Dr Gerald Imber, a New York-based plastic surgeon who frequently shares anti-ageing tips and advice on TikTok, addressed the topic in a video posted to the platform last month, where he revealed that long-distance running can lead to a “gaunt old face”.
In the clip, Dr Imber began by noting that he would be discussing “things that prevent ageing, versus things that accelerate ageing”.
The plastic surgeon then revealed that he has a “pet peeve” about running, before asking viewers whether they’ve ever seen a “long-distance, longtime runner that didn’t have a gaunt, old face”.
“That’s what happens. In addition to the gaunt old face, your knees go, your ankles go, your back goes and it’s kind of dumb,” Dr Imber said of the exercise, after acknowledging that the topic is divisive among his patients.
While Dr Imber advises against long-distance running, he noted that “it’s perfectly fine to run a little bit every day or run a couple of miles a few times a week”.
However, according to Dr Imber, there are exercises that are better for your body and for preventing premature ageing, with the plastic surgeon explaining that “no impact or low impact aerobics is really the way to get your exercise”.
The idea that running is linked to premature ageing, or “runner’s face,” is not new, as Dr Rachel Nazarian, a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, previously told HuffPost that studies published in medical journals have found that intense exercises such as running can increase free radical production or oxidative stress.
“When you cause any type of free radical damage or oxidative stress on the skin, it does cause signs that we [attribute] to signs of ageing, such as the breakdown of collagen and elastin, which can lead to sagging,” Dr Nazarian said. “That is sort of the scientifically backed theory on how it could potentially lead to [runner’s face].”
In addition to oxidative stress, running outdoors has also been associated with increased sun exposure, which can lead to premature ageing as ultraviolet radiation causes DNA damage, and loss of volume in the face.
Premature ageing linked to volume loss in the face, which can be caused by weight loss, has also been described as “Ozempic face” recently, as plastic surgeons and dermatologists have reported an increase in patients using the prescription drugs to lose weight, and then reporting aged appearances.
“Weight loss, whether it is from diet, exercise, surgery, or a medication, takes a toll on your face,” Dr Joshua Zeichner, a board-certified dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, told The Independent.
“Fat in the face helps us maintain a naturally youthful appearance,” he explained, adding, “when you lose facial fat, the face often appears gaunt and skeletonised,” and, in those who lose large amounts of weight, “significantly older”.
However, Dr Nazarian clarified that the “up-and-down movement from running is not going to cause you to age faster,” and that she wouldn’t “attribute the idea of runner’s face to the motion in the skin”. “What we’re looking at is on a much smaller, microscopic level and what’s happening with the cells,” she said.
As for Dr Imber’s claim that running negatively impacts your knees, ankles and back, Dr Carlos Uquillas, an orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in injury prevention at the Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute, previously noted that studies show prolonged cardiovascular exercise such as running can increase endorphin levels, improve sleep, lower the risk of depression, improve bone density, and strengthen muscles.
However, in addition to the health benefits associated with the exercise, running can also put added stress on your back and joints, increase the chances of tearing muscles and exacerbate arthritis.
“It is not an activity without risk, and as you age, you have to take more precautions to minimise the risks,” he said.
On TikTok, where Dr Imber’s video has been viewed nearly three million times, many viewers have jokingly expressed their happiness at the revelation that running may lead to premature ageing.
“Don’t have to tell me twice!” one viewer wrote, while another said: “I am saving this to show anyone who ever asks me to run again.”
“Guess that’s one thing I don’t have to worry about,” someone else joked.