As our population ages more people are finding themselves still active into their 70s, 80s and 90s. At no time in this nation’s history have we had so many older adults still working and recreating much later in life.
One of the trends noted is the proliferation of older competitive runners. We aren’t talking about people who go out and slowly jog a mile or two three days each week. In the latest New York City Marathon, run on Nov. 6, a record 2,634 entrants, out of some 45,000, were age 60 and older. In a feature story run on Nov. 3, USA Today featured Joy Johnson. Ms. Johnson is 84 years old and ran (and finished) her 24th consecutive 26.2 mile run through the streets of New York City’s five boroughs.
Ms Johnson achieved her fastest time of 2 hours 55 minutes 30 seconds in 1991 at the callow age of 64. She still completed the course in slightly less than 6 hours through a combination of walking and running. She continues to train daily, getting up at 5:00 AM and going to a nearby outdoor track to train. She does this no matter what the weather is outside.
Fauja Singh makes Ms. Johnson look like a teenager. He successfully completed a marathon in Toronto in October at age 100. In that same race Ed Whitlock set an age group world record when the 80 year old completed the course in 3 hours 15 minutes 54 seconds. That works out to some 7.5 minutes per mile.
Some older runners actually give up their car keys prior to giving up their running shoes. Evelyn Tripp of Piedmont, South Carolina no longer drives but the 95 year old woman holds the world record (95 and older) for the women’s 5K at 48 minutes 45 seconds on March 5, 2011).
Don Lein is the official record keeper for USA Track and Field. He told USA Today that Ms. Tripp was in an automobile accident in her 80s. Her doctor told her she needed to start walking to fully recover. She began and walking program, walked faster, and eventually began to jog. Lein says that numerous older runners have told him that their running regimens help them cope with arthritis.
Perhaps the idea of setting and achieving goals also has health benefits. Running isn’t the only activity that seems to keep people young. In many areas of the country, particularly in Florida and Arizona, men in the 80s still play baseball and basketball. Swimming, tennis and golf are other activities more and more people over 60 are taking up.
Research has shown that many runners over 60 did not even start running until they were in their 40s and 50s. More and more of them want to compete in races and not just run around their neighborhoods. New developments in joint replacement surgeries are also helping keep people active longer.
The achievements of professional athletes in their prime may capture most of the media attention; but professionals working in health related fields know that the “next big thing” involves people competing themselves well past the ages of prime athletic performance. It is unlikely that many 30 years could keep up with Mr. Singh over even a 10K (6.1 miles) race.
The study of the thresholds of human performance and how best to work with an aging population on health issues is something that people working in sports-related fields should be focusing on. These topics are among those studied by students at the United States Sports Academy. For more information go to http://ussa.edu.