One of the best things about running is that it is more inclusive and accessible than many other sports. Young, old, short, tall, rich, poor, overweight, or thin, virtually anyone can be a runner and participate in the sport of running in some capacity.
Moreover, running is one of the sports that you can pick up at any point in your life, even if you’ve never gone on a single deliberate run or have never run for any reason but to possibly catch a bus or chase after your kiddo or beloved dog.
Unfortunately, many people are unsure how to start running at age 40 or beyond. They fear it’s too late to become a runner and they worry that they aren’t fit enough or strong enough to run.
Although it’s natural to worry if you’re too old to start running, the simple answer is that whether you’re 40, 50, 75, or even in your 80s or 90s, you’re never too old to start running.
If your 30s are behind you and you’re wondering how to start running, keep reading for our complete guide to how to start running at 40 and beyond. The first few steps may feel hard, but we assure you, you’ll get hooked.
In this guide, we’re going to look at:
- Am I Too Old to Start Running?
- 22 Tips for How to Start Running At 40 (Or Beyond)
Let’s jump in!
Am I Too Old to Start Running?
Humans seem innately insecure and dubious of our own abilities and belongingness, and unfortunately, our self-efficacy when it comes to becoming a runner is no exception. Many people worry that they are too old to start running and wonder if they should even be considering how to start running at 40 (and beyond).
The good news is that you can quiet those insecurities and voices of self-doubt; plenty of runners start in their later decades of life. Moreover, research shows that consistent training can actually reduce the magnitude of expected age-related decline in aerobic performance.
Although most runners hit their “prime” years of peak performances in their later 20s or early-to-mid 30s, running isn’t just about fast finish times. The plethora of health and fitness benefits of running can be enjoyed across the lifespan, regardless of your age.
Furthermore, some master runners (runners aged 40 and older) run blisteringly fast times and take podium spots at top marathons and distance races, outperforming competitive runners a decade or so their junior.
In a nutshell, don’t let your age keep you from starting running at age 40 or beyond.
22 Tips for How to Start Running At 40 (Or Beyond)
Ultimately, starting running at 40 years old is exactly like starting running at any point in your life, even your youth. Starting running is all about taking the first step.
That said, starting running when you’re older does pose a few unique challenges, simply because the aging body isn’t as spry and tolerable to the physical stresses of demanding, high-impact exercise.
Below, we share the best tips for how to start running at 40 (or beyond):
#1: Get a Check-Up
Even if you don’t have underlying health conditions, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider and get medical clearance if you want to start running at 40.
Vigorous physical activity like running is demanding on your heart, lungs, and cardiovascular system as a whole. Particularly if you have been inactive for quite some time, getting a check-up with your doctor can prevent any potentially serious complications from taxing your body.
#2: Find a Coach
Beginner runners of any age can benefit from working with a running coach. Coaches can develop a customized training plan based on your needs and goals.
A running coach can also help you work on proper running form. It’s much easier to learn how to run with proper running form from square one than to try and correct poor form and bad habits after you’ve been running for years.
#3: Follow a Training Plan
Not everyone has the financial resources, time, or access to work with a running coach. However, there are plenty of free and premium beginner training plans runners can find online, which can help you progress gradually, build fitness, and even prepare for your first 5k or other race distance.
#4: Join a Running a Club
Running is a social sport, and one of the best ways to get advice and support is to join a local or online running club or team. Local running clubs usually have weekly group runs, such as long runs or track workouts, and may even have social events like team dinners, post-run breakfasts, and more.
Plus, a running club is a great way to meet a neighborhood running buddy with whom you can meet up for companionship on mid-week runs.
#5: Connect Online
There are many online communities and social media groups for beginner runners and seasoned athletes alike. From Facebook to Reddit and Discord, you can find other master runners and beginners who are just learning how to start running at 40 and beyond.
Online groups often post motivating challenges, tips and advice, and inspirational stories of other newcomers who have found passion, purpose, health, and new life through running.
#6: Mix It Up
Varying your runs is not only a good way to prevent injuries but also keeps things fun and fresh.
Instead of running the same route every day, try new directions, different terrain (road, grass, trail, track, etc.), and different workout structures (walk/run, steady pace, intervals, tempo runs, etc).
Mixing things up also reduces the tendency to compare your performance from one day to another and compete with yourself. When you’re just starting out, it’s important to listen to your body and try not to push your pace every day.
#7: Practice Proper Form
Proper running form can help you run faster and longer as good form improves running efficiency and economy. Running with poor form can also increase the risk of injury.
New runners can work on running form by performing drills like high knees and can run strides. Also, consider having a friend take a video of you running so that you can examine your form.
