Americans are obsessed with aging. Or, more accurately, with avoiding it. Between all the skin creams, Botox, chin tucks and rejuvenation supplements, the business of anti-aging has grown into a more than $250 billion global industry. It’s projected to top $330 billion in the next three years.
Last week’s column about Pam Clark brought several comments about how well Pam looks at age 63, just as she is ramping up mileage and set to run her first marathon (26.2 miles).
While plenty of people are searching for the magic anti-aging pill, those of us who run regularly think we already have it. Turns out that lacing up those endless pairs of running shoes is the best “pill” we can take.
Running, according to nearly a dozen of the nation’s top longevity researchers and decades of study, is and always has been one of the best age-preventers. We all know on some level that running is good for us. It helps control weight, strengthens the heart and lungs and gives us the best kind of feel-good high. But look specifically at what it can do for us as we age — and how it can pre-emptively combat some of the most common age-related diseases and ailments — and it’s clear that running is as close to a miracle drug as we’ve got. And it’s not just that our favorite sport can tack years onto our lives. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases published a landmark study that says running can add three years to your life and also add more life in your years. Run, and your health, energy and quality of life are superior in ways both subtle and vital. Living to 100 is meaningless without that.
For about 2 million years, running was integral to our survival. “Our bodies adapted to running because we had to do it to get food,” explains David Raichlen, Ph.D., and anthropologist who studies runners and the evolutionary history of exercise at the University of Arizona. “The need to constantly be on the move caused our hearts to enlarge, our capillaries to grow,” Raichlen says. In his 2014 paper in Trends in Neurosciences, he lays out how running allowed Homo sapiens to reach old age. Thousands of years ago, humans began living much longer than other mammals. Raichlen believes that’s primarily because we were constantly running — for our food and from our food — which minimized the chances of developing chronic disease. He also doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that today, as people in general spend less time running or doing any activity, our chronic disease risk skyrockets. “I tend to think that exercise explains quite a bit about why we are the way we are today,” he says. Put another way, Raichlen thinks that not running actually goes against our own evolutionary history.
While running itself can produce immediate and lasting changes that make the body “younger,” it’s this ripple effect that researchers point to as the sport’s most important quality. Having the strength, vigor and energy to do anything you want, that’s what gives running its real value.
What can you do to get on board with running if you’re not already? The Salisbury Rowan Runners have a great Beginners Running Class that has been ongoing since 2005. I was surprised to find the shirt from the year we kicked off this great series of classes. Our spring class will start on March 22 at the Salisbury Police Department and continue for eight weeks, meeting on consecutive Tuesdays. Last spring’s group class was loaded with fun, and we expect the same thing again. Each Tuesday, we’ll meet at the PD for 30 minutes of classroom time at 6pm, then go out and run/walk for distances from a half-mile the first week to 3.1 miles on May 10. Nothing’s better for me than to hook a class participant for life-long running.
Look for more details on the Beginners Running Class, how to register, and information on other upcoming events at www.salisburyrowanrunners.org.