This bit of news might not seem monumental today, but it could be of great importance over the course of your life: Lifelong endurance athletes have lower circulatory levels of inflammation than inactive people their age, which is significant because chronic inflammation has been linked to cancer, increased frailty and earlier death.
That’s one of the findings of research, published in the journal Mechanics of Ageing and Development, that compared several physical measurements between 15 lifelong runners and 12 sedentary contemporaries. On average, the runners were 64 years old, and had been averaging about 30 miles per week for the last 28 years. The sedentary men were an average age of 66 and had been inactive for at least the last five years. The two groups were of similar weight and height; the researchers matched the subjects in this way to better isolate the effects of their activity levels.
As expected, the athletes had more favourable results on most of the measurements the researchers took, including waist size and blood lipid profiles. What was more noteworthy was the finding concerning markers of inflammation; the researchers say theirs is the first study to compare these values between lifelong endurance athletes and age-matched sedentary people.
It’s been suggested that chronic inflammation might be one negative effect of excess body fat. As the researchers note, however, the sedentary subjects in this study were of normal weight, and yet the athletes still had more favourable readings. “This suggests that endurance exercise exerts a beneficial effect on systemic inflammatory status which is unrelated to [being] overweight,” the researchers wrote.
The researchers also found that the runners had greater quadriceps muscle mass than the sedentary men. This is an important finding on its own, given that losing muscle mass with age can lead to loss of function and even independence. But it might also be related to the finding on inflammatory markers. “It is possible that the lower [levels of inflammatory markers] in endurance trained athletes is coupled to the maintenance of skeletal muscle mass,” the researchers wrote.