Running can be an excellent sport for people as they get older. Running advocates believe that the benefits can offset the effects of aging. Apparently more than half the runners in the New York City Marathon are over forty. Personally I think that if you have no knee, hip or foot arthritis and you are over 60 then running is definitely possible. You just need a slow and steady approach. So the real question is can you run with arthritis in the knee or hip?
Take time to look into your condition
From my experience most doctors tend to tell their patients that running with arthritis is impossible and to look for another mode of exercise. I don’t always think it needs to be this simple. First step would be to grade your arthritis and then pin down exactly where the arthritis is. For example when looking at the knee arthritis under the surface of your kneecap, where this glides over the lower end of the femur bone of the upper leg is managed in a different fashion. Typically this “patella-femoral” arthritis gives pain that is worse when the knee is flexed, such as going up or down stairs. Something that has occasionally helped some of my clients is an injection of steroid into the space under the kneecap: not a permanent solution, but it can last months. Recent research has shown that it is a myth that running causes arthritis; it may shield, slightly, against it as the cartilage gets conditioned to the running. If you are running over 60 and overweight, stresses to the knees may increase so general weight loss through diet control is advised before you start running. If you can manage a run now and then, do so on softer surfaces to lessen impact and increase your chances of continuing.
The aging effect
From the 30s onwards, a number of physical changes take place in the average person’s body. Aerobic capacity decreases, muscle mass reduces, muscle elasticity reduces, bone density reduces, the metabolism slows, body fat increases and the immune system becomes weaker. In general, it is thought that running speeds over any distance deteriorate by about 1% a year from a peak at some point in the 30s; and we appear to lose aerobic capacity at about 9-10% a decade. It’s not all bad news though check out Canadian athlete Ed Whitlock who ran a marathon in 2:54:48 at the age of 73. What a legend! However, If you are running over 60 and pain/swelling continue, you must weigh up the risk of future, permanent damage. Some studies suggest that elderly people who practice regular vigorous physical exercise, such as running over 60, may develop osteoarthritis more often. Listen to your body and find a therapist who will work with you rather than tell you to quit after having just met you for 5 minutes. For more information on exercise for over 60’s see the NHS physical activity guidelines for older adults.