Is Running The Answer For Healthy Aging?

An active lifestyle improves the quality of life and maintains health at all ages. Since it is important to help older individuals stay healthy and with the elderly population continuing to grow running has become a popular form of exercise. However, running can also lead to injuries so one of the important factors in reducing injury is to understand how to move and change movement patterns from one step to the next.

A study called Running Mechanics and Variability with Aging recently compared the running mechanics and lower-extremity coordination variability in matched groups of healthy younger and healthy older runners. The study appears in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

The Methods

The study took a look at how younger and older runners with similar weekly running mileage moved. Three-dimensional kinetics and kinematics were collected while 14 older adults ages 45 to 65 - and younger adults ages 18 to 35 - ran overground. Knee, ankle, and hip joint angles and movements were determined. Discrete measures at foot strike - maximum and minimum - were determined and compared between groups. Segment angles during stance were used to calculate segment coordination variability between pelvis and thigh, thigh and shank, and shank and foot, using a modified vector coding technique.

The Results

The overall result was that older and younger runners moved similarly with only slight differences in movement at the hip and ankle. The step-to-step changes in movement were similar in both groups, which means that running itself may help keep older people moving like younger counterparts.

More specifically, knee and ankle joint angles were similar between groups. Older runners had greater hip range of motion and peak hip flexion at a more extended hip position than younger runners. Older runners had smaller ankle plantar flexion movement and hip rotational movement than younger runners. There were no between-group differences in any of the variability measures.

The conclusion was that runners appear to maintain movement patterns and variability during running with increasing age, indicating that running itself may be contributing to maintenance of health among older runners in the current study. The investigators believe that this study could have important implications for activity recommendations for healthy aging in adults and may indicate that older adults with running experience are less vulnerable to running injuries.

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