Experts and your friends who work out love to tell you that it’s never too late to start training. And new research suggests they’re right, at least when it comes to running.
A study published in Frontiers in Physiology found that runners who started training after age 50 were able to be as fast and as lean as their peers who had been running for their whole lives.
Researchers looked at 150 older endurance runners whose age averaged 68. They divided them into “early starters,” meaning they’d trained most of their lives, and late starters, who only took up running around age 50. They compared them not just to each other, but also to a group of 59 people (with an average age of 73) who’d done pretty much no exercise.
Whether people had run since age 50 or since about age 18, their body fat percentage and muscle in their legs were similar (both were greater than in the non-exercisers, of course). Even better, athletic performance was similar in late starters than in those who had many more years of training on them. Which means that you can still smoke your high school rivals if you start now.
These runners, who happened to be mostly men, didn’t just go for the occasional jog; they trained intensely for five to six days a week.
More evidence it’s not too late to start: Roy Englert, who reportedly didn’t start running until he was in his 60s. This past summer, at age 96, he broke the 5K world record at the USATF Masters Outdoor Championships for his age group, finishing in 42:30:23. That was 8 minutes faster than the previous record. He’s not the only masters runner out there beating the competition.
If you haven’t hit 50, this doesn’t mean you can put off training until then. Without exercise, the study points out, leg skeletal muscle mass declines about eight to ten percent a decade starting at age 30. To get started the smart way, use these run training tips.