How to Run Safely If You're Over 50, According to Trainers and Doctors
If you're just starting out, these tips will keep you on track.
Running is one of the most effective forms of exercise for those looking for a high-calorie burn and that coveted "runner's high." It can also motivate you to explore and get outside, even during the colder winter months.
Once you reach your 50s, however, picking up running as a hobby might seem a bit intimidating—maybe you even convinced yourself that you're simply "not a runner." But both trainers and doctors say that if you're smart about it, running and jogging can be a great way to stay in shape at any age. Read on to find out how they recommend running safely over 50.
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Recognize what your body needs.
As we age, our bodies become more susceptible to wear and tear—and it might feel like you can't "bounce back" as quickly as you once did.
"Bone density and joint flexibility decline with age," Nancy Mitchell, a registered nurse and contributing writer at Assisted Living, says. "This is often due to hormone fluctuations, changes in diet, and a result of declining lubricating fluid in the joints. It's not uncommon for people over 50 to begin experiencing knee pain or discomfort as a result of these changes."
But according to Dave Candy, DPT, board-certified specialist in orthopedic physical therapy, and owner of More 4 Life, "mild degenerative changes" shouldn't discourage you. "It doesn't mean that you can't run, but it does mean that you have to be more diligent about using proper technique, the right type of shoes, and adjusting your training volume according," he says.
Pushing yourself too hard can lead to injury, and Caroline Grainger, International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) certified personal trainer for FitnessTrainer Personal Trainer Certification, notes that your body will tell you what it needs—so don't ignore it.
"Above all else, listening to your body should be a primary concern; if something does not feel quite right during a run, stop immediately and seek medical advice if needed," she says.
Consult your doctor.
Experts also say you might want to talk to a medical professional before you lace up your new shoes.
"As early as possible, it is advisable to consult with a doctor or physical therapist before starting any new exercise routine. Take into account any physical limitations or joint pain that might be present before starting," Michael Hamlin, NCSA, CSCS, personal trainer, and founder of Everflex Fitness, says. "As young as you feel, age is still an important factor to consider when it comes to running."
You might want to ask these questions during your annual physical, according to Michelle Quirk, MD, physician, certified run coach, and founder of Mindful Marathon. "It's important to know how medications and dietary supplements affect your running and recovery," she notes.
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Remember to stretch and hydrate.
For runners of any age and ability, stretching is crucial. And over the age of 50, you definitely need to take the time to warm up and recover.
Grainger recommends stretching to bookend your run. "It is essential to stretch before and after running to reduce muscle soreness and help keep joints limber," she says.
Remember to stay hydrated as well, as your body loses electrolytes while you run. Grainger and Hamlin suggest taking some water with you while jogging, especially if you're heading out in the heat.
Have a plan.
Don't expect to start pounding the pavement and logging miles upon miles right away—even if you've been a runner in the past. Instead, you'll want to establish a plan and increase your distance gradually.
Candy recommends starting out with a low mileage goal, which you can up over time. "If you're just starting, that may mean running for an eighth to a quarter of a mile at a time with interspersed walking," he says. "Over time, gradually increase the distance you run, and decrease your walking intervals until you can run one mile without stopping."
That being said, don't rush the process. "The general rule of thumb is not to increase your training volume more than 10 percent per week, but when you're at really short distances, [adding] 0.1 miles at a time can be painstakingly slow," Candy says. Still, don't up your mileage more than a quarter mile each week, per Candy's recommendation. "That way, you prevent overtraining injuries and you can continue running."
Mitchell suggests a 10-minute session to start. "The idea is to avoid placing sudden stress on the joints," she says. "Give them some time to acclimate to your new routine."
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Establish a good pace.
While you don't want to run too far, you also don't want to run too fast. According to Quirk, you should keep your run "conversational."
"In terms of pacing, I like to advise going by level of effort rather than looking at a specific time on the watch," she explains. "My best tip is to keep things conversational." She advises inviting a friend to run with you and chat.
"If you are not able to carry on a conversation without becoming short of breath, your effort level may be too high for your current level of fitness, so it's okay to slow down or walk," Quirk says.
Incorporate some cross-training into your routine.
Another common suggestion from medical professionals and trainers is to incorporate alternate forms of exercise. When you're feeling great while running, it can be tempting to keep at it every day. But you'll be doing your body a favor (and still burning calories) if you move it in a different way.
Hamlin recommends switching it up with walking, biking, or swimming, and Brett Durney, co-founder, personal trainer, and running coach at Fitness Lab, says incorporating strength training is key.
"Keeping your core, upper body, and lower body with particular focus on shoulder stability, core stability, and hip stability will dramatically help your running form and technique, he says. "Simply put, if your form is good, each and every one of the thousands of strides you take will be executed in a better manner."
Hit the gym or work out at home with bodyweight movements like lunges, hip thrusters, and planks. "These will help with all the above as well as help you maintain that all-important muscle mass into later life," Durney explains.
But again, don't push yourself too hard and give yourself a break. "Do not be afraid to take more rest and recovery days as your body adjusts to the new regimen," Quirk says.
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Invest in high-quality running shoes.
Running may seem like an easy and affordable sport to break into, as it doesn't require much to get started. But one area you don't want to skimp on is your sneakers.
"Running shoes generally fall into three categories: motion control, stability, and neutral shoes. These categories go in order from the most to the least pronation control," Candy explains. "Pronating" is when your foot rolls inward as it strikes the ground.
When you go to the store, you'll probably see some enticing options, but while style is important, it's not the key component here. "Don't just pick a pair of running shoes because you like how they look," Candy says. "Go to a running shoe store and have them fit you properly."
Your shoes also need to be regularly replaced, as worn-out sneakers can lead to injury, Hamlin says. Candy recommends swapping them out every 500 miles.