Ed Whitlock ran a sub-four hour marathon at the age of 85, and since the year 2000, more people in their 40s 50s and 60s are doing endurance sports. This is superb, as a recent study has shown that doing endurance sports lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease by 27%, lowers your risk of cancer by 23% and your all-cause mortality by 30%. This can be increased even further by adding resistance training, which can lead to all-cause mortality to be reduced by 40%. This is a phenomenal finding and if there was a pill equivalent, everybody would be taking it! However, people still have concerns that doing this type of exercise will cause wear and tear to their knees or hips. Surprisingly, this does not seem to be the case. More studies have shown that it is actually the complete opposite! The risk of osteoarthritis is more likely to be associated with sedentary lifestyles, rather than those that are more active.
However, things do of course alter between older and younger runners. Normally, there is a decrease in oxygen absorption as we get older. Although, the aerobic capacity of endurance runners in their 80s can be nearly twice as high as inactive age related matched pairs. Though there are more running related injuries in the older runners, these injuries are different. In young runners their tends to be more iliotibial pain and medial tibial stress syndrome, whereas in older runners the injuries seem to be more muscular, particularly to the hamstrings, calves and Achilles tendon.
Most running injuries generally occur when the training load is greater than the body’s capacity to cope, for example, if you normally run 3 times a week and suddenly increase this to 5 times a week, or run a longer distance, at a faster pace or start including hill work. This is particularly true for older runners, thus it is important not to change your running style too rapidly and to factor in rest days. If we factor in time to do some resistance training, our calves particularly can be very protective against Achilles tendonopathy. In fact, it has been found that strength training reduces injuries from over use by 50%. Interestingly, the same study found that stretching had no protective effect against injury!
So hopefully, this may encourage some of you to try running or cycling. It is without a doubt good for you, so I would highly recommend giving it a go today!
Reference Willy, R.W. and Paquette, M.R., 2019. The physiology and biomechanics of the master runner. Sports Medicine and Arthroscopy Review, 27(1), pp.15-21.