Ready to Outrun Your Age? Here is Your RUN-YOUNGER Plan

Tempted to splash out on the latest anti-aging elixir? Are your shelves packed with supplements that promise to ease aches and pains? You’re not the only one. According to data, US women spend $70,294 on their appearance in their lifetime. And that’s not all – 23 percent of us would consider youth-boosting cosmetic surgery, while 67 percent would opt for a non-invasive treatment. But what if the fountain of youth wasn’t lurking on the beauty and health counters but among the details of your exercise regime? Sound too good to be true? Actually, it’s not.

THE EXERCISE EFFECT

In recent years, science has shown that many of the physical effects we once thought were caused by aging – weaker muscles, wider waists, easy-to damage bones – are partially the result of inactivity. Indeed, sporty people have thicker bones than those who sweat less, and they also have longer telomeres (the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes, which protect DNA from deterioration and get shorter as you age). ‘You can lose up to 10 percent muscle mass every decade after 50, but exercise can counteract it,’ says Dr. Mary Robinson MD, consultant physician in Sports Medicine. ‘Older people can get the same response to exercise that a much younger person might have.’

WHY RUNNING MATTERS

Clearly, exercise helps in the quest for a youthful body but does the type of activity you do matter? A bank of science suggests it does. In fact, the latest research published in the European Heart Journal reveals that running offers big benefits when it comes to building an ageless body. The German scientists compared different types of workouts – endurance training (distance running), HIIT training (interval running) and resistance training (circuit exercise on gym machines) – and found that running slowed or reversed cellular aging, even when weight training did not.

‘Metabolically, running is really good for you,’ adds Dr. Robinson. ‘It’s important to maintain heart- and lung-based fitness as you age and running is great for the cardiovascular system.’ Further science shows that satellite cells, which help repair and regenerate muscle tissue, are hardier among runners. Plus, runners’ muscles are more densely packed with motor units (the muscles’ control mechanisms, which can reduce in number as we age) than sedentary types.

GIVE ME STRENGTH

It’s important not to discount other forms of activity. ‘After women go through the menopause, they lose the protective effect that hormones have on bone strength, and running can help boost bone density,’ adds Dr. Robinson. ‘However, bones like to be loaded in different directions, so supplementing some runs with resistance exercise or Pilates is a really good idea.’ Been avoiding pounding the pavements because you believe it can cause boob drooping, saggy jowls or joint pain? Let’s put those rumors to rest: ‘Running gets a bad reputation for causing things such as joint pain when it’s simply a matter of being holistically strong by complementing runs with strength work,’ explains Dr. Robinson. And as for saggy skin? ‘There are some things we need to be mindful of, such as ensuring our bra fits, because running can cause some stretching of the ligaments around the breast, but the rest simply isn’t true.’

YOUR RUN-YOUNGER PLAN

Did you know that you can boost heart, lung, muscle and bone strength as efficiently as a younger person? With the right training, running could hold the key to turning back the clock. Follow this expert advice…

  1. START SLOWLY Whether you’re new to running or returning to the sport, it’s important to start slowly and build up the mileage gradually. Programs such as the Couch to 5K challenge and park run events make really great goals.
  2. RECOVER PROPERLY You could get away with things in your 20s that you can’t now, and bouncing back from exercise is one of them. Aim to do fewer run sessions per week and schedule in a bit more time for recovery than you used to – running every other day is sensible.
  3. RUN UPHILL Running uphill is a great way to build strength and balance. We already know that people lose muscle strength as they age but many forget that we also lose balance. Keep challenging your balancing ability by building proprioception skills through running off-road or uphill.
  4. STRENGTH TRAIN Resistance exercise offers even more benefits for older runners than it does for younger ones – it can help maintain muscle mass, as well as ease the stress on joints. Add leg and core exercises – squats, planks, deadlifts, push-ups and lunges – to your training.
  5. STAY FLEXIBLE Everyone’s muscles and tendons lose elasticity with time, and you may find that you feel particularly tight around the backs of your legs, glutes and shoulders after a run. Stretching and yoga can help.

 

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