Research published last month by California State University shows us that running as a form of exercise may very well have a bigger impact on our health as we age than we thought…
The researchers set out to find how running versus walking impacted on individual’s walking economy as they aged. Walking economy relates to the metabolic cost (how much the act of walking taxes the body).
Previous research had shown that older runners who ran consistently showed a similar running economy to younger runners, but until now no one had studied how regular running impacted the economy of walking on older adults.
The results of the research showed that older individuals who run at least 3 times per week have a 7-10% improved walking economy when compared to older adults who walk at least 3 times per week. In addition to this, it was also noted that older individuals who walk regularly (at least 3 times per week) showed a similar walking economy as older sedentary adults who did no regular exercise at all! So not only does running slow down the effects of ageing in relation to how we move, but walking as exercise may do very little at all to help keep us moving like we did when we were younger.
It is perhaps an unfortunate symptom of an overly cautious (or uninformed) society that we are often prescribed walking only, or worse yet – non weight bearing exercise, by the medical profession for situations where the body is in less than perfect health.
Our bodies need various forms of stress for change to occur. Yes it is true that not everybody is capable of running due to particular health reasons, but to only ever put the body in low stress situations simply means it will never rise up to the challenge of making dramatic changes where they may be needed.
Non weight bearing exercise is fantastic for people who are recovering from surgery or coming back from serious injury, but our bones, ligaments and other joint structures need to be loaded for them to become stronger. Bone density is directly affected by the amount of stress our bones are subjected to. It scares me how many older adults are told to do water aerobics because they have Osteoporosis (low bone density). There is more than enough scientific evidence to prescribe weight bearing exercise (sometimes quite high load) for people with bone density issues or even recovering from stress fractures… So how is it that some “experts” are still telling us to hit the pool instead of the footpath when our bones are lacking strength?
My advice is simple.
Move as much as you can and in as many ways as you can.
Push your body hard enough that it complains regularly but not enough that it complains constantly.