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Does Running Actually Make You Look Older?

Reviewed by Sunil April 5, 2013 19 Comments

Marta’s article concerning running’s ability to make us look younger stirred up some controversy a couple weeks back. People argued that running actually had the opposite effect, making people look far older than they actually are, which had us scratching our heads. Could it be true? The simple answer is yes and no.

There seemed to be two arguments against running, one discussing a runners body and the other about a runners face, first, we’ll cover the body. Female runners deal with one thing that male runners do not- worrying about their breast. The constant pounding of feet against pavement can stretch out the ligaments that hold up the breast. To combat this directly, female runners often wear sports bras that squeeze their breast towards their chest. Problem solved, moving on.

Another major subject that everyone seems to be talking about is skeletal issues: a problem hip, knees going bad, foot issues. But just because someone you know has had bone issues due to running doesn’t mean that everyone who runs has to deal with the same issues. Running will not speed up damage to your knees, but it will aggravate old injuries related to your lower half. I broke my ankle back in high school so running is like Russian roulette for me, a lot of the time it doesn’t bother me but sometimes it does.

All of our bodies (both inside and out) are made up differently; we all eat different things (some people get more calcium and vitamin D which is food for bones) and workout in different ways. You should never compare yourself to someone else’s body and write something off. And contrary to popular belief, running will actually help strengthen your bones according to a study from The University of Missouri. “The results of the study confirm that both resistance training and high-impact endurance activities increase bone mineral density. However, high-impact sports, like running, appear to have a greater beneficial effect,” said Pam Hinton, associate professor in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences.

Also, keep in mind that the article was called “Running will make you look younger.” I think people are confusing running with long-distance running. When I go for a run, I’m just putting in a few miles, I’m not outside for 10+ miles and I’m definitely not outside in the sun, I opt for night runs because it’s cooler and I don’t have to stop for sunscreen.

The facial area seemed to be the second big concern. This is somewhat true, elements like wind and sun will certainly do some damage to your face. Also, in theory the constant pounding on concrete will cause your skin to sag. Runners also have less body fat and according to a Times article, in a study with twins- as a pair of twins reach the 40+ age area, the one with more fat tended to look younger, which makes sense to a degree. With a plumper face, you’ll fill out fine lines and wrinkles.  This is called “volume replacement.”

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But with that being said, the way a person looks is always subjective. From my personal point of view, take a runner age 35 and someone out of shape that’s 35 and I’ll probably always pick the runner as the younger looking one. “Looking” in shape isn’t just about your face; it’s about your entire body. On the Runnersworld forum under the topic of Running: Does it make you age or stay young, one person noted “Oh well, what's a few wrinkles to a nicely toned body, right?”

Running will tighten up your body so you can avoid things like love handles and a lumpy body which can make you look older than you are. Plus, with a tighter core and lean legs, you’ll be looking younger.

In the end, there’s one major solution that everyone seems to be forgetting. Run on a treadmill. First and foremost, a good treadmill is cushioned so you won’t be dealing with the high impact of the pavement. Second, you won’t have to worry about red, parched skin due to the sun and wind because you’ll be indoors. Third, if you don’t want a skinny runner’s body, then don’t run long distances. It’s not like once you start running, the pounds will instantly fall off and you’ll be left with a super lean marathon body. Running can be done in short bursts over a couple hundred yards or a long and steady jog across the country. It’s up to you, so claiming that it will give you the body of a teenager is a poor excuse not to run; you dictate what kind of body you want when you exercise. Finally, running will make you feel younger. You won’t be huffing and puffing when climbing stairs, your metabolism will speed up which will equate to less fat on your body, and with less fat on your body- there’s a good chance you’ll live a longer, healthier life.

So what it comes down to is this, are you really more worried about a chance that your skin might sag a little than actually being healthy? Come on everyone, you’re better than that!

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  • December 22, 2016

    by John Rogers

    I guess everyone is different. Some people on here say runners look amazing, but some of the oldest looking people I've ever seen in my life are 40-year-old runners that look 65! This isn't a myth. It happens for many.

