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Keep jogging, baby boomers, because you may walk like a 20-year-old again if you do

(Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)

Running has long been touted as the express route to general physical fitness, but new research suggests that jogging will also help aging baby boomers to walk better.

According to a new study by researchers at Humboldt State University and the University of Colorado at Boulder, those who are 65 and older and who run at least 30 minutes three times a week, experienced significantly less physical decline in their walking efficiency than those of similar age who simply walked for exercise.

"What we found is that older adults who regularly participate in high aerobic activities -- running in particular -- have what we call a lower metabolic cost of walking than older, sedentary adults," ustus Ortega, professor of Kinesiology at Humboldt State and one of the study's authors, said in a press release last week. "In fact, their metabolic cost of walking is similar to young adults in their 20s."

The research was conducted with self-reported older joggers and self-reported walkers, said Ortega, who is also the director of Humboldt's biomechanics laboratory. The participants were asked to walk on a treadmill at three speeds, each increasingly faster, while the scientists measured their oxygen intake and carbon dioxide output. The older joggers, they found, were seven to 10 percent more efficient at walking than the older walkers.

The study's researchers admit they aren't really sure why this is the case, but said other studies have revealed that runners in general have healthier mitochondria, the organelles that act as the power plants every cell of every muscle and tissue in the human body.

The importance of the findings, they added, is that a decline in walking ability "is a key predictor of morbidity in older adults." (The study was published  online last week in the journal PLOS ONE.)

The next step, said Ortega, was for his team to investigate whether other highly aerobic exercises, such as swimming and bicycling, will also turn back the clock on walking for senior citizens.

"The bottom line is that running keeps you younger," said co-author Rodger Kram, a professor of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado-Boulder, "at least in terms of efficiency."