It’s never too late to get moving, but here’s how to ease into the sport.
Bill asks: I’m over 50, and think I want to start running. Unfortunately, I have not been active since my high school football days, so I’m at a loss. I was wondering if you had any special instructions for me given my age and inactivity level?
It is never too late to get started on improving your health and fitness, so good for you! While, in general, all the basic training principles apply to everyone, your age and current health status are important considerations. And yes, there are some things older adults should keep in mind when starting any exercise program. Here are my suggestions:
1. Have a complete physical
Schedule an appointment with your GP before you begin training. Discuss your plans to start a running program and ask if there are any health concerns to be aware of, like signs of heart disease, diabetes, or orthopaedic limitations.
A complete physical will provide you and your physician with important health information like weight, blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, BMI, and a lot more. Knowing these numbers at the start will help you track your progress over time and note improvements.
2. Invest in the right equipment
In this case, equipment means shoes. Find a specialty running store and obtain a professional shoe fit to determine the right pair for you based on your biomechanics. If you need a primer, this article on how to buy the right running shoes gives you six things to look for and a few shoe buying mistakes to avoid.
3. ID tag
Have your name and contact information along with pertinent health information on you while running. A simple way to do this is to purchase an ID tag to wear as a bracelet or on your running shoe, so this information is available at all times.
4. Select an appropriate training plan
Your training plan should start at your current fitness level. I suggest you consider starting a walking program first. This is a great way for anyone to begin training, but it can be especially effective for older runners or those who have been sedentary for long periods of time.
Walking starts the basic conditioning process needed for running, but in a gentler manner. The same muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, connective tissue, and bones used for walking do similar movements on runs. As you become conditioned, you can gradually ease into running by mixing short run intervals into your walking. Older runners need a longer warm-up period, so be sure to include this phase before moving into the actual exercise.
Older runners also need more recovery time between workouts, so start by exercising two or three days a week. You can increase the frequency as your fitness level and conditioning improve. But keep in mind that all increases in frequency, duration, or intensity of exercise should be small and gradual incremental steps.
5. Add cross-training
Older runners can benefit from cross-training, specifically strength and flexibility training. Strength training twice a week can help counter muscle loss and bone loss that comes with aging. Work on your flexibility with stretching after your runs/walks or try a yoga class two days a week to help maintain joint range of motion and help your balance. If you want to add additional cardio exercise, choose a non-impact exercise like swimming or spinning to supplement your running or walking.
With walking/running three days a week, strength training, and stretching it will lead to a very busy (but healthy) lifestyle. Along with exercise, nutrition is equally as important to improving health and fitness, so take a look at your diet and make healthy choices to fuel your new activity level.