  • December 16, 2015

    by Saphrona

    This is what I think and I am backing that up with a professional opinion. I am 62 years old and exercise almost every day since age 14 because I was determined to be a professional dancer. Ya, I'm on it. It never happened but I am in great shape! : )

    Running causes your face to sag

    FALSE. Sagging skin is due to two age-related reasons: loss of collagen, which gives skin its elasticity, and loss of facial fat, the absence of which causes skin to droop. While your whole body bounces up and down while you’re jogging, it’s highly unlikely that you’re jostling around enough to damage collagen, points out Las Vegas–based plastic surgeon Michael Edwards, MD, president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

    A more likely cause? Long hours exercising outdoors equals more UV exposure, which over time breaks collagen down. Make sure you slather up with plenty of sunscreen before venturing outside, even in colder weather.

  • December 16, 2015

    by Jed Clampett

    All of this is just an excuse to not exercise! We will all age, the only thing we can do it try to slow it down. That is until scientists come up with the magic pill.

    All this emphasis on weight training is a joke. It's just easier for most people to weight train as they get older as opposed to running. Therefore they make excuses. Young people hate to run, in fact many people hate to run!!!

    Women, as a rule hate to run. Men want to get them to the gym to make some money off them!!! You will get older, suck it up, use your head and get out there!

    Personal Trainer and Runner (Both are integral to health, fitness, and looking good.)

  • December 8, 2015

    by dana

    a bra only solves the problem for the breast. there is tissue all over the body that is susceptible to sagging as a result of not only the constant bouncing. but gravity. this is especially true of aging skin--thighs, upper arms, and face. I try to remember to put on some type of compression garment, not only when I run, but even for day to day activities when I am wearing anything that doesn't hold my skin in place. now, I am thinking of some sort of garment for my face!

  • May 2, 2015

    by Terribla

    I don't want a runners face!

  • February 3, 2015

    by Craig

    What a joke! I participated in a national Masters racing circuit, where world-class Masters runners would gather and compete throughout the year. Every one of us trained very hard and were in top shape - and every one of us looked 10 to 15 years younger than their actual age. Running has countless benefits for health, including looking great.

  • July 1, 2014

    by Ochen


    Hey.
    Something that not everyone knows. As I've noticed with myself. Is that hair on your head falls off and becomes gray. If one runs about two hours per session, several times per week. I have noticed other people who are 30-40 years old. And running a lot, face the same problem.

  • June 7, 2014

    by Genevieve

    I actually think articles like this one are hurtful, because they are putting value in the way someone looks instead of how truly healthy they are. One can be skinny/toned and unhealthy and chunky and perfectly healthy. Let's take my ex-husband, ran to his heart's desire, naturally skinny as a twig, and ate like a man on death row. My Neice, eats greens and drinks water for every meal and will never have the idea of a toned body that this article suggests. We are creatures of our diets, but genetics also play a huge part. As for running, I believe wholeheartedly that if your elasticity and collagen are on their "way out" running is he last thing you would want to do. Bicycling would be much better and sometimes a better heart workout.

  • June 1, 2014

    by Poseidonn

    Don't think so....

    http://med.stanford.edu/news_releases/2008/august/running.html

  • May 20, 2014

    by Danielle

    Reminds me of an article about city bicycle riders breathing in carbon dioxide from cars. Statistics showed that the breathing from riding out weighed it.
    Though I would like to know about the effects of skin sagging as I know the breasts can change a lot through running.

  • August 16, 2013

    by narek

    This article and all of the comments are very helpful, answering most of my questions on this. I know that long distance runners usually don't talk about this issue. It's been kind of a mystery. I had noticed years ago that beautiful, Cheryl Crow, the singer, girlfriend to the famous athelete, bicyclist, started to look very tan and her face extremely angular. She did a video about being in the sun is the only way to be. :D I thought, have you looked in the mirror lately?

    It happened within a short period of time. So a few days ago, long after her breakup with her boyfriend, and a diagnoses of cancer, she now looks like she did many years ago but no explanation from anywhere. So I think the answer is all of the above and "also", people that get sort of addicted to exercise, become too thin..Muscle weighs more than fat and women lose their breasts also..Too little body fat on a woman is very DANGEROUS for women in a few different ways.

    Also, I'm 60 years old, always excercised, with arthritis, (Ankylosing Spondylitis), and the pounding of the concrete is the worst thing for joints..My rhuematologist tells me! And at this age, if I gain beyond thin, I actually look older because your natural skin aging will cause skin to sag a lot more with too much fullness. My grandmother, so beautiful, looked older with too much facial fat that gives way to jowels and a hanging neck..Anyway, I think it's personal but too thin or too plump, ages..And the BROAD-SPECTRUM sunscreen is the biggest anti-ager of all!! I think you CAN have the best of both worlds!

