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Older Runners Delay Disability, Death

Regular Aerobic Exercise Prolongs Life and Prevents Injury

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Nov. 12, 2002 -- Older runners may outpace their less active counterparts in the race of life. A new study shows older people who regularly run live longer and are less likely to suffer from a disability.

Researchers studied 370 members of a running club for people age 50 and older and compared them with 249 community members who didn't belong to such a club. They followed them for about 13 years. Each of the participants was between the ages of 50 and 72 at the start of the study.

By the end of the study, they found that the running club members were not only more than three times less likely to have died than non-members, but they also delayed the onset of disability by an average of almost nine years.

On average, the running club members died at 74.9 years, compared with 72.6 years for non-members.

Researchers say this survival advantage was particularly strong for women. Among non-members, only one-third of the deaths reported during the study period were women, and none of the deaths among running club members were women.

The study appears in the Nov. 11 issue of The Archives of Internal Medicine.

Study researcher Benjamin W. E. Wang, MD, of Stanford University School (now with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis), and colleagues say the findings show that running and other aerobic exercise can help elderly persons lead a longer, disability-free life.

"Not only are deaths prevented, disability levels are decreased and the development of disability is postponed in association with running and other aerobic exercise," write the researchers. "These data support the recommendation that individuals even in midlife participate in regular aerobic exercise of at least moderate intensity, and suggest that quantity and quality of life can be augmented through primary prevention measures."

They say that previous studies have already demonstrated the benefit of various forms of aerobic exercise, such as walking, on disability. Potential explanations for this effect may include increases in muscle mass and the improved lung capacity that come with regular activity.

SOURCE: Archives of Internal Medicine, Nov. 11, 2002.

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