I started running six years ago at the age of 41 years old. Since then, I have completed seven marathons, two Ironman triathlons and at least 15 half marathons. This is not a brag. I want to merely emphasize the fact that one is never too old to get started.
Yet, getting started is just part of the equation. Once we are runners, how likely is it that we will be able to continue running as we get older? I was talking to a friend the other day about how our parents are aging. She said, “Well, and it’s not like they’re going to be running around the track when they’re 80!” My first thought was, “Why not? I want to be doing that when I’m 80.”
This does bring up an interesting point. What exactly happens to our bodies as we get older? And is the aging process conducive to continuing to run? Is running harmful to us as we age?
Most research will tell you that you are never too old to run. This is fantastic news! However, we can anticipate changes to our bodies that might decrease performance. The need for recovery and rest days will certainly become a priority. Below are some adjustments (a nice way of saying “deteriorations”) your body endures as you move beyond 30 years of age:
- Aerobic capacity decreases (an inevitable decline in maximum heart rate)
- Muscle mass reduces
- Muscle elasticity decreases
- Bone density reduces
- Metabolism slows
- Body fat increases
- Immune system becomes weaker
- After age 35, endurance performance declines by about five to 15 percent per decade.
While this all sounds very doom and gloom, there is an upside. Running has been shown to have many benefits for us as we age, ranging from the physical to the mental. Such advantages include decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, reduced depression/anxiety, weight management/control, improved mobility and improved bones, muscles and joints.
Reading the above, you would be crazy not to start or to continue to run as you get older. But, you must be smart about it.
- Warm up before each running session for at least a mile. Add in some dynamic exercises to prepare your body to run.
- Take at least two rest days from running per week, if not more.
- Incorporate non-impact cross training, such as swimming, water running or cycling.
- Increase weight/strength training to maintain muscle mass.
For some, race times will continue to plummet as they age. However this does not have to be the case. Smart training choices can lead to amazing results even as you get older. So run on, my old friends!