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Run Your Way to Better Walking

Post By: Laura Gold PT, DPT

It’s possible that running and other high intensity exercise is beneficial in helping older adults keep that spring in their step. In a world where we often think that running might not be possible or advisable for older adults, I think that’s good news!

A study (Here) published in November’s issue of PLOS One and summarized in today’s New York Times Health section  provides evidence that running may be beneficial for older adults in improving walking economy (i.e. how much energy it takes to walk at a given speed). The study looked at two groups of active older adults in their 60s and 70s; one group included regular walkers and the other included regular runners. The results showed that the runners required significantly less energy to walk at the same speed than the walkers! Even more interestingly, the older runners walked with the same efficiency as typical sedentary college students.

Researchers weren’t quite sure what could explain the improved efficiency, but their primary theory is that runners have better coordinated movements that require less co-contraction of the leg muscles.

As promising as this study may be for providing guidance on how older adults can improve their healthy and mobility, reduce fall risk, and defray the slow-down that can come with age, it is only a correlation at this point. More work would needs to be done to determine if starting a running program may actually improve an older adult’s walking efficiency. That being said, we know that older adults can safely benefit from higher intensity exercise than you might expect! The bottom line is that those who participate in vigorous exercise (in this case running) are able to walk with a little more pep in their step. And I’ve always advocated the exercise is the closest thing we have to a fountain of youth.

Need some help developing a program to get more pep in your step? Your physical therapist is a great place to start. Physical therapists are experts in evaluating and improving movement efficiency and can help you develop a program to get moving.

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