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Invited Commentary
October 13, 2008

Weighing Benefits for Older Runners

Arch Intern Med. 2008;168(18):1948-1949. doi:10.1001/archinte.168.18.1948

Extending functional disability-free years in later life, or “compression of morbidity,” is an important public health goal, particularly as the number of older adults continues to increase. In the August 11/25 issue of the Archives, in the article titled “Reduced Disability and Mortality Among Aging Runners: A 21-Year Longitudinal Study” (2008;168[15]:1638-1646), Chakravarty and colleagues1 report reduced disability and mortality over 21 years for members of a runners club compared with community controls. The study originally enrolled 538 members of a nationwide runners club (the 50+ Runners Association) and 423 controls from the Stanford University community, aged 50 to 72 years at baseline. Annual self-administered questionnaires were used to assess exposures (running, exercise frequency, body mass index [BMI], smoking, and alcohol intake) and disability (Health Assessment Questionnaire Disability Index [HAQ-DI]). Deaths (n = 225, 81 runners and 144 controls) were ascertained in all participants in 2003 using the National Death Index. At 21 years of follow-up (2005), 62% of surviving runners (n = 284) and 54% of surviving controls (n = 156) remained active participants. Mean HAQ-DI scores at the 2005 follow-up were 0.20 in runners and 0.43 in controls, which are low compared with mean scores reported for osteoarthritis (0.80) and rheumatoid arthritis (1.2).2 Results were similar in secondary analyses stratified by sex and whether participants had completed the 21-year follow-up. In models that accounted for age, sex, BMI, and initial HAQ-DI score, runners club members had an approximate 35% reduced risk both for all-cause mortality and for higher disability (ie, for follow-up HAQ-DI scores ≥0.5 and ≥1.0).