Q. Is there any scientific study to substantiate the claim that people older than 45 should limit high-impact exercises, such as jogging, sprinting, etc.?
A. Actually, much of the recent science about high-impact exercise by “older people” reaches the opposite conclusion, suggesting that in many cases high-impact exercise can be beneficial for those middle-age and beyond. A seminal 2003 study of people ages 30 to past 70, for instance, found that while sedentary adults lost about 10 percent of their maximal endurance capacity every decade, young and middle-aged athletes who regularly engaged in intense and high-impact exercise, such as running intervals, experienced a much slower decline, losing only about 5 percent of their capacity per decade until age 70, when the loss of capacity accelerated for everyone.
There is also little evidence to support the widespread belief that high-impact exercise speeds the onset of arthritis. In a 2013 study, adult runners, including many age 45 or older, had a lower incidence of knee osteoarthritis and hip replacement than age-matched walkers, with the adults who accumulated the most mileage over the course of seven years having the lowest risk, possibly, the study’s author speculated, because running improved the health of joint cartilage and kept them lean as they aged. Similarly, a 2006 review of studies about jogging and joints concluded that “long-distance running does not increase the risk of osteoarthritis of the knees and hips for healthy people who have no other counter-indications for this kind of physical activity,” and “might even have a protective effect against joint degeneration.”
Running and similar high-impact activities likewise have a salutary effect on bone density, said Dr. Michael Joyner, an exercise physiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and an expert on aging athletes, of whom he is one. Overall, he continued, he is “skeptical” of the idea that older people should avoid high-impact activities.
“A lot of concerns about age-appropriate exercise modalities have turned out to be more speculative than real over the years,” he said, adding that during his research and personal workouts, he’s seen many seasoned adults pounding the pavement without ill effects.