Int J Sports Med 1996; 17(4): 305-312
DOI: 10.1055/s-2007-972852
Behavioural Science

© Georg Thieme Verlag Stuttgart · New York

Selected Psychological Characteristics and Health Behaviors of Aging Marathon Runners: A Longitudinal Study

W. P. Morgan, D. L. Costill
  • Sport Psychology Laboratory, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Human Performance Laboratory, Ball State University
Further Information

Publication History

Publication Date:
09 March 2007 (online)

This report summarizes the health behaviors and psychological characteristics of fifteen male marathon runners who were first tested in 1969 (N = 8) and 1976 (N = 7). The participants in this study averaged 29 years of age at the outset, and the mean age at the time of follow-up was 50 years. These subjects were found to score in the normal range on all of the psychological variables, and they were characterized by the "iceberg" profile described earlier for elite athletes in various sports. This profile includes scores that fall below the population average on mood states such as tension, depression, anger, fatigue and confusion along with above average scores on vigor. Also, the psychological traits of these former runners have been remarkably stable across the past two decades, with the exception that a uniform decline has been observed for the neuroticism measure. Earlier research by Eysenck has shown that neuroticism decreases with age. These former marathon runners continue to be moderately active, and it is noteworthy that they first became involved as runners while in high school. All but one of the participants had attended college, and each had participated in competitive running while in college. Training for marathon competition took place following the college years. It is likely that much of the early success enjoyed by this group was governed to a substantial 'degree by heredity. This sample possessed an average aerobic power of 70 ml kg-1· min-1 along with a unique somatotype when first tested, and these factors are known to have a substantial heritability component. The health behaviors studied in this group were uniformly positive. They were found to be physically active, and their physical self-esteem fell above that of other men in their age group. The subjects reported moderate use of alcohol, no insomnia, few physical problems and good overall mood. The sample of former marathon runners described in this report is unique in a number of respects, and caution is urged in making generalizations. With this qualification in mind, it is concluded that a lifetime of regular physical activity is associated with desirable physical and mental health.