Running over 50 is not only possible; it’s a decision that can have a profound impact on your physical and mental well-being. The path ahead might seem unknown and perhaps a little daunting, but fear not! With the right guidance and a dash of enthusiasm, you’ll soon find yourself embracing the joy, strength, and vitality that running brings.
A lot of people may think that it’s only for young people, that after 50 is too late. But that’s simply not true. There are a lot of great benefits to adding running to your life in your later years.
I’m thrilled to say that in my over 12 years of run coaching, I’ve noticed a massive shift to more people running later and later in life.
In fact, right now among my 11 running coaches over half of our athletes are over 40 and we have a number running in their 60‘s and 70’s!
Running continues to be one of the most popular ways people choose to increase their activity level and improve their health. We are living longer. Maintaining an active lifestyle or increasing our activity levels with things like walking, running, cycling, pickleball, and others can make our latter years some of our best.
With that in mind, for those of you 50 and up who think you want to take up running, let’s dig a bit deeper into the following topics:
- Benefits of running after 50
- Challenges you may face (how to adapt training)
- Tips for how to get off on the right foot…literally!
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll address the unique considerations for those in their 50s and beyond, ensuring you have the knowledge and tools to make your running experience safe, enjoyable, and rewarding.
Benefits of Running After 50
While there are still some people out there who think runners will have bad knees and face a lot of other physical health issues later in life, the reality is that is simply not true.
Whether you start running at age 7, 25, 50, or older, studies routinely show that runners simply are not worse off, especially in their knees.
Better Bone Health
In fact, numerous studies show that activities, including running, prevent many issues like osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, among others.
Increased Lean Muscle Mass
Another study on older athletes found even more good news. The study out of Manchester Metropolitan University in England found being older is not a reason to not take up running or other intense exercise.
The study took place over more than 10 years and focused on muscle and bone health of runners, many of whom were over 60, who took up running after age 50. The participants were found to have lower body fat and higher lean muscle mass in the legs than those who were not athletes.
That’s great news.
But wait, there’s more!
Adding running, and other exercise, to your routine later in life also offers even more health benefits. These include:
- Improved mental health and wellbeing
- Improved sleep
- Increased longevity and slower aging
- Lower risk of cardiovascular mortality
- Better memory
- Lower risk of heart disease and diabetes
- And the list goes on!
Overcoming Misconceptions and Challenges of Running Over 50
As you contemplate starting your running journey over 50, it’s natural to have some concerns and misconceptions about this new endeavor. Let’s address these common worries head-on and put any doubts to rest.
Remember, age is just a number, and with the right approach, you can enjoy the many rewards that running has to offer. Every new runner faces challenges, so it’s just being aware of how to address them.
“I’m too old to start running”
Age should never be a barrier to pursuing your passions.
Running is a versatile activity that can be tailored to your fitness level and goals. People of all ages have successfully embraced running and experienced significant improvements in their health and well-being.
You have the power to redefine what’s possible, regardless of your age.
- There are entire races dedicated to masters runners, including world championships!
- We’re doing to start by walking more
- Checkout this age-graded running calculator to put your pace in perspective
Menopause Has Slowed Me Down
I’ve previously done an article on menopause and running so I wanted to be sure to mention it here. The truth is that our endurance improves as we age and so our job is to work on the fast twitch and power movements that can help us find speed again.
Peri-menopause may bring about changes that affect your running, like increased fatigue and body temperature some days. Then when menopause hits, you have to deal with cortisol, which is linked to weight gain.
Does this mean you shouldn’t work out? No, it just means you need to adjust your training to meet the needs of your body in its new state.
- Be prepared to train differently than in your 20’s
- Hard all the time is going to back fire massively
- Recovery is going to now be a big part of your training plan
“Running will cause joint damage”
The fear of joint impact is a common concern, but research shows that running, when done correctly, can actually strengthen your joints and improve bone density.
As noted above in the benefits, it’s just not accurate to say it’s bad for your knees. With the right training tips below and strength training, your bones are going to be healthy and your knees just fine.
Decreased Mobility and Tissue Elasticity
As we age our mobility and tissue elasticity can take a hit. That reduced mobility can impair your movement patterns and simply make your running feel less fluid. All of which again, can heighten our risk for injury.
Again, this doesn’t mean we should avoid exercise for fear of injury or making it worse. Because doing nothing is a sure way to never improve it! It just means we need to train smarter.
- Plan in more time than previously for your dynamic warm up.
- Add in a yoga class or two to your weekly schedule for balance and strength work
- Befriend your foam roller.
Decreased Muscle Mass
As we age, maintaining and increasing lean muscle mass gets progressively more difficult. However, as I’ve already pointed out, running helps older adults ensure they are better off in this area than non-runners or less active people.
The loss of muscle makes is easier to get injured and harder to run as well as you want.
The good news is we can do something about it!!!
To help with this, make sure to add a quality strength workout regimen to your training. It doesn’t have to be a lot, maybe 2-3 days a week at most and they don’t have to be long sessions or complicated. Squats, lunges, planks, push-ups are all great exercises to include.
- Progressive overload is your new best friend
- Starting with bodyweight is amazing, but you MUST progress to lifting weights to actually keep or build muscle
“I’m not fit enough to run”
Running is a journey, and everyone starts somewhere.
