As we grow older, our maximum aerobic capacity declines. What this means is that we don’t take in and transport as much oxygen as we did when we were younger, and exercise, even everyday walking, comes at a higher metabolic cost. Our bodies require more energy to move, and walking can become more difficult and exhausting. This doesn’t just affect quality of life. A decrease in walking ability is a key predictor of morbidity in senior citizens. Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder and Humboldt State University recently found that consistently running may slow down the aging process by safeguarding walking ability, keeping movement easy, and improving overall quality of life.
Running Helps Maintain Fuel Economy
The study, published online in the journal PLOS ONE, was made up of 30 men and women who had either walked or run for 30 minutes or more three times a week for at least three months. To determine the effects of running and walking on walking efficiency, researchers measured oxygen intake and carbon dioxide production while subjects walked on a force-measuring treadmill at three different speeds (1.6 mph, 2.8 mph, and 3.9 mph).
Results showed that older adults who had been consistently running several times a week for at least six months expended the same amount of energy walking as a typical 20-year-old! Older adults who regularly walked, however, expended up to 22% more energy than the average 20-year-old. All in all, the runners had a much lower metabolic cost than the walkers, testing 7-10% more efficient in fuel economy.
Study co-author Owen Beck explains: “It was surprising to find that older adults who regularly run for exercise are better walkers than older adults who regularly walk for exercise. The take-home message of the study is that consistently running for exercise seems to slow down the aging process and allows older individuals to move more easily, improving their independence and quality of life.”
Researchers suspect that increased fuel efficiency among runners can be attributed to more mitochondria in muscle cells. People who regularly exercise have more mitochondria cells, and therefore more energy to power their muscles and movement.
Running Tips for Newbies
If you are physically unable to run, then by all means start or keep up your walking regimen. According to this most recent study, walking doesn’t improve walking efficiency, but it does help protect against heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, anxiety, and depression. If you are looking to implement running into your exercise program, then follow the tips below:
- Check with your doctor! Make sure your physician gives you the a-okay and that your heart is healthy enough. Ask about any safety precautions.
- Go easy! Start with walking, and then gradually ease into jogging, keeping the distance, speed and time easy to moderate. Safety first!
- Rest! Start with two to three days of light jogging per week, with plenty of rest and recovery in between.