Lots of older folks run regularly for fitness and fun, and a large percentage of them are relatively new to the sport. Consider that more than half of participants in the annual New York City Marathon are over the age of 40, and it’s easy to see that running is a sport for all age groups.
But what about people who are already past the age of 55 and want to take up jogging as a new endeavor? Is it a smart choice? Are there risks associated with the pursuit, special equipment, medical warnings?
Starting a running program is one of the best ways to improve your overall health, but yes, there are some precautions that anyone over 55 should heed when beginning a new exercise regimen. If you have been tinkering with the idea of becoming a regular runner, you are already halfway to the finish line. Here are some facts that might give you a little nudge out the door:
THE HEALTH BENEFITS ARE INCREDIBLE
Running does all sorts of things to the human body; some of them are almost magical. A whole host of age-related maladies are either delayed or completely eliminated if you make running a part of your life.
Your lung capacity will improve. Age usually causes aerobic capacity to decrease about 10 percent per decade, but running can reduce that number to between 0 and 5 percent.
Your bone density will improve. Again, age takes its toll on those who don’t run, and chips away at bone density each year. Running helps to maintain strong bones, and it doesn’t hurt if you add in a small amount of weight lifting to your weekly routine as well.
Running delays or offsets muscle mass decline. Steady loss of muscle mass is another common result of aging. Regular running can help keep your muscles toned and healthy, and can almost completely offset routine, age-related muscle loss.
Your muscles will become more elastic. Runners who eat a well-balanced diet and stretch regularly also beat yet another aging bugaboo, decreased muscle elasticity. That all-too-common “stiffness” that slowly creeps in with age is practically unknown to those who adhere to a running plan.
DO THESE THINGS FIRST
If you are over 50, you should see a doctor before starting any type of exercise plan, and that includes running, biking, walking, swimming or playing team sports.
Know your limits and realize that you are not going to be able to run a marathon or even a half-marathon after just a few weeks of training. Be realistic. You’re in this for health and fitness at this point, not to win any trophies. (Besides, good health is worth MUCH more than a plastic statuette any day of the year!)
Start slow. Talk with a trainer or track coach and make up a written plan for your first few months. Include rest time between vigorous days and plenty of stretching.
If your eating habits are out of whack, get them back into shape before you start running. The same goes for weight. It’s usually not a good idea to begin running if you are obese. Think about shedding some of the poundage before pounding the pavement.
Shoes are important. Running shoes are the single most important piece of equipment in your new exercise arsenal. Shorts, hats, socks, watches, sunglasses, sun block, Vaseline (for toes and heels), water bottles and all other jogging accoutrements are a matter of taste, but shoes are serious business. Go to a reputable running store and invest in a pair of high-quality, name brand shoes. Your knees and hips will thank you.
Seek out rubberized tracks and grass surfaces. For the sake of long-term knee health, seek out soft surfaces like tracks, grass fields, and even cushiony pavement. Avoid cement, sidewalks and anything that reeks of concrete.
Your social life will improve. Get ready. Whether you join a running club or not, you will inevitably begin to accumulate “running friends,” and will slowly realize that your social life is improving. Strangers will jog up alongside you and start conversations. Those neighbors you never knew will stop you on the street and ask about your running program. With the possible exceptions of doubles tennis and ballroom dancing, running is truly one of the most social of all sports.
Now, just do it. Get the shoes, buy a good watch with a timer on it, and maybe even get a heart-rate monitor. After speaking with your health care professional and getting the all-clear, open that kitchen door and head out into your new life as… a runner.