Age Doesn't Stop Runners

Older runners heart rates just as efficient as younger ones

(RxWiki News) It may surprise you to know that runners over the age of 60 are the fastest-growing group in the sport. And new research shows that the efficiency of their running can be just as fast as younger runners.

The running economy - that is, how efficiently the body uses oxygen at a running pace - is no different between older or younger runners.

"Over 60? Keep on running."

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire were surprised by this result, after their study to determine the effect of age on runners' economy. Lead author Timothy Quinn, associate professor of exercise science at UNH, and colleagues studied a group of 51 male and female competitive distance runners.

The runners were placed in groups of young (18-39 years), master (40-59 years old) and older (60 years and over).

There was no difference in the running economy between the age groups. There were, however, many other differences. Older runners fared worse than the younger ones in strength, power and flexibility. Older runners tend to run slower than younger ones, which is why races are segmented by age.

And although the older runners in this study showed the same running economy, it came at a higher cost. Their body's capacity to use oxygen during the exercise, and their maximal heart rates, were both significantly lower than their younger counterparts.

“For the runners over age 60, it’s physiologically more difficult to run at that speed, even though the absolute oxygen uptake value is the same as a younger runner,” says Quinn. In other words, the economy might be the same, but it feels harder with age.

Quinn says that although strength declines with age, training can maximize it. "It doesn’t take a lot to maintain strength,” he said. “We need to set up programs that enhance strength, especially upper-body strength, and power. They’ll be better runners for it.”

Findings were published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, in November 2011.

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Review Date: 
November 30, 2011