The Health Benefits of Running for Seniors

By Richard Asa and Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
November 30, 2023
The Health Benefits of Running for Seniors

Running after 60 can be as beneficial to your health as it was when you were in your 20s. With care, you can avoid injuries. Here's what you should know.

There’s no doubt that a runner’s speed slows with age. But you can continue to run into your 90s, reaping all the benefits of intensive exercise. Even jogging at a moderate pace is great for you.   

Why do runners slow down?

Beginning in your 30s onwards, many physical changes occur in the average person’s body:

  • Aerobic capacity decreases.
  • Muscle mass shrinks.
  • Muscles and lungs become less elastic.
  • Bones become less dense.
  • Your metabolism slows.
  • Body fat increases.
  • Your immune system becomes weaker.

Running, however, can help you minimize those changes.


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Benefits of running after 60

Many people think walking is just as good as running if you put in more time. That’s probably not so. Any vigorous effort that makes your heart push harder offers extra benefits.

Older people are more likely to develop weaknesses that running can help you avoid. Running lowers your risk of:

It can improve your coordination and strength and make you feel good overall.

On the downside, you’re more likely to have short-term knee problems when you run than if you stick to walking. But it’s not true that running will wreck your knees, according to a thorough meta-analysis. In fact, running could help your knees stay strong, and you’re more likely to recover naturally from any setbacks.

It matters how hard you work. Anything that gets your heart pumping is good for you. Walking beats sitting; walking faster, jogging, or running are even better. Once you’re moving too quickly to sing, you’ve crossed from light to moderate physical activity, boosting the good effects of running on your heart and lungs.

If you regularly work out in the moderate to vigorous range, you can dramatically improve your fitness, which is linked to better overall health. For most people, running all out will feel vigorous, but, over time, jogging might not.

In a study with data from more than 270,000 older Americans — ages 59 to 82 — people who played racquet sports, followed by runners, enjoyed the lowest risk of dying, whether from heart disease, cancer, or another cause.

Runners don’t have to be fast to benefit. In a study of more than 55,000 adults, regular runners, including people who jogged slower than 6 miles per hour, were 30 percent fitter than walkers and sedentary people. They also reduced their chance of dying over the next 15 years by 30 percent.

The saying “It’s never too late to start” is roughly true. In a study of more than 315,000 mid-life Americans, the more active participants were at any age, the greater their chance of staying alive. But those who picked up the exercise habit later on, sometimes starting at 60, lowered their risk of dying from cancer, heart disease, or other causes compared to people who continued to sit all the time.

Running while you still can may also keep you mobile, cutting into the tendency for walking to require more effort as you age, according to other research.


If you want to start running for the first time or take up running after a long lull, it’s important to start slowly. You could run for three minutes and walk for another minute, alternating for up to 25 minutes.

First, you should let your doctor know of your plans and take heed of any concerns he or she might have about your health history and current fitness abilities. 

Starting with a walk or run program is a great strategy to build your muscles and endurance without risking an injury that will set you back.

Runner’s World suggests nine ways to keep running as you age. The first is mixing up your training with distance and speed work.

Recovery after running

You’ll also need to build in recovery time. Don’t assume you can run at lunch and then lead a stressful meeting five minutes later. Maybe you can, maybe you can’t. It’s better to monitor and plan ahead.

Because muscle mass declines with age, don’t skimp on strength training. Just don’t overdo it. Stressing core exercises or using light dumbbells can do the trick. 

Be diligent about stretching, both before and after exercise. As you age, your flexibility decreases, and stretching compensates for that. 

Other advice includes:

  • Booking a regular massage to loosen the muscles that tighten from running
  • Eating well (a diet high in protein, carbs, fruits, and vegetables)
  • Running on surfaces with some give, like trails or grass


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November 30, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN