Old runners pick up speed quicker than younger runners

August 24, 2004

New Haven, Conn. -- Marathon runners 50 and older, and female athletes in particular, are showing greater improvement in running times than younger runners, according to a study by a Yale professor.

Peter Jokl, M.D., professor of orthopedics, and his co-authors, Paul Sethi, M.D., and Andrew Cooper, all of Yale School of Medicine, looked at the running time, age, and gender of all of the runners in the New York City Marathon from 1983 through 1999. They also evaluated the performances of the top 50 male and top 50 female finishers by age categories. There were 415,000 runners in all. Master athletes were classified as those 50 and older.

Jokl said women marathon runners 50-59 improved their average race time by 2.08 minutes per year, which was substantially greater than men runners of the same age, whose running time improved on average about eight seconds per year.

The older male runners, in turn, increased their running time at a much greater rate than younger male runners. The younger runners, male and female ages 20 to 30, did not significantly improve their running times during the period studied. The most significant trends in improved running times noted in the top 50 finishers in the male category occurred in age 60-69 and 70-79, and for women, in ages 50-59 and 60-69.

"Our data reflect the potential for improvement of the general health status of our aging population," Jokl said. "It is not surprising that the number of participating master athletes continues to rise. There is a general trend towards increasing numbers of our aging population who are in good health and physically able to participate in these types of strenuous competitions."

He said the performance limits of master athletes appear to be greater than predicted by previous physiologic studies.
-end-
Citation: British Journal of Sports Medicine, Vol. 38: pp 408-412, August 2004

Yale University

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