Running isn't just for the young. In fact, running for women over 50 can be one of the best ways to improve and maintain overall health. A common misconception is that running is hard on your joints, so as you age, you should avoid it.
However, some new research is revealing that it might not be the running itself that is causing the damage but rather the way this exercise is performed. It is true that high-impact repetitive actions can cause wear and tear on the body.
But, proper footwear, correct landing, and softer surfaces can greatly reduce the risks. Many scientists say that if you run without “pounding” your feet, you can limit stress on the joints.
And, with the good quality shoes available today, much of the shock is absorbed before it can cause damage, especially if you choose to run on a trail or track rather than along cement sidewalks.
While running was once thought to be a young person's sport, more and more doctors are now recommending it for both men and women in their 40s, 50s and beyond because of its ability to counteract the effects of aging.
Just look at Canadian runner Ed Whitlock who completed a marathon in 2:58:40 at the age of 74. Many twenty-somethings can't run 42 kilometers in under 3 hours! But, it gets even better. In February 2014, Mr. Whitlock crossed the finish line of the Toronto Waterfront Marathon with a time of 3:41:58 – at the age of 82!
And ladies, men don't hold the market on running success. Gladys Burrill received international recognition after completing the Honolulu Marathon at the age of 92! Do you still think you are too old for running? Do you believe that 50+ is too late to start running? Well, you can eliminate that excuse because Ms. Burrill didn't even run her first marathon until she was 82.
So, if an 82-year-old woman can master the marathon, it is likely that you can successfully work toward a 30-minute run through your local park. Yes, it will take time and training, but the benefits are worth it! Don't think for a minute that you can't get fit after 50.
Unfortunately, you can't stop the hands of time. You can't change the fact that you are aging, but you certainly can control how well you do it. So, c'mon, let's get started. And, who knows, maybe next year at this time, you will be entering your first 5K, 10K, or even 42K marathon.
The benefits of running are the same at any age – calorie burn, improved cardio, muscle strength, stress relief, and the prevention of some types of cancers. However, the chance of developing certain diseases or conditions increases once you are over 50, so finding ways to improve your health and decrease risk factors becomes even more important.
The list of benefits is quite extensive, so we won't cover them all here; but, we will look at a few advantages of running that are particularly relevant to women over 50.
1. Choose Proper Footwear. Good shoes will keep you balanced, absorb the shock, maintain proper alignment in your ankles and knees, and protect your joints. As you age, a good supportive shoe designed specifically for running becomes increasingly more important. Running requires very little equipment so don't skimp on the shoes. Your 50+ body will thank you!
2. Choose Location Wisely. To prevent arthritis or other joint issues, choose softer surfaces. A lot of running trails or tracks are much easier on your body than sidewalks or paved roads.
3. Start Slowly. If you are just beginning a running program, combine walking and jogging intervals until you build up your aerobic endurance. You can slowly increase the jogging times as you feel comfortable. It is important to pace yourself so you don't overdo it. A good rule of thumb is if you are huffing, puffing, or gasping for air, you are probably going too fast.
4. Reduce Distance. As mentioned, your cardio endurance may decline as you age. Rather than abandoning running altogether, simply cut back on the number of miles. If you are dealing with the effects of wear and tear on your joints but want an equivalent workout, you can shorten the workout length but increase the intensity with more sprints or intervals.
5. Take More Rest Days. As you age, you will need more time between sessions to recover and heal. Over-training can lead to serious injuries and chronic conditions, so listen to your body.
6. Land Properly. Correct landing techniques will protect your joints and reduce the risk of injury. Keep your feet close to the ground so you will be less likely to “pound” them down. Try to land lightly, heel first.
7. Mix It Up. Having a well-balanced exercise regiment is important at any stage of life, but it becomes even more vital as you age. On your non-running days try adding in some cycling, swimming, skiing, rowing, or other sport activity. Do some weight training to help maintain muscle mass, especially in your upper body that isn't worked as much when running.
8. Warm Up. A teenager may be able to work out without warming up, but older muscles are less elastic (and more injury prone) so it's not a good idea to miss this important step. Also, remember to stretch after your run – it will help your muscles recover more quickly.
9. Consult Your Doctor. While running is considered a safe activity, you should get approval from your doctor before beginning any exercise program. This is especially important if you are overweight, inactive, new to running, or have a health condition such as heart disease or joint issues.
You don't have to be a marathoner to enjoy the benefits of physical activity received from running. Just 30 minutes a few times a week can greatly improve health and decrease your risk of many age-related diseases. And, you are never too old to start. Whether you are 50 or 80, age is no longer a limitation. Besides, 50 is the new 30 anyway, isn't it? So, put on those running shoes and start clocking the miles.
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I will continue to share ideas about diet and exercise that have helped me along the way. If you have any questions I can help you with, or if you have any ideas you want to share, feel free to contact me or visit our Q&A forum.