Sometimes it’s good news when a study’s hypothesis is not proved. That was the case, certainly, with a new study of older runners, in which researchers assumed that athletes over 60 would be noticeably less efficient than their younger counterparts.
For the experiment, published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers at the University of New Hampshire and other institutions recruited 51 competitive runners, ranging in age from 18 to 77. Each trained regularly and had placed in the top three in his or her age group in a local 5-kilometer or 10-kilometer road race. Their goal was to assess running economy, a measure of how much oxygen someone uses to run at a certain pace. Economical runners can continue at a given speed longer than inefficient striders, outdistancing them.
Going into the study, the researchers had assumed that runners past age 60 would be less economical than youthful athletes, since older runners, as a group, are slower than younger ones. But as it turned out, when scientists fitted the volunteers with masks that measured their oxygen use as they ran on a treadmill and then compared the results by age group, the runners 60 and older were just as physiologically economical as younger runners, even those in their 20s and 30s.