Have you ever wondered which exercise would be best to keep you healthy as you get older? I guess the answer is “the one you like”, but Pedro Angel Latorre-Roman and his colleagues wanted to investigate this further and compared master long distance runners with athletes engaged in gym work and sedentary people.
47 long distance runners and 49 bodybuilders from local clubs volunteered for the study, and were compared to 47 sedentary people. All the participants were male, and between 35 and 60 years old. They were divided in groups according to their age (35-40 year, 40-50 year and 50-60 year old).
The researchers calculated their BMI, measured their body fat percentage, and analysed their quality of life using a questionnaire. The participants performed countermovement jumps and had their hand grip measured to test their strength.
Unsurprisingly, the long distance runners as well as the bodybuilders maintained their strength much better throughout aging than the sedentary people, even though muscle mass was decreased in all the older participants compared to the younger ones. The runners showed healthier BMI values and body fat percentages, and scored better in the quality of life questionnaire than both other groups. However, they lost more muscle mass than the bodybuilders as they grew older.
This study confirms a previous study by Williams, which showed that running is much more effective in keeping your body fat percentage healthy than other sports. Williams compared the BMI and waist circumference of 33,374 runners with the kind and amount of exercise they were doing. Most runners do not only run, but are also engaged in a wide variety of different sports, such as cycling, walking, swimming… He noticed that those who ran more were leaner, even if the total amount of energy spent exercising was the same.
Both studies are off course observational, which means that they can only show an association between two findings. It does not mean that one leads to the other, as there might be a third factor which explains the association. For example, there is an association between lying in bed and dying, as most people die in bed, but this is explained by disease and injury.
It is also possible that lean people are more often tempted to take up running than other people.
The same could be true concerning the results of the quality of life questionnaire: are you happy because you are running, are you running because you are happy or is there another explanation?
PA Latorre-Roman, JM Izquierdo-Sanchez, J Salas-Sanchez and F Garcia-Pinillos. Comparative Analysis between two models of active aging and its influence on body composition, strength and quality of life: long-distance runners versus bodybuilders practioners. Nutr Hosp. 2015; 31(4): 17-25.
PT Williams. Non-exchangeability of running vs. other exercise in their association with adiposity, and its implications for public health recommendations. PLoSOne. 2012; 7(7): e36360. doi:10.1371/journal.pone0036360.Epub 2012 Jul 13.
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