Absolutely No Age Limits: Running in Your 50s, 60s and Above

Running in your 50s, 60s and even above is tremendously good for ageing bodies. If your last run was at age 10, or if life got in the way and you just couldn’t find the time, there are good reasons you should consider taking up running.

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The Curious Case of Growing Old

Ageing is part of life, and it’s a beautiful thing. It brings experience and wisdom. However, age is balanced out by a little dip in our physical performance.

According to a report on ageing and athletic performance published by the American College of Sports Medicine, time takes a toll on our natural abilities. Reduced strength, increase in body fat, declining VO2 max, declining bone density and reduced lactic acid clearance are some of the areas and abilities that take a hit.

Studies indicate that aerobic capacity declines after age 40 and accelerates faster after each decade. This is corroborated by data from the World Masters Athletics indicating that runners become 7% slower per decade once they reach their 40s, 50s, and 60s. Does this mean you should never lace up your running shoes? Absolutely not!

While there’s nothing you can do about ageing, you CAN offset some of its negative effects and ward off age related diseases by running. The ACSM report notes:

“Current evidence clearly indicates that participation in a regular exercise program is an effective way to reduce and/or prevent a number of the functional declines associated with ageing. Older adults have the ability to adapt and respond to both endurance and strength training.”

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The Benefits of Running in Your 50s, 60s and Above

The benefits of running for older people are pretty much the same as those for everyone: reduced risk of developing heart disease, hypertension, cancer and diabetes, according to the ACSM report cited earlier.

With the myriad of other positives running has to offer, such as weight control, improved mobility, better coordination and a psychological sense of well being, older people can really benefit from starting a regular running routine. Studies have shown that older runners are healthier: they have healthier bones, muscles and joints when compared to their peers who do not exercise.

There are many older runners who continue to perform feats of athletic excellence:

  • Canadian distance runner Ed Whitlock ran a 2:54:48 marathon at age 73 and has broken several records as a masters runner
  • Portuguese Olympian Carlos Lopes set the world marathon record at age 38
  • Long time Runner’s World writer and competitive runner Hal Higdon ran a 2:29:27 marathon at age 52
  • More than half the runners at the New York City Marathon are over 40

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How to Start Running in Your 50s, 60s and Above

Apart from checking in with your doctor, advice on how to begin running as an older person is the same as for any age group:

  • Beginner Rules – The rules for beginners are the same at any age. The basics are take it slow, ease into your routine and incorporate a run-walk-run technique.
  • Get the Right Gear – Get your feet fitted with running shoes that are right for your gait and stride. Wear fabric that wicks away sweat and stay hydrated.
  • Warm Up and Cool Down – Walking for 5 minutes before and after a run are important to protect muscles that aren’t as elastic as they were when you were younger.
  • Stretch After, not Before – Do some stretching after your run to improve flexibility and mitigate injuries. You could also try yoga or a good foam roller.
  • Set Realistic Goals – It’s good to set goals, but keep them grounded. There’s a fair chance that you won’t be breaking any speed records, but with steady training, your body will adapt and you’ll become a faster and more confident runner.
  • Join a Running Group – Joining a running group or club in your area can help you stay motivated. Some of the members may even be seasoned runners that can guide you on proper technique and form. Ask at your local gym, sports store or community organisations for older adults to find out more.

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Tips for Older Runners

Don’t let your current age hold you back from running. The benefits are well worth the effort! Here are a few tips to get you started and help you stay in the game:

  • What’s Up, Doc? – If you’re over 40 and a beginner or are going back to the sport after a long hiatus, consult your doctor and get cleared before you do anything. Make sure you won’t be running around with an undiagnosed condition that could hurt your progress.
  • Check Your Mileage – Cut down your mileage, but increase the quality of your training. This quality-over-quantity technique enabled Hal Higdon to stay competitive for years. Do some speed work on the track instead of a regular run occasionally. This will be easier on your body.
  • Get Lots of Rest – Age affects recovery time and your body will need more time to recover after a bout of running. Add more rest days in between training days, avoid overtraining and do some active recovery on your off days.
  • Regular Strength Training – Incorporate strength training into your routine to compensate for age related loss of muscle mass. You can either use weights, bands or your own bodyweight. Make it challenging enough to encourage muscle growth. Muscles stabilize your bones and help absorb more impact.
  • Do Some Cross Training – You can take regular breaks and take up activities that have less impact on your knees and joints, such as cycling or swimming. Adding regular cross training will help you break the monotony of running.

It’s a State of Mind

My favourite saying on this topic will always be ‘Age is just a state of mind’. According to an article from Harvard Health Publications, feeling young at heart may actually help you live longer. As well as the proven physiological benefits, running gives many this psychological edge as well.

Running in your 50s, 60s or above is just like any other pursuit in life: you have to put your mind to it and be committed to be successful. It has nothing to do with age, because once you decide you’re going to run, you’re going to run! The only difference will be how you approach your training and how your body responds. So the next time your age comes up, laugh it off.

It’s just a state of mind.