Bonnie Bruce and colleagues from Stanford University, USA, compared the level of pain in a group of runners and a group of community-based individuals who acted as controls. Participants were followed for 14 years, and were on average in their mid-sixties when the study started. Each year, they completed a questionnaire about their health status, exercise habits and history of injuries. In total, the study included 866 subjects: 492 Runners' Association members and 374 controls.
Bruce et al.'s results show that the greater majority of physically active participants did, on average, between 355 and 2,119 minutes of exercise per week over the course of the study, while controls exercised significantly less. After adjusting for confounding factors such as gender, age, weight and health status the results show that pain increased in both groups over time. But members of the Runners' Association experienced 25% less musculoskeletal pain than controls. This reduction persisted throughout the study period, until the subjects reached an age of 62 to 76 years.
"Exercise was associated with a substantial and significant reduction in pain even [...] despite the fact that fractures, a significant predictor of pain, were slightly more common among runners", conclude the authors.
More research is needed to investigate the mechanisms that might underlie the effect of exercise on musculoskeletal pain in old age.