Advanced age has, for a long time, meant a decrease in activity. After people reach a certain age they’re expected to limit their activities to leisurely walks, slow forms of dancing, and maybe some water aerobics. Things have thankfully begun to change in the last few decades. Researches now tell us mature bodies are capable of so much more. And, more than that, exercise actually does those bodies a world of good. Running – once thought too dangerous for people over a certain age – is now known to actually have a wide range of benefits.
Some people think that running is “too dangerous” once a person reaches a certain age. Risks supposedly include fractured bones, cardiac issues, muscle loss, and blood sugar control problems. All of these risks assume that the runner either suffers sudden injury or does not pay attention to their body’s warning signs. These risks are true of any runner who ignores their body’s messages. Older bodies are not inherently frailer or less capable. Running even provides benefits to them that younger bodies may not even notice.
Running benefits older bodies, so long as the runner stays safe. Anyone who wants to start running, regardless of age, should consult a doctor first. This will ensure that their hearts, lungs, and bones can handle the new stress they will be put under. And if someone has never been a runner before, they should start slow in speed, distance, and frequency. More mature runners also succeed when they focus on distance or personal health rather than speed. So long as these points are kept in mind, however, there is no reason that a person can’t start running at 50, 60, or even 70.
Bone Density Benefits
The biggest benefit running has for mature bodies is also the least obvious. Running helps regenerate bone density. Any weight-bearing exercise such as dancing, boxing, or strength training has the same effect. But running helps regenerate bone density in the bones that support the majority of our weight. These include the spine, hips, and legs. Mature bodies do not regenerate bone density as fast as younger bodies do. This is especially true of menopausal and post-menopausal bodies. When someone enters menopause or post-menopause, their body can actually strip away bone faster than it can be replaced. This leads to weak bones and severe injuries.
Broken bones can lead to serious medical issues for certain people. A lack of mobility and increased time in bed can lead to circulation issues and blood sugar control issues. Running may not seem like the best way to avoid these issues, but science says otherwise. The human body replaces bone matter when the entire length of a bone is put under stress. Running puts the hips, spine, and legs under just enough stress – when done right – that the body will replace bone matter without taking on any injury. This is especially important for the legs, hips, and spine because they only generate bone mass when put under stress while upright.
Running does more than regenerate bone density. Many of the benefits are particularly useful for menopausal and post-menopausal people. Running may reduce the effects of hot flashes and improve ‘low’ moods. Other benefits include an improvement in cardiovascular and circulatory health, improved sleeping, some arthritis relief, and even some help improving mental clarity.
The key to reaping the benefits of running is to focus on safety. Safety doesn’t just mean avoiding falls or overexertion either. There are many factors to a safe and beneficial run, from the terrain to the company the runner keeps to the equipment they use. It is also worth noting that is someone does not feel comfortable with running, they can ease themselves into a fitness routine with weight training ot yoga. Both of these activities will prepare them for the rigors of running.
Consulting a Doctor
The absolute first thing someone should do before they take up running is to consult a doctor. A routine physical will ensure that the person’s heart and lungs are healthy enough to take up a new sport. Doctors can often suggest a beginning activity level for new athletes as well. This may vary from person to person but it will help the runner see results without pushing themselves too hard.
Getting the Proper Equipment
Running is a low-equipment sport. There are a few key pieces, however. And this is a sport where quality counts. Proper running shoes – not sneakers or basketball shoes, but running shoes – are a runner’s best defense against injury. They support the runner’s arches and absorb some of the shocks from each footfall. This decreases the potential for certain injuries and makes the runner more comfortable.
Additional equipment should include shorts or pants specifically for running, sports bras, comfortable socks, and a zip-up sweater. Running pants or shorts are often tight enough to avoid tripping chafing or potentially tripping the runner. Sports bras and comfortable socks are fairly self-explanatory and should be purchased before an athlete’s first run. Zip-up sweaters might seem too specific, but they are much easier to take off or put on during a run. They also allow a runner more control over the layers they have on and will help keep a runner more comfortable.
Whether an athlete prefers old school calisthenics, yoga, or a mix of the two, it is vital that they stretch before and after every run. Pre-run stretching has obvious benefits. These stretches warm up the muscles and help the athlete avoid injury. They also help get the runner into the right frame of mind for the run ahead. After-run stretches are less well-publicized but are just as important. Stretching after a run helps work out extra lactic acid that has built up in the muscles. It also helps loosen up any muscles that may take on tension during the run, such as the shoulders and upper back.
Trainers who work with new runners over forty suggest that their clients go no more than a half-mile for their first run. If the athlete is running in their neighborhood, that means going no more than a quarter mile before turning around and heading back. This is true even if the athlete usually goes for long walks or engages in a different sport. Running places a unique kind of stress on the body. Pushing past a half-mile on the first run increases a runner’s risk of injury. And if that first run doesn’t lead to overwork or injury, it can lead them into bad habits.
New runners should also avoid the “speed trap”. Mature bodies do not react well to high-intensity or high-speed runs, especially if the body is not conditioned for such things. Athletes should instead focus on form, fitness, and distance. All three factors will improve over time, but patience is necessary. Going too far, too fast, or too often at the beginning will inevitably lead to injury and possibly derail the athlete’s goals entirely.
Don’t Stop Mid-Run
Anyone who had to run for gym class knows what a stitch in their side feels like. Most people come to a complete stop when these happen and do not run again until the pain subsides. Experienced runners, however, advise against this. It is best to keep moving at a walk until the discomfort subsides, so long as it’s not severe. Severe pain may be more than a simple stitch in the athlete’s side and should not be ignored.
Listen to the Body’s Messages
An athlete’s body will usually let them know when a problem develops. Aches in the feet and shins may develop into stress fractures if ignored and increased appetite can be a sign that more nutrients are required. All athletes should listen to their bodies but it is especially important for mature athletes.
Running is great exercise. But it should be part of a person’s fitness routine, not the whole of it. This is particularly true for older athletes. Mature bodies want to pack on fat while reducing muscle. Scientists don’t know exactly why this is, but they do know how to minimize the issue. Resistance exercises and weight training encourage the body to keep and possibly add muscle. Supplements such as BCAA and protein shakes can further protect a person’s muscle mass, though a doctor should be consulted before an athlete starts using such products. Runners who also hit the weight room call it cross-training. It leads to a happier, healthier runner as well as a better BMI.
Once an athlete starts running they become part of a wide social network. Runners are very social, despite the popular image of a lone runner sprinting down a street at dawn. The social component of running helps keep athletes motivated. This motivation can take the form of a single dedicated running buddy or an online forum where runners discuss issues, questions, and achievements. Runners can also volunteer at marathons. They can staff aid stations, water tents, and cheer on their fellow runners while increasing their own motivation to get moving.
- Huffington Post, Why I Took Up Running at 50
- Washington Post, Why Running Is So Beneficial For Older Women
- AARP, You CAN Do It
- Time, Is Running Good For You?
- NHS, Running Tips For Beginners