Is a ramp-up in running a smart idea at 70+?

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DEAR DR. ROACH: My running friends and I are in our mid-70s (with a couple of 80-plus guys), and we continue to run, albeit at a much-reduced pace. All of us have been running for about 40 years and used to be pretty good marathoners/10K racers. We now run usually three times a week, with a total of 12-14 miles weekly, around our local park. After a walking warmup, we run perhaps a half-mile and then walk a while, followed by run/walk conversation intervals. I know I need to walk when I feel my heart start to labor and my breathing becomes ragged. One of our number wants to “train up” to running an entire 3-mile loop without stopping. I say this is dangerous. He says at the pace we run, it’s not a problem. Who’s right? And do you have any thoughts or advice for us codgers? -- R.W.

ANSWER: Regular exercise helps maintain many body functions, reduces cancer and heart disease, and can foster a sense of well-being. Exercise can be done safely at any age; however, it is prudent for both men and women in their 70s and older to take some precautions when exercising.

The first is in duration of exercise. People who exercise for long periods of time are at risk for overdoing it. People can lose too much fluid, which is particularly harmful for older people, whose hearts and kidneys do not work as well as they did when they were in their 20s. There also is some evidence that the benefit of exercise to the heart can diminish or even go away at very high levels of exercise (more than 8-10 miles daily).

The second is in intensity. Trying to push a body to extremes is not wise at any age, but it can lead to injury or, in people so predisposed, to heart attack. Measuring the heart rate is one way to monitor intensity (ideally, done with your physician’s advice), but the old-fashioned way of slowing down when you can’t talk in full sentences remains valid.

With that in mind, I would say that 3 miles is probably NOT overdoing it for a healthy older man, as long as he is building up slowly and monitoring himself. Perhaps most important is that he’s honest enough to mention to his doctor if he feels something in his heart or breathing that makes him concerned.

DEAR DR. ROACH: I am a relatively healthy 62-year-old male. I’ve been advised by my doctor to get the shingles vaccine, but I’m not sure that I should, considering that I don’t believe I’ve ever had chickenpox. -- S.M.

ANSWER: This is a very common question. Most 62-year-olds have had chickenpox, but if you were young enough, the case may have been so mild that it was unrecognized as chickenpox. Even if you never had chickenpox, though, the shingles vaccine still is recommended; it’s a more potent version of the chickenpox vaccine.

Another question I get is whether someone with a history of shingles should get the vaccine, and the answer is that the vaccine is recommended in that case as well. Recurrent shingles is uncommon but not unheard of.

READERS: The booklet on Alzheimer’s disease gives a detailed presentation of this common illness. Readers can obtain a copy by writing:

Dr. Roach

Book No. 903

628 Virginia Dr.

Orlando, FL 32803

Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

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Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu or request an order form of available health newsletters at 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. Health newsletters may be ordered from www.rbmamall.com.

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