It’s essential to assess your current fitness level and set realistic goals. Begin with a combination of walking and running intervals, gradually increasing the running duration as your fitness improves.
By following a structured training plan and listening to your body, you’ll build endurance and strength at a pace that suits you. Put away any ego or assumptions about what “should” be.
Tips for Getting Off on the Right Foot
Alright, so now that you’re ready to hit the road, here are some tips for getting off on the right foot with your running routine!
#1 Get a Physical
It’s always a good idea to connect with your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen. If you don’t regularly see a doctor, this is a good time to start.
Use this time to let them know your plans and get baselines for things like weight, BMI, cholesterol and blood pressure, particularly if you haven’t been regularly monitoring them.
Ask about health issues you should be aware of and signs and symptoms of concern should they occur.
Establish a baseline for where you are right now:
- understand the limitations of any medical conditions
- current fitness level
- any past injuries you need to consider (strengthen!)
- focus on a few small short term goals to get the ball rolling
#2 Find a Smart Plan and FOLLOW IT
You are not in your 20’s, your body will not be as forgiving when you try to jump right in or wing it.
It’s incredibly important that you start with a plan that allows you to slowly build up your base mileage and combines strength training. Once you’ve got that foundation, you’ll be ready to move on to training for that comeback race!
This is likely going to mean that you need to do some walking and you need to really follow rest days. Pushing harder and doing more will backfire.
#3 Learn How to Do a Proper Warm Up
If my athletes remember one thing, it’s that they should never, ever skip the warm up. This becomes even more critical as we age and need to spend some time ensuring that our muscles are loose and our body is primed for activity before we begin running.
This is going to improve the way your run feels, prevent your HR from spiking and prevent injuries!
- Here is a guided Dynamic Warm Up
- I also recommend the 30 Day Core, which is 10 minutes a day that’s going to help prevent injuries.
#4 Include Cross-Training in your Schedule
Cross-training is a great way to ensure you stay healthy and injury free.
Cross-training can include strength training, yoga, pilates, cycling, aqua jogging, swimming, and other lower impact activities. You generally want to avoid adding another high impact activity since running is a high impact activity itself.
#5 Start Slow with Run Walk Run Intervals
If you’re a true beginner to running, start slow. Get out and walk. Maybe increase the duration and pace of your walks.
If you’re returning to running or at a more advanced fitness level, don’t hesitate to start running right away, just be smart. Maybe take a run-walk-run approach and work your way up to longer run intervals.
Also keep in mind that quality is more important than quantity. The bodies of older adults adapt physiologically slower than younger runners.
You can get faster as an older runner. It may look different and take longer than if you were younger, but it’s possible to improve. Speed work will be important for you too.
#6 Get Serious about Your Recovery Routine
One of the things that has changed with age is your ability to recover. That means it’s up to you to make smart choices, so that your muscles are better able to repair after each session leaving you feeling strong and ready to tackle the next workout.
- Get consistent with refueling within 30 minutes of a workout (this must include protein)
- Take your rest days
- Invest the time to take an epsom salt bath, get a massage, use your massage gun, use the foam roller
- Don’t stress a ton about stretching, but spend some time on mobility and keeping loose if you feel stiff
#7 Follow a Strength Training Plan with Your Running
You’re probably getting the message by now, but you MUST strength train.
We begin losing muscle at age 30 and without a solid strength training plan, you are very likely to become an injured runner. That’s not only frustrating, but going to prove too many people right that you shouldn’t be running.
We have a number of programs you can follow to get you started!! Most are available as part of the Virtual Run Club as well.
- 8 Week Progressive Bodyweight Strength Program
- Introductory at home strength training with dumbbells
- 3 day a week at home strength with dumbbells
#8 Don’t Be Afraid to Push Hard
On the flip-side of taking enough recovery is also letting go of the fear to push hard. There’s an idea that because we’ve gotten older “we need to take it easy”.
The data doesn’t support that! Instead, it supports a smart training plan with easy days and some hard days.
We lose more of our fast twitch muscles with age, so it’s important to integrate speed workouts and even beginner plyometric workouts. These will start off slow and build gradually, just like the rest of the training plan.
In doing so, you will feel stronger, get faster and improve your endurance as well.
#9 Invest in a Good Pair of Shoes
Head to your local running store and get fitted for a good pair of shoes. Don’t worry so much about them looking at your gait and recommending shoes, instead put on a number of shoes and take them for a jog around the block!
Yes, they will let you run outside to test them!!!
Some of my top picks for a good amount of cushion as a daily trainer:
This is also a great time to get some running clothes too. Look for dri-fit materials, a good sports bra, and socks. Dressing for the weather can make the experience that much more enjoyable.
#10 Focus on Nutrition
With an increase in activity, you may find you’re hungrier. This doesn’t mean to load up on junk, but you do need to fuel your body.
Protein will aid muscle repair and recovery post-run. Carbohydrates will help fuel your muscles before, during, and after.
For the ladies, check out my article on running with menopause for some specific nutrition tips.
All right, I hope this guide to start running after 50 gave you some ideas for where to start. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I can’t recommend our Virtual Run Club enough. You’ll get access to strength programs, coaches and a supportive community of runners just like you.
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