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Is Running A Safe Exercise For People In Their 40s?

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Contrary to popular belief, running does not increase the risk of osteoarthritis – but does just the opposite! For middle-aged runners, not more than 1 to 2.5 hrs of running thrice a week is advised. If you’ve been physically active all your life, there is no reason to stop. If you are a beginner, start slow and don't exert yourself beyond mild breathlessness. Get all health parameters tested before you start.

Ultra-athletes running marathons well into their sixties are not unheard of. But should you be concerned about health problems that could arise from running in your forties? Or is running actually still a great way to exercise, even if you’re long past that fortieth birthday? Are the risks real, or blown out of proportion?

Dangers Of Running In Your Forties: Separating Myth From Reality

Running has big benefits, but not without attendant risks. Knowing how likely these are to occur and who’s at risk can help prevent mistakes that could cost you dearly.

Cardiac Arrest

High profile coverage of deaths during marathons and half-marathons has thrown the safety aspects of running under the scanner. During regular exercise, however, like a normal run over a moderate or low distance, exercise-related cardiac events are rare. Acute plaque rupture has been identified as the most dominant reason for cardiac events during exercise, including running.1 In other words, it isn’t the running itself that is causing the cardiac problems, but the underlying health conditions that may need to be addressed. For those in their forties a regular health check, including specific cardiac health checkups, is important. These can uncover problems you might have – even if you are asymptomatic – that may result in complications when you run.

Mortality Rate

Running too much can be as bad as not exercising at all. Sudden death incidence as recorded by one study of marathons across the United States was 1 for every 259,000 runners.2 The Copenhagen Heart Study found that strenuous jogging resulted in a mortality rate which was similar to that of the sedentary group being observed. When done in moderation, however, this exercise actually resulted in lower mortality.3

Osteoarthritis Risk

Strenuous activity like running has been considered a culprit in the increase of osteoarthritis risk, with higher impact than walking or other exercise. One study dived into this issue, to discover that the reverse was actually true. Osteoarthritis risk as well as the risk of needing a hip replacement actually went down significantly among runners, compared to those who relied on other exercise. One theory is that running helps lower the BMI of the body, which could reduce these risks as well.4

Why Run?

Physical activity cuts your risk of death by 30 percent, when compared to people who are inactive, according to several studies.5

Running and regular exercise are beneficial for overall fitness. Studies have shown that having a lifelong habit of regular aerobic exercise can be good for your cardiovascular health and may lower the incidence of ischemic heart disease.6 Those who are fitter also had higher levels of good HDL cholesterol and lower blood pressure.7

Besides this, there is growing evidence to show that aerobic exercise can help lower dementia risk and cognitive impairment. Just one year of regular aerobic exercise like running or walking resulted in a significantly larger hippocampal volume as well as improved spatial memory among seniors.8

Starting Out Running In Your Forties: Balance Is Key

Ultra-endurance events lasting six hours or more, involving tough terrain, long distance, or multiple forms of exercise including swimming and cycling, are not for everyone. These are heavily demanding on your cardiovascular system. If you’re just starting to run in your forties, you will need to start out small.

One report based on the Copenhagen Heart Study led experts to suggest that exercise may actually be more effective as you grow older. However, they caution that middle-aged runners or joggers should not strain themselves too much. Being just mildly breathless is fine, but exertion beyond that should be avoided. The frequency and extent of activity must also be tempered. One suggestion is to run a total of between 1 and 2.5 hours each week. Run no more than thrice a week, giving yourself rest days in between.9 In the same study, those who were moderate or light joggers were found to have lower mortality than non-joggers.10

Running is a safe bet for anyone who has been physically active. If you have been a runner before hitting the big 4-0, there’s no reason to stop now. For new runners, extra caution and a proper health-check to ensure you don’t have any risk factors that could preclude you from running is a good idea.

References   [ + ]

1, 2.Kim, Jonathan H., Rajeev Malhotra, George Chiampas, Pierre d’Hemecourt, Chris Troyanos, John Cianca, Rex N. Smith et al. “Cardiac arrest during long-distance running races.” New England Journal of Medicine 366, no. 2 (2012): 130-140.
3, 5, 10.Schnohr, Peter, James H. O’Keefe, Jacob L. Marott, Peter Lange, and Gorm B. Jensen. “Dose of jogging and long-term mortality: the Copenhagen City Heart Study.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology 65, no. 5 (2015): 411-419.
4.Williams, Paul T. “Effects of running and walking on osteoarthritis and hip replacement risk.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 45, no. 7 (2013): 1292.
6.Blomqvist, C. Gunnar, and Bengt Saltin. “Cardiovascular adaptations to physical training.” Annual Review of Physiology 45, no. 1 (1983): 169-189.
7.Lichtenstein, Michael J. “Jogging in middle age.” JR Coll Gen Pract 35, no. 276 (1985): 341-345.
8.Ahlskog, J. Eric, Yonas E. Geda, Neill R. Graff-Radford, and Ronald C. Petersen. “Physical exercise as a preventive or disease-modifying treatment of dementia and brain aging.” In Mayo Clinic Proceedings, vol. 86, no. 9, pp. 876-884. Elsevier, 2011.
9.O’Keefe, James H., Peter Schnohr, and Carl J. Lavie. “The dose of running that best confers longevity.” Heart 99, no. 8 (2013): 588-590.
CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.