- Because running is a high-impact sport, there’s concern about whether it’s too tough on joints and bones in later decades.
- However, impact training, like running, can actually help older adults maintain their bone health, new research finds.
- If you’re new to high-impact activities, it’s best to begin with less-intensive exercises and then slowly progress into more intensive ones.
When you’re running, there’s a moment when both of your feet are off the ground, and because of that, running is considered a high-impact sport. That tends to spark concern about whether it’s too tough on your joints and bones in later decades.
But a new study in JBMR Plus suggests not only is it safe for the majority of people, it may also be a boon for maintaining bone health. The same goes for intensity, the researchers add, and it all comes down to adaptability.
Researchers looked at 69 male sprinters between 40 to 85 years old with a long-term training background who had two imaging sessions done of their tibial bones 10 years apart. The athletes who had maintained strength and sprint training (which includes impact work) showed maintained or even improved bone strength. Those who had reduced their training load over the decade showed reduced bone density.
“The takeaway message is that with specific exercises that include regular, intensive training and impact, the adaptability of aging bone can be maintained into older ages, and age-related bone deterioration may be counteracted,” lead author Tuuli Suominen, Ph.D.(c), at the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Jyväskyla in Finland, told Runner’s World.
Part of age-related bone loss is related to reduced physical activity levels, she said, especially intensive exercise. Impact and intensity load the bones and create stress—too much and you’ve got injury, but with just enough, the bones will adapt to those demands, getting stronger as a result.
The recent study was limited in terms of participants, and she added that further research is needed for sedentary aging people, as well as older female athletes, looking especially at hormonal differences. That said, previous research indicates that taking a gradual approach to bone-loading exercise can be beneficial for nearly anyone.
Best of all, it doesn’t take long to see improvements. Previous research done by Suominen and her colleagues found that combining intensive strength exercises with sport-specific sprint training improved tibia structure and strength by about 3 percent after only 20 weeks.
“For many—or even most—older people, there should be no contraindications for higher-impact exercise,” said Suominen. “Of course, if you are not accustomed to such training—and especially in cases when physical function and bone health are low—you should begin with less-intensive exercises and then slowly progress into more intensive ones.”
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