Running update, and why being crazy like me could be good for your health…

Last month in Austin, TX I achieved a goal I had set for myself two years ago– to run a marathon– and I did so at age 58. When I started running and told people that I had this goal, many friends and colleagues, some of whom I respect greatly, told me that it was a bad idea: I was too old, I would hurt myself, and might end up needing knee-replacement surgery. A few even mentioned the term crazy when referring to my plans…

My reply at the time was that I was prepared to take the risk of injury because running a marathon was a long standing dream of mine. Today, after running three half marathons and a full one I feel far more confident. If anything my knees have become stronger, and I was more vulnerable to aches and pains before I started running than I am now. As a result I plan to keep on going and hope to run another marathon early next year if not sooner…

If you think that this proves once and for all that I am crazy, you may want to think again. An odd titled study published last February shows that there might be more sanity than meets the eye to my future running plans.

The study is entitled “Leukocyte telomere length is preserved with aging in endurance exercise-trained adults and related to maximal aerobic capacity.” It was published in Mechanisms of Ageing and Development, volume 131, issue 2, February 2010, pages 165-7.

If you never heard of telomeres don’t worry, few people have. Basically they are components of DNA that shorten as we age. Their rate of shortening correlates directly with the speed at which we age, so that if they shorten quickly we also age more rapidly, but if their shortening occurs at a slow rate we remain youthful longer. While the cause and effect relationship between telomere shortening and aging is not clear, it has been established that these two events always occur simultaneously.

Scientists used to believe that the speed of telomere shortening was preset at birth and nothing could be done to alter its course. They then discovered that exposure to free radicals accelerates it, while healthy diet can delay it, while at the same time altering the rate at which we age.

In this study researchers discovered that endurance exercise, like training for and running a marathon, and increased aerobic capacity, which comes with this type of training, also delay telomere shortening and aging. Anyone up for a run?

2 Responses to “Running update, and why being crazy like me could be good for your health…”

  1. I’m thrilled for you! Congratulations on sticking with your dream and seeing it through! This is wonderful!

  2. Thank you so much Shannon. I think you could teach me a thing or two about sticking to your dreams!