  • August 13, 2012

    by John

    The problem I have with the arguments in this article and the comments section are that they are concentrating on a false premise and comparison. Nobody is saying that a runner doesn't look better than a person who isn't in shape. What people are asking about when this subject comes up is whether a runner or someone else who is IN SHAPE (dancer, aerobics instructor, swimmer, bicyclist, yoga instructor) look younger. The comparison is between two FIT people, and what people notice is that runners look older than their true age. What are the hallmarks of youth? Smooth contours, unblemished skin, firm flesh; and not just lean flesh. Runners may have very lean bodies, and be very fit, but 'very lean and fit' isn't the definition of YOUTH, which is the subject of the debate. Jack Lelane was very fit at 60, but certainly didn't look youthful. Just look at the Olympic distance runners from the US and Russia. Obviously fit, but they look way older than their same-age counterparts in Volleyball.

  • May 4, 2012

    by Kimberlydawn

    Aging has a lot to do with a lot of things...not just running or not running!

    It has to do with genetics and how well you take care of yourself (no smoking and drinking)...it has to do with how much stress you have -what you eat - your bone structure, your skin thickness...a fuller face doesn't necessarily make someone look younger...not if that "fullness" has sagged down! Anyway, you can't just say...running makes you young OR old! Definitely wear sun screen and a sports bra if you DO run, I guess...staying in shape will def. make you healthier, though, and no one can argue that! However, fast walking might work better for some women (no heavy pounding to make breats sag) - at night, with no sun to age you...there you go!

  • January 22, 2012

    by Mrsfitz

    I don't know about the exact effects of running on causing sagging etc but what I have observed is that I've never seen a runner who looked happy....just saying. ;)

  • January 21, 2012

    by Jaz

    Losing weight suddenly whether it's through exercise or diet will age you. As the article mentions, the elements can be responsible too. That's why when you run, it's important to make sure you are getting all your vitamins, minerals, and using lots of moisturizer. Sunblock on any day is a no brainer—especially if you have fair skin—but on cold days it's also important slather on a moisturizer before your run and after your post-run shower. I personally find a good pure cocoa butter/olive oil combo seems to work great to both moisturize and protect my face from the elements on days it's under 40F. I put it on nice and thick before the run and it works to block out the wind. I also use a mask/hood on days it's under 35F or has a colder wind-chill. Under Armour makes really nice ones.

  • December 29, 2011

    by Robert

    Actually the people that came up with this is definitely wrong. Running makes your face look older but other workouts make your face look older as well such lifting weights, bench pressing, push-ups, and sit-ups as well. I figured this out myself. Before i started working out I looked really young my face looked really beautiful and I was slim. but i started working out I looked great well at least my body did until days past my face started to look older and i was thinking, why? after months of exercise i noticed what it was it was my jaw. I felt the muscles around the jaw line and it was making me look older than my real age, I payed close attention why that was true and i found out that my jaw was sticking out more than my cheek bones so my skin was brought down to my jaw area and none to my face and also makes your hair line go back too as well so if you dont want to look older than your real age all you have to do is eat healthy stay slim by walking a lot and moving around, exercise only helps with blood flow and shaping your body not your face. remember it;s either a great body or a beautiful youthful face, choose one.

  • April 7, 2011

    by Adam

    Jeni - I know you didn't ask and I'm just a random Joe but I would think that concrete would be the worst thing you could run on when it comes to impact, with asphalt being a little better, with the treadmill being even better than asphalt. Of course, running on a well-trodden dirt path or a school's track would probably be best of all. Although for me, the school track would be really boring.

  • April 7, 2011

    by Jeni

    I was actually going to comment on the other article because I am slightly paranoid about running in case it does cause sagging. I get paranoid about everything, and since I hate running the last thing I would want to do is encounter sagging from doing it. Anyway, I just started running a little, but I am not going to make it my main form of exercise. When I run on the treadmill it doesn't feel like it's any less impact than on the street, but maybe it is?

  • April 6, 2011

    by Joan

    Maybe Catherine Deneuve said it best ... "After a certain age, a woman has to choose between her fanny and her face.”

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