The long term benefits of running

August 11, 2008 7:26:46 PM PDT
Baby boomers exercising into their golden years can take heart tonight. A new study out of Stanford documents long term benefits from running and details how the body reacts to vigorous exercise as we age.

Walter Bortz hit the pavement long before the running craze of the 1970's and 80's. But, after completing dozens of marathons, the 78-year-old has none of the knee or hip damage critics back then had predicted.

"Nothing, not a smidge," says Bortz.

And now, a new report could put even more spring in the step of older runners. Stanford researcher James Fries followed more than 500 runners for 20 years. Among the findings about to be published says the runners had fewer disabilities than non-runners, a longer span of activity in their lives and were half as likely to die early deaths.

"This is good news. What we found was that if you're a regular long distance runner or practice other forms of vigorous long distance activity, then you'll have a prolongation of the good period of life, the period where you don't have any disability," says Dr. James Fries.

He says the biggest surprise was that the predicted joint damage, in which many researchers had expected to see, wasn't there. Instead, they found that barring injury, running kept important components of the knee, such as the cartilage, healthy.

"When you put weight on the cartilage you squeeze water out into the joint space, and with it go the waste products. And when you take weight off, another part of the stride, the water goes back in and with it goes oxygen, which nourishes these cells," says Fries.

All of which validates what many older runners like Walter Bortz say they're bodies already tell them.

"I use this marathon every year as my annual physical exam. I don't need a doctor. I don't' need to know anything. If I can run a marathon, that's proof of health," says Bortz.

And to those with a long road still ahead, perhaps some incentive to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

The results of running study are being published in the journal 'Archives of Internal Medicine'. Fries and his team also released a separate paper earlier this month, focusing on the arthritis findings.