Aug. 25, 2004 -- Men and women over 50 may not only get better with age, they may get faster, according to a new study.
Researchers found New York City Marathon runners over 50 have improved their running times significantly more during the last two decades than their younger counterparts, and older women may be outpacing the men in terms of both participation and improvement.
Overall, the study showed that the number of older or "master" athletes over 50 competing in the 26-plus-mile race is increasing at a greater rate than in the younger age groups, and researchers say it may be a promising sign of increased physical activity among this age group.
"It is not surprising that the number of participating master athletes continues to rise. There is a general trend towards increasing numbers of our aging population who are in good health and physically able to participate in these types of strenuous competitions," writes researcher Peter Jokl, MD, professor of orthopaedics at Yale University, and colleagues. "Our data reflect the potential for improvement of the general health status of our aging population."
Older Runners Get Faster Quicker
For the study, published in the August issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers analyzed the running time, age, and gender of all 415,000 runners in the New York City Marathon from 1983-1999.
The study showed that the number of runners who participated in the race increased by 119% from 14,546 runners in 1983 to 31,791 in 1999, and the greatest increases in participation were found among men and women over 50.
In addition, the ratio of male to female runners has been cut in half from 5.6-to-1 in 1983 to 2.5-to-1 in 1999. Researchers say that if current trends continue, the number of male and female runners may be equal by 2007.
The study also showed that the average running times increased for all male and female runners during the 17-year period. But male runners between 50 and 80 years old and female runners over 40 experienced a significant decrease in average running times.
The biggest improvement in running time was seen in women aged 60-69 and among the top 50 finishers in each age category.
For example, the top 50 female marathon finishers aged 50-59 improved their race times by an average of 2.08 minutes per year, and those aged 60-69 improved at a rate of 3.79 minutes per year.
In comparison, the top 50 male marathoners aged 50-59 improved at a rate of 8 seconds per year, and those aged 60-69 cut their running times by an average of 1.23 minutes per year.