Researchers from the University of Colorado and the Humboldt State University make another point for running as they show the benefits of running in older adults.
Published in the journal PLOS One, the study involved self-reported runners and walkers over 65 years old, each one tasked with walking on a treadmill at varying speeds. This allowed the researchers to measure the consumption of oxygen and production of carbon dioxide in participants, which revealed that those who ran at least three times a week for 30 minutes each time were less likely to manifest physical decline due to age compared to those who just walked.
More specifically, those who ran were up to 10 percent more efficient at walking than those who turned to walking for exercise, registering metabolic costs similar to people in their 20s.
Metabolic cost refers to the amount of energy it would take to move. In the case of the study, high metabolic cost meant walking was more tiring and difficult. Unfortunately, a decline in the ability to walk is a key determinant of morbidity rates in older individuals.
Researchers were not able to conclude why runners are more efficient than their walking counterparts but it is believed that the results of the study may have something to do with the powerhouse of the cell, the mitochondria. This is because evidence suggests that those who exercise more vigorously have healthier mitochondria in their muscle cells. With more power in muscle cells, movement becomes more efficient, potentially bringing down metabolic cost.
"The bottom line is that running keeps you younger, at least in terms of efficiency," said Rodger Kram, the study's co-author and an Integrative Physiology professor from the University of Colorado.
Further research needs to be carried out to determine if the same results can be replicated in other aerobic activities like cycling and swimming. Additionally, the study encountered certain limitations that may be addressed by studies in the future.
"One limitation of the current study is the cross-sectional design. It is possible that older runners may not be economical walkers because of the effect of running exercise but rather they run because they are more economical in their locomotion. Another potential limitation of the current study is the different numbers of male and female participants in each group," explained the researchers.
Funding support for the study was provided through the National Institutes of Health Clinical and Translational Science Award and the California State University Program's Education and Research in Biotechnology New Investigator grant.
Other authors for the study include: Justus Ortega, Owen Beck, Jaclyn Roby, and Aria Turney.