Running is one of the most effective forms of exercise for those looking for a high calorie burn and that coveted “runner’s high”. It can also motivate you to explore and get outside, even in the coldest winter months.
Once you hit your 50s, however, taking up running as a hobby can seem a bit daunting – maybe you’ve even convinced yourself that you’re just “not a runner”. But trainers and doctors say that if you’re smart, running and jogging can be a great way to stay fit at any age. Read on to find out how they recommend running safely over 50.
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As we age, our bodies become more susceptible to wear and tear and you may feel like you can’t “bounce back” as quickly as you used to.
“Bone density and joint flexibility decline with age,” Nancy Mitchella registered nurse and contributing writer at Assisted Living, says. “This is often due to hormonal fluctuations, changes in diet and decreased lubricating fluid in the joints. It is not uncommon for people over the age of 50 to start experiencing knee pain or discomfort at following these changes.
But according to David CandyDPT, Certified Specialist in Orthopedic Physiotherapy, and owner of More 4 Life, “mild degenerative changes” should not discourage you. “It doesn’t mean you can’t run, but it does mean you need to be more diligent about using the right technique, the right kind of shoes, and adjusting your training volume accordingly,” he says.
Pushing yourself too hard can lead to injury, and Caroline GraingerInternational Sports Science Association (ISSA) certified personal trainer for the FitnessTrainer personal trainer certification, note that your body will tell you what it needs, so don’t ignore it.
“Above all, listening to your body should be a primary concern; if something goes wrong during a run, stop immediately and see a doctor if necessary,” she says.
Experts also say you may want to speak to a medical professional before lacing your new shoes.
“As early as possible, it is advisable to consult a doctor or physical therapist before beginning any new exercise routine. Consider any physical limitations or joint pain that may be present before beginning.” Michael HamlinNCSA, CSCS, personal trainer, and founder of Everflex Fitness, says. “As young as you feel, age is always an important factor to consider when it comes to racing.”
You may want to ask these questions during your annual medical examination, depending on michelle weirddoctor, physician, certified running coach, and founder of Mindful Marathon. “It’s important to know how medications and supplements affect your running and your recovery,” she notes.
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For runners of all ages and abilities, stretching is crucial. And beyond 50 years, it is absolutely necessary to take the time to warm up and recover.
Grainger recommends stretching to book your run. “Stretching before and after running is essential to reduce muscle soreness and help keep joints flexible,” she says.
Remember to stay hydrated as well, as your body loses electrolytes as you run. Grainger and Hamlin suggest taking water with you while jogging, especially if you’re heading out in the heat.
Don’t expect to start pounding the pavement and putting on miles and miles right away, even if you’ve run before. Instead, you’ll want to make a plan and gradually increase your distance.
Candy recommends starting with a low mileage goal, which you can increase over time. “If you’re just starting out, that might mean running an eighth to a quarter mile at a time with some walking in between,” he says. “Over time, gradually increase the distance you walk and reduce your walking intervals until you can run a mile without stopping.”
That being said, don’t rush the process. “The general rule is not to increase your training volume by more than 10% per week, but when you are on very short distances, [adding] 0.1 miles at a time can be extremely slow,” says Candy. However, don’t increase your mileage by more than a quarter mile each week, per Candy’s recommendation. “That way you avoid overtraining injuries and you can keep running.
Mitchell suggests a 10-minute session to start. “The idea is to avoid putting sudden pressure on the joints,” she says. “Give them time to acclimate to your new routine.”
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While you don’t want to run too far, you don’t want to run too fast either. According to Quirk, you should keep your run “conversational”.
“In terms of pace, I like to advise tracking the level of exertion rather than looking at a specific moment on the watch,” she explains. “My best advice is to keep things conversational.” She advises inviting a friend to run with you and chat.
“If you’re not able to carry on a conversation without getting out of breath, your exertion level may be too high for your current fitness level, so you may want to slow down or walk,” says Quirk.
Another common suggestion from health professionals and trainers is to incorporate other forms of exercise. When running feels good, it can be tempting to keep going every day. But you’ll be doing your body a favor (and still burning calories) if you move it in a different way.
Hamlin recommends replacing it with walking, cycling, or swimming, and Brett Durneyco-founder, personal trainer and running coach at the Fitness Lab, says incorporating strength training is essential.
“Keeping your core, upper body, and lower body with a particular focus on shoulder stability, core stability, and hip stability will help your running form and technique tremendously,” he says. Simply put, if your form is good, each of the thousands of steps you take will be executed in a better way.”
Hit the gym or train at home with bodyweight moves like lunges, hip thrusters, and planks. “These will help you with all of the above and help you maintain that all-important muscle mass later in life,” says Durney.
But again, don’t push yourself too hard and give yourself a break. “Don’t be afraid to take more rest and recovery days while your body adjusts to the new regimen,” says Quirk.
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Running may seem like an easy and affordable sport because it doesn’t take much to get started. But one area you don’t want to skimp on is your sneakers.
“Running shoes generally fall into three categories: motion control, stability, and neutral shoes. These categories range from more to less pronation control,” says Candy. “Pronation” occurs when your foot rolls inward when it hits the ground.
When you go to the store, you’ll probably see attractive options, but while style is important, it’s not the key here. “Don’t just choose a pair of running shoes because you like how they look,” says Candy. “Go to a running shoe store and get them to fit properly.”
Your shoes should also be replaced regularly, as worn-out sneakers can lead to injury, Hamlin says. Candy recommends exchanging them every 500 miles.