced research suggesting that older runners are actually better and more efficient walkers than people who just walk for exercise. This is probably related to the range of motion and the muscle actions that you have to go through as a runner, as compared to a walker. People who have been running for a long time are also likely to have figured out how to be efficient as they run, which then translates to the way that they walk.
There is no reason for older people to stop running, and there is no reason that they cannot start running. In fact, a recent NIH study showed that running has been shown to put fewer loads on your joints than walking does, because when you run, you are in contact with the ground for a shorter period of time. The risk of arthritis can also be lower with running versus walking, for the same reason. In addition, exercise is great for brain circulation and can help prevent dementia. So while running cannot stop time, it can help keep you active, spry, and alert. Running can also benefit your cardiovascular health, general well being, mental health, and offer stress release.
It is never too late to start running. Just be sure to get checked out by your primary care doctor or cardiologist to get medical clearance, and then you want to start a gradual running program. Usually people do a run/walk program, alternating between running and walking and slowly building up over time until you are running for about 30 minutes. Be aware that as you age it takes you longer to recover from exercise, so be gentle with yourself and do not do too much too soon or too much at once. Get evaluated for a good pair of shoes, and try to find a running club in your community, and a running coach who can help you develop a program to get you started or to keep you going.
Julie Khan is a Physical Therapist in the HSS Rehabilitation Department. Julie graduated from Columbia University with both her Masters and Doctorate of Physical Therapy. Her clinical interests include post-surgical sports related injuries and running mechanics. Julie is a runner and has completed over 20 half marathons and 6 marathons.