“Drop my body off at the gym, and call me when it’s ready.” That, and other humorous meme quotes are easily found on social media. If it were only an option! Yet, most of us want to look and feel younger than our actual age, and stay healthy and disease-free as long as possible. If there was an anti-aging drug (running in pill form?) for body and mind, we’d likely buy it.
Apparently, Americans are quite concerned about anti-aging. The anti-aging business is $250 billion industry per year! That excludes research and development for products and pills to reverse/slow down the effects of aging. Yet, there is something you can access right now “for cheap.” Rather, it is something you can DO, go for a run.
You might be wondering about running’s body and mind anti-aging benefits:
- Is it really that beneficial?
- How much do I need to run to get the benefits?
- Is it too late for me to start?
- Can I do something other than run?
Those questions are covered below, explaining why running keeps your body and mind younger, and truly is a “wonder drug.”
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Anti-Aging BENEFITS of Running for Body and Mind:
Heart – By restoring elasticity to arteries, keeping them “years younger.” More elastic arteries lessens change of kidney disease, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases (ie: dementia), and inflammation. Typically, when arteries are healthy, everything outside the cardiovascular system is healthier, too. (Heart disease is the #1 cause of death in the U.S., more than all cancers combined.) Douglas Seals, Ph.D., states “we now know that cognitive decline with aging and disease are significantly due to decline in artery function and health.”
Brain: Runners have greater volume of gray matter, and higher concentration! This means better memory, quicker recall, and less cognitive decline with age. Conversely, weaker and less elastic blood vessels increases the risk a stroke, a potentially profound and negative impact on brain function.
Immune system: Running is related to a stronger immune system, and thus fewer colds/flus. As an example, people who exercise have 20% fewer colds than their nonactive peers. This is according to a University of South Carolina report.
VO2 Max: This isn’t just a term for “fitness geeks.” VO2 Max (the max oxygen you use during exercise) decline is directly correlated to an increase in chronic illnesses. As we age, it declines with each decade. Raising heart rate with running intervals is one of the best ways to keep our VO2 Max high.
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Well-being: Besides anti-aging benefits that running provides for the body, it also is benefits the mind’s well-being. Running often provides critical social connections, whether through a race, or running group. Former U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., stated that loneliness is becoming an epidemic among adults.
Muscles: Running is a weight bearing sport, which helps preserve your muscle and bone health. Pliable muscles and strong bones are a big component of staying young. (An eight year study found that the more people ran, the less likely they were to suffer from osteoarthritis or knee pain).
Some interesting facts based on recent studies on running/aerobic exercise: A Ball State University study (2018) found that 75 year olds who had exercised regularly most of their life (approx 50 years) had cardiovascular health similar to those 40-45-year-olds. And, that their muscles resembled the muscles of 25-year-olds who had similar habits!
How much running is necessary?
The short answer: two and a half hours per week to get all the youth-promoting benefits. The long answer: Michael Joyner, M.D., a Mayo Clinic physician and researcher, states “I think what people don’t realize is you get a huge fraction of the benefits from relatively modest amounts of running per day—just a few miles.” The answer also has a nuance, the benefit of vascular health vs. increasing VO2 Max alters the type and amount of running. Lastly, two and a half hours per week is based on a 2017 epidemiological study on running by Duck-chul Lee, Ph.D., and cardiologist Carl Lavie, M.D. They state “compared to not running, any running is good.”
Is it too late for me to start running?
The short answer: NO! The long answer. If you’re beyond your twenties, and haven’t started a regular running routine – it is not too late. It’s not too late to slow down the “aging clock” and get/stay healthy and fit. A study of 53 middle-aged participants concluded that human hearts can reverse the aging process, and hearts appear to get “younger” with exercise even into middle age. Note, the participants completed four-five moderate to high-intensity aerobic workouts for 30 minutes. The two year study resulted with participants (in their 50’s) reversing the health of their hearts to resemble 30-35 year-olds.
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What about aerobic exercise other than running?
The short answer: Yes, but you likely won’t receive the same benefit. The long answer. Your body can’t distinguish between a run that elevates your heart rate to 160 vs. a bike ride with same result. Even so, there are reasons why running still provides the most benefit for keeping the body and mind young. A massive 2017 study concluded that regardless of age, sex, if you drink, or have exercised before, running one-two hours per week will cut your risk of cardiovascular related death by 45-70%, and cancer-related death by 30-50%. And, the researchers discovered that runners live far longer than those who exercise regularly, but don’t run.