Why It's Never Too Late to Start Running

Even marathons are safe for most older competitors, and running can boost brain power as it improves overall fitness

by Mark Harris • Next Avenue
woman running image

Over the past 30 years, the average time it has taken top runners to complete the New York City marathon hasn’t changed significantly — except among older competitors. Since 1980, for example, the average time for the top 10 male finishers between 65 and 69 has dropped from about 3:50 to 3:35; over the same period, the top 10 female runners between 55 and 59 improved their average time from about 4:25 to 3:55. Older runners' numbers have grown steadily as well: Three decades ago, runners over age 40 made up a third of the competitors in the New York race. Today they represent half.

Typical of this new breed of runners is Janet Howe, 52, an attorney in Sammamish, Wash., who ran her first marathon at age 47. “With my kids getting older, I entered a new phase of life,” she says. “I had extra time to pursue other hobbies and discover things about myself.” In the past five years, she's completed 18 marathons.

Why Running Is Good for You at Any Age

The success of older runners reflects a broader societal shift toward people living longer and healthier lives. But it also confirms mounting scientific evidence that aerobic exercise, like running, can not only "delay the onset of age-related muscular atrophy, it also strengthens brain cells," says Mark Mattson of the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore. "Running even stimulates the production of new nerve cells in some parts of the brain.”

Click here for more reasons why running is good for you; plus, running myths vs. facts

Next: 12 Races to Do Before You Die

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Share Your Thoughts!


Justin Olander09.26.2013

“One of the essential attributes that is important when trying to get to the gym, can be not necessarily getting to the gym. Working out is the main goal. If some individuals feel that they can't make it to the gym on a regular basis. Pick one or two activities that one loves to do. It can be something that one enjoyed as a child. Basketball, tennis or football. Working out with friends drives individuals to become competitive in a friendly manner. That can push one to do their best and get a great workout. Setting goals for what individuals want to accomplish can be more self-rewarding than going on a strict no "carb" diet. These simple tips can help make weight loss and exercise enjoyable! 

Anne Castro06.04.2013

I can give you at least one excellent reason why it is too late to start running. Zero cartalidge in the knees. No one should try running without knee replacement surgery. At least per my sports orthopedist.

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