Does Running Make You Look Older?
I’ll never forget that time when I was told that I should think twice about running so much. The reason? Running makes you look older.
But before I was a serious runner, I was a professional model. The concept of aging was always lingering in the background as I posed for the camera. I remember as a teen being dressed up to look older. Then, in my twenties, I was suddenly old enough to worry about looking too old. But even after a decade of working off my likeness, the concern about looking old never worried me too much.
So when the person voiced this concern— about running and aging— I was flabbergasted. It had never really hit me before that running could negatively affect one’s appearance. So I decided to address some of the reasons someone could possibly conclude this, as well as why I think they are silly things to worry about. Then, I really dug into the idea of longevity as an athlete— or woman for that matter.
Runners endure a lot of impact, but it’s pretty far-fetched to claim that all that pounding would cause a runner’s skin to sag prematurely. When I looked into how an impact sport affects our bodies, I learned how it has been shown to improve bone density, form lean muscle mass, and promote blood flow. Since running creates a controlled stress on the muscular and skeletal fibers, new cells are stimulated to turn over and rebuild during recovery. There’s no question that running makes your body stronger in multiple ways from the inside out. I’d argue that fitness gained from running would only make someone fresher, not faded.
Perhaps exposure to harsh conditions like freezing wind or extreme humidity could make a runner’s skin appear less vibrant. Maybe dehydration could also cause the skin to seem fatigued. I know how my own skin has endured dryness and irritation in the winter as well as sun damage and blemishes in the summer.
But I’ve also found that a modified skincare regimen that changes according to the season has kept my skin in check. Weather is certainly a factor to how our skin looks, but I don’t think runners are more prone to worse skin that anyone else who spends a lot of time outdoors.
Low Body Fat
My mom has attributed looking extremely young for her age to eating a lot of fat. She jokes that she may not be skinny, but at least she doesn’t have wrinkles. And while she’s never run a day in her life, I applied this idea to runners. Maybe some athletes burn away all their youthful subdermal fatty tissue which makes them seem old, especially if their body is constantly in a catabolic state from calorie deprivation. While gaunt cheeks could make someone seem less healthy, this isn’t an inevitable side effect of running. My solution to avoid looking drawn as a runner is pretty simple… and delicious: Eat more fat, just like a wrinkle-free midwestern mother would.
So, after weighing the pros and cons of how running affects our appearance, I tossed this superficial warning to the wind. Perhaps this conversation reveals a bigger lesson— one about how our society perceives aging in general. There is no way I’d ever let a vain fear of possibly looking old get in the way of me and my running.
The underlying issue here isn’t only skin deep— it’s that a woman could say to another woman something they perceive as helpful advice: to avoid something as beneficial for the mind, body, and spirit as running, all in the name of looks. Our bodies go through so many changes over the course of our lives, and it’s these kinds of body image ideals that take up valuable mental real estate. How radical would it be if women never sweat about looking younger, but rather focused all that energy on feeling optimal?
To me, getting older means getting better as a runner. I look at so many of the women who have had their biggest PRs in their thirties and forties. One of my heroes, Deena Kastor, is a world-record holder in the marathon and currently trains future Olympians. She’s forty-five years young, out there pacing elites who are half her age on the dirt trails of Mammoth, California. Her athletes will be the first to tell you she gives them a run for their money. If that isn’t defying the aging process, I don’t know what is. What Deena represents is a heck of a lot more impressive than someone who sits around worrying about wrinkles.
As I approach my thirties, I feel confident that I’ve fostered this kind of relationship with aging. I feel more alive in my own skin than I ever have. I will stay forever young as long as I am always working on improving. I believe that a body in motion stays in motion, and I don’t really care about how that looks on the outside. Besides, there’s way too much living to be had to waste all your time trying to look like you haven’t.