Running for older people
Running is an excellent sport for people as they get older, it provides significant benefits which can offset the effects of ageing. Many people take up running so that they can keep fit and trim.
The effects of ageing
From the 30s onwards, a number of physical changes take place in the average person’s body. Aerobic capacity decreases, muscle mass reduces, muscle elasticity reduces, lung elasticity declines, bone density reduces, the metabolism slows, body fat increases and the immune system becomes weaker.
These changes will have an adverse impact on running performance. The fall in aerobic capacity, reduced stride length, reduced leg strength, and reduced ability to store energy all contribute to deterioration in performance. In general, it is thought that running speeds over any distance deteriorate by about 1% a year from a peak at some point in the 30s; and we appear to lose aerobic capacity at about 9-10% a decade.
The benefits of running for older people
The health benefits of running are broadly the same for older people as for everybody else. They include reductions in the risks of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer; reduced depression and anxiety; weight control; improved bones, muscles and joints; improved mobility and coordination, and a psychological sense of well-being. What is especially important for older people is that the risk of developing these conditions grows as you get older, so the benefits of running are increased. It is especially important for older people that running can improve muscle strength, coordination and bone density, all reducing the risk of falling and fracturing bones, and so increasing the prospects for living independently.
How to start running as an older person
There is no such thing as someone who is too old to start running. Running helps to slow down the effects of ageing, improves the health, fitness and mobility of older people, and improves psychological health.
Anyone over the age of fifty should get a check-up by a doctor before they begin any programme of physical exercise In older people, the doctor will be particularly checking for heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, to ensure that you can run safely.
Apart from getting a check‑up from a doctor, the advice for a new older runner is basically the same as for everyone else. The main priorities are to build up slowly, and set yourself demanding but achievable goals.
Tips for older runners
The decline in performance with age is not preordained. For example, the rate of decline of aerobic capacity can be halved to about 5% a decade, or even less, with the right training.
Here are some ways to manage the effects of ageing:
- Cut back the mileage, but increase your training quality
- Take more rest days between sessions, and avoid overtraining;
- Increase the variety of your aerobic training, for example by aqua-running, cycling, swimming.
- Warm up carefully before running, and stretch afterwards, to protect muscles which are less elastic and more prone to injury than they were when you were younger;
- Increase your weight training, to compensate for the decline in muscle mass which you would otherwise experience.
- Have fun.