Like any form or regular exercise, running in your 50s, 60s and even above is extremely good for you. I’ll repeat this mantra over and over: being physically fit not only helps extend lifespan, but it also increases the chances of healthy aging, reducing the risks from chronic illness such as heart disease, hypertension, cancer and diabetes. And let’s not forget (ha ha) that exercise improves the way your brain functions as you get older, and also helps improve your mood.
So how do you start? What should you do?
I know it’s obvious, but I have to say it: it’s prudent to check in with your doctor, who will be able to tell you if running is right for you, or suggest different forms of exercise that may better suit you. Beyond that, starting running is the same for us older folks as for any age group.
Start slow. Ease into your routine. You might start just walking 30 minutes per day for a week. In the second or third week, run for 1 minute, then walk for 4 minutes, for a total of 30 minutes. Build up from there.
Get the right gear. Get your feet fitted with running shoes that are right for your gait and stride. It’s best to have a professional shoe fitting at a running store. People run differently, have different arche and land on their feet differently (pronation, supination, etc.). A good running store will have someone watch you run to see how your feet land, and be able to recommend the appropriate shoes. It’s also a good idea to wear fabric that wicks away sweat and stay hydrated.
Be flexible. Stretch after, not before your runs. Stretching after running improves flexibility and helps to mitigate injuries, whereas stretching before your run can actually strain your muscles. I like to stretch for 15-30 minutes in the evening.
Set realistic goals. It’s good to set goals, but keep them realistic. Don’t try to break any speed records, but be consistent, and your body will adapt to running, and you’ll eventually become a faster and more confident.
Get lots of rest. Age affects recovery time and your body will need more time to recover after a bout of running. Add more rest days in between training days, avoid overtraining and do some active recovery on your off days.
Incorporate regular strength training. Strength training helps to compensate for age related loss of muscle mass. You can either use weights, bands or your own bodyweight. Make it challenging enough to encourage muscle growth. Muscles stabilize your bones and help absorb more impact.
Do some cross training. Take regular breaks and diversify with activities that have less impact on your knees and joints, like cycling or swimming. Regular cross training help break the routine, and our bodies respond positively to training diversity.
Work on your balance. Balance is helpful to anyone at any age, and it’s one of the areas that we lose as we get older. Better balance means that you are less likely in injure yourself by falling etc.
Join a running group. Joining a running group or club in your area can help you stay motivated. Some of the members may even be seasoned runners that can guide you on proper technique and form. Running in a group also helps take your mind off initial discomfort, and helps you to enjoy running. We do what we enjoy doing, and running with friends helps that.
Eat properly. A healthy diet that includes lots of leafy greens and fish high in omegas (such as salmon) provides you with essential fatty acids, calcium and magnesium needed for bone and joint nutrition.
You don’t have to do much. The USA national guidelines for exercise suggest just 150 minutes per week. 5 days per week, 30 minutes per day. Not a big commitment to stave off the negative effects of aging, right?
Beginning running in your 50s, 60s or older is just like any other new activity: you have to be committed to be successful. It has nothing to do with age. It's about deciding you’re going to run. Decide, and you’ll just do it. Recognize that how you approach your training and adapt to it depends on how your body responds.