Published: June 1, 2015

legs of runners

Running seems to slow the aging process

Want to feel young as you age?

Get moving.

A new study by CU-Boulder and Humboldt State University researchers found that consistently running for exercise allows the elderly to spend less energy when they walk, achieving about the same energy efficiency as a typical 20 year old.

Running at least three times a week also allows the elderly to move more easily in general, researchers say.

“The bottom line is that running keeps you younger, at least in terms of energy efficiency,” says study co-author Rodger Kram of CU-Boulder’s Department of Integrative Physiology.

Older people who only walk for exercise do not experience the same benefit, although walking has many other known health benefits.

The study was led by Justus Ortega (MKines’01, PhD’06), a professor at Humbolt State.

“It’s been known for a long time that as people age their maximum aerobic capacity, or ‘horsepower,’ declines, and that is true for runners as well,” Ortega says. “What’s new here is we found that old runners maintain their fuel economy.”

Kram emphasizes that “walking for exercise has many positive health effects, like fending off heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and depression — it’s just that walking efficiency does not seem to be one of them.”

The study, published in PLOS ONE, involved 30 subjects with an average age of 69 who regularly ran or walked for exercise.

Researchers recorded participants’ oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production as they walked at varying speeds on a force-measuring treadmill in Kram’s locomotion laboratory at CU.

Read more about the running study.

Photography by Rob Wilson/Shutterstock