Running Delays Disability in Older Persons

November 11, 2002 Reuters Health, reports on a study published in the November 11th issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine that shows that running and other aerobic exercise seem to help older people stave off disability and live longer. Dr. Benjamin W. E. Wang, from the University of Tennessee in Memphis and author of the study states, “In elderly people, the development of disability can be delayed, or pushed back, with aerobic exercise, including running.” He goes on to say, “In addition, those who exercised regularly lived longer and had lower rates of fatal cancers, heart disease and other conditions.”

The study was performed on 370 members of a running club and 249 people who did not belong to a running club. All of the subjects were at least 50 years of age. Each year the subjects were asked to complete a questionnaire that assessed the presence and severity of disability in several activities of daily living. The research showed that running club members were significantly less likely to develop a disability than those who were not running club members. Additionally, when running club members did develop a disability, the onset was usually delayed. On average, disabilities developed in running club members nearly 9 years later than in non-members.

The news was even more impacting when researchers looked at the death rates. In addition to postponing disability, running and physical exercise showed a higher survival rate, according to the report. Running club members were less likely to die during the study period than people who participated in other aerobic activities. The study showed that non-club members were 3.3 times more likely to die during the study period, not just from diseases clearly linked to lifestyle, such as heart disease, but from all types of illnesses. According to Dr. Wang, the benefits of running and other aerobic exercise “appeared even in those who began exercising in mid-life.”