Older Runners Retain Youthful Running Economy despite Biomechanical Differences


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Abstract

PurposeSixty-five years of age typically marks the onset of impaired walking economy. However, running economy has not been assessed beyond the age of 65 yr. Furthermore, a critical determinant of running economy is the spring-like storage and return of elastic energy from the leg during stance, which is related to leg stiffness. Therefore, we investigated whether runners older than 65 yr retain youthful running economy and/or leg stiffness across running speeds.MethodsFifteen young and 15 older runners ran on a force-instrumented treadmill at 2.01, 2.46, and 2.91 m·s−1. We measured their rates of metabolic energy consumption (i.e., metabolic power), ground reaction forces, and stride kinematics.ResultsThere were only small differences in running economy between young and older runners across the range of speeds. Statistically, the older runners consumed 2% to 9% less metabolic energy than the young runners across speeds (P = 0.012). Also, the leg stiffness of older runners was 10% to 20% lower than that of young runners across the range of speeds (P = 0.002), and in contrast to the younger runners, the leg stiffness of older runners decreased with speed (P < 0.001).ConclusionsRunners beyond 65 yr of age maintain youthful running economy despite biomechanical differences. It may be that vigorous exercise, such as running, prevents the age related deterioration of muscular efficiency and, therefore, may make everyday activities easier.

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