Over 50? Running could be a great exercise for you

Some people think that running is only for the young, but researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine found that regular running can slow the effects of aging in people aged over 50.

From 1984 until 2005, the study tracked more than 500 runners over the age of 50. The results showed that the runners had fewer disabilities and led more active, self-sufficient lives than the non-runners in the control group. These findings were published in 2008, along with another study that showed older runners don’t have higher rates of osteoarthritis, nor do they require knee replacements more often, than non-runners. The bottom line? Running, even at an older age, can be good for you!

A host of other studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise, such as running, benefits older people in many ways, including reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer.

If you would like to try running, or ran when you were younger but haven’t for years, there’s no time like right now — whether you’re 50, 60, 70 or even 80+. Don’t forget, though, if you want to run safely and prevent injuries, the first thing you need to do is get the nod of approval from your physician. It’s always important to check with your doctor before you start any new exercise program, including running.

Next, buy yourself a pair of good running shoes. Go to a shoe store that has a large selection of athletic footwear. Talk to a knowledgeable salesperson who can measure your feet correctly and assess your walking style and gait. The right fitting shoes will make all the difference in the world.

Now grab your bottle of water (it’s always important to stay hydrated) and start walking. That's right. Walking. No matter what your age, don't charge out of the gate. Start slowly with intervals. Walk a minute, run 15 seconds; walk a minute, run 30 seconds; and so on, gradually increasing your running time to where you feel your body is working, but not hurting. A good plan might be to go about a mile or for one-half hour to start. (You can always keep doing intervals. Higher-intensity bursts combined with walking give you a great workout while reducing stress on your joints.)

Some people like to work with a trainer or fitness coach, and a good one can be helpful. Here are some things that are generally recommended.

Be sure to include a warm up (such as marching in place) before running and a cool down (slow walking and stretching) at the finish. It’s also important to allow “recovery time” in your running schedule. One of the reasons people get hurt is because they do too much too soon, or push themselves too hard. 

Here’s something else to consider. When you’re running, how do you know if you're going at the right pace? If you don't know what your heart rate zone should be, or how to check your heart rate, try this rule of thumb: if you're running with a partner and you can carry on a normal conversation, you're not working hard enough. If you can't talk at all, you're doing too much. If you can say short words – yes, no, maybe — you're just right. When you're finished running, take time to walk slowly and bring your heart rate down.

You’ll probably find that as you age, you don’t recover as quickly from running or other exercise as you did when you were younger. So you need to pace yourself. Remember the “recovery time” mentioned earlier? You’ll find what works for you — skipping a day between runs, or even a week. It’s important to listen to your body and be willing to make adjustments.

What you don’t have to do is stop running.