Sun 23 Oct 2011
I am living proof of the anti-aging benefits of running. After running for over 30 years and completing 14 marathons to date, I am in the best shape of my life. This is evidenced by my personal record in the marathon last May at the age of 57. My time of 3:53:23 qualified me to run the Boston Marathon for the second time in my life (qualifying for the first time at the age of 54).
I can also say that I am the happiest I’ve ever been—more at peace. I always relied on running to carry me through the various challenges of my life. Yes, life always looked better after a run. Due to a long-term study by the Stanford University Medical Center, there is now evidence to support my over-the-top long-term marathon habit. Maybe I’m not so crazy after all…
This study followed 500 runners, all 50 years and older, over 20 years and produced some very interesting and enlightening results. Long-term running produces numerous benefits as we age.
Runners enjoy a longer life and quality of life. Nineteen years into the study, 15% of the runners had died compared to 35% of non-runners. In addition, runners lived 16 years longer without the incidence of disability as compared to non-runners. Even better news was uncovered for runners who ran into their 80’s. Their incidence of cancer, neurological disease and other infections decreased even further.
Running improves neurogenesis in the brain. Running creates new neurons and encourages connections between brain cells enhancing overall brain function as we age. This wards off Dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Running reduces stress and increases well-being. It is well known that running releases endorphins and serotonin, but it also increases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that affects the reward and motivation areas of the brain. While stress kills brain cells, running improves brain performance and enhances well-being and encourages an active life-style as we age.
Runners are healthier. Running decreases the risk of death by 50% as compared to non-runners by improving the heart and immune system, lowering resting blood pressure. Running increases blood flow which reduces hardening of brain arteries and encourages the body’s production of anti-bodies and lymphocytes or T-cells that fight off cancer and infections.
So what is the best workout program to stay young? According to John Ratey, M.D., start well-before your senior years and do some form of aerobic activity six days a week for 45 minutes to an hour. This should include two sessions a week for strength training with weights and 2 sessions a week of balance and flexibility exercises like yoga, dance or martial arts. Dr. Ratey recommends running the most since it benefits the heart, the immune system, increases brain neurogenesis and emotional well-being.
If you are a senior and aren’t accustomed to exercise, Dr. Ratey recommends seeing a doctor first. Walking is a good low intensity aerobic activity to start until you are ready to increase the intensity. The benefits are great even when starting an exercise routine later in life.
When I am not training for a marathon, my weekly work-out routine includes four days of running five to seven miles (including one speed workout), one long run of 10 to 11 miles, two days of weight training (including one circuit-training workout) and one day of yoga. The weight training is key in keeping my bones strong and maintaining upper body strength and the yoga is key in maintaining what little flexibility I have and will allow me to run for many years to come.
So there you have it. The evidence is quite clear—exercise. Even if it isn’t running, do something aerobic and improve the length and quality of your life. Life is a wonderful gift—get out there and enjoy it!