We're (obviously) huge fans of exercise and the myriad benefits that accompany it, such as weight loss, better health and a improved immune system, and stronger bones. However, we're not such huge fans of the loose, saggy skin that some people claim can result from different forms of long-term exercise, such as running. Since we’re not ready to hang up our running shoes quite yet, we went to Dr. Gerald Imber, noted plastic surgeon and author of The Youth Corridor, to get his opinion on the phenomenon of the saggy “runner’s face” and find out if there’s anything that can be done to prevent it.
Many factors affect your skin's elasticity, including genetics and lifestyle habits, so it's not just runners who suffer from sagging skin, but Dr. Imber says that it's common in long-time runners, especially those who spend a lot of time outdoors.
"Any high-impact exercise, like running, causes a jolt to the skin, which can tear up the collagen in the skin," Dr. Imber says. "It doesn't happen over night, but it is one of the downsides to running."
Although it takes a long time for your skin to break down, Dr. Imber says, there's not a lot you can do to repair it once your facial muscles start to sag. Mini-face lifts and fat transfers can help to improve your skin's texture a bit, he says, but there's nothing that can restore the original elasticity.
Take heart, runners! While nothing can reverse the process once it starts, there are things you can do to prevent your facial skin muscles from sagging in the first place. If you're trying to lose weight, maintain a slow, steady weight loss of about 1 to 2 lbs per week; this will give your skin time to adjust to the fat loss and minimize the amount of sagging you see. Remember to wear a broad spectrum suncreen when you're outside. A healthy diet will also help—fresh fruits and vegetables are packed with carotenoids (think lycopene in tomatoes, alpha-carotene in carrots, and beta-carotene in spinach), that promote cell turnover and strenghten your skin cells.
Bottom line? If you love running, don't give it up. As long as you lead a healthy and active lifestyle, the benefits to running ouweigh the potential side effect of sagging skin.
Dr. Imber has developed and popularized less invasive procedures such as microsuction and the limited incision-short scar facelift, and has been a strong proponent of self help and education. He is the author of numerous scientific papers and books, is on the staff of the Weill-Cornell Medical College, the New York-Presbyterian Hospital, and directs a private clinic in Manhattan.