#8: Don’t Be Afraid of Speedwork
Although you need to build an aerobic base for endurance to be able to run without stopping, once your stamina has improved, try adding speed work to your training program.
Older runners often count themselves out of doing speedwork, imagining running fast should only be reserved for competitive runners who plan on running races. However, all runners can benefit from speed workouts, even if you never plan to toe the starting line on a race.
Speed workouts will improve your fitness, allowing you to run faster and longer. They also train your body to be more metabolically flexible so that you can use fuel more efficiently and burn fat at higher effort levels.
Speedwork revs your metabolism and changes the stresses and loads on your muscles, bones, joints, and connective tissues, which can prevent overuse injuries from running the same pace day after day.
#9: Be Mindful of Mileage
As we age, our bodies are less forgiving and recovery takes longer. Older runners should consider running less total volume to prevent overtraining and injury.
#10: Progress Slowly
Nearly all new runners are eager to ramp up their training quickly. After all, it only takes a few runs to fall in love with the sport. However, if you’re just starting running at age 40 or older, you should be even more mindful to progress gradually with your distance and speed.
The general rule of thumb is to limit your increase to 10% each week. For example, if you run 15 miles the first week, you can bump up 1.5 miles to 16.5 miles the second week if you feel good.
Remember, you are playing the long game; you can be a runner for life, even if you are just starting running at 40. Therefore, there’s no huge rush to scale your training up aggressively. Doing so increases the risk of injury and excessive soreness.
#11: Don’t Play the Comparison Game
A particularly important tip for those wondering how to start running at 40 is to avoid the comparison trap. Studies routinely show that aerobic performance capacity declines with age (nearly linearly).
It’s quite unlikely that you’ll be as fast as a younger runner or a younger version of yourself. Set new goals and PRs per decade as you age. For example, you can have a 5k PR or PB for your 40s, a separate one for your 50s, and so on.
#12: Prioritize Strength Training
Strength training is important for all runners, but particularly master athletes and beyond as resistance training can attenuate age-related sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass).
As muscle is key to strength and performance, as well as maintaining a healthy metabolic rate, be sure to get in at least 2-3 total-body strength training workouts per week.
#13: Supplement with Cross-Training
Low-impact cross-training activities like swimming, rowing, cycling, and elliptical, reduce the stress and strain on your bones, joints, and connective tissues while still giving you a cardiovascular workout and encouraging circulation to recover from runs.
Reducing your running mileage and supplementing with cross-training is particularly important as you get older, as your body is usually less tolerable of excessive high-impact running.
#14: Work on Mobility, Stability, and Balance
Mobility, stability, and balance work can prevent injuries and leave you feeling limber and loose rather than wound up and tight. Foam rolling, single-leg drills, core exercises, and massage are great accouterments to a running program for any athlete, particularly older runners.
#15: Add Flexibility Work
Our tissues tend to tighten up as we get older, and it becomes increasingly important to warm up properly before every workout. Do a few minutes of light cardio exercise, followed by dynamic stretches.
After a workout, stretch until you are cooled down. Consider adding yoga or other flexibility work to your routine as well, to ensure you maintain optimal range of motion in your muscles and joints.
#16: Recover Like a Pro
Professional runners prioritize recovery, and the older you are, the more you should follow suit. Be sure to stretch, foam roll, get in protein and carbohydrates right after your run to refuel, ice as needed, and take easy walks to promote recovery from your runs.
#17: Set Realistic Expectations
Research shows that our cardiovascular capacity decreases with age. Be realistic in your expectations and patient with your body as you get in shape. This will set you up for feeling confident and motivated rather than anxious and disappointed.
#18: Adjust Your Goals
Goals give runners direction and purpose, but they should be reasonable, meaningful, and clear.
If you are just starting running, set small, manageable goals rather than lofty, loose goals. For example, set a goal to run/walk three days a week at first, or to try to run a mile non-stop after two weeks.
#19: Take Rest Days
Taking a planned day off or an impromptu day when your body is tired or sore isn’t being lazy, it’s being smart. Running creates micro-tears in your muscles, and they need time off to repair and rebuild back stronger.
If you are just starting running at 40 or older, you should be taking at least two or three rest days at first.
#20: Fuel Your Body with High-Quality Nutrition
What you feed your body fuels your body, so high-quality nutrition is vital to running well and feeling well. Focus on whole, natural, unprocessed foods like vegetables, fruits, lean protein, legumes, seeds, nuts, and healthy oils.
Work on figuring out the timing of your running and eating so that you feel energized and fueled without being bloated and full. Focus on carbohydrates before you run and a balance of protein and carbohydrates to refuel afterward.
#21: Don’t Skimp on Sleep
Adequate sleep is a crucial component to recovery from your training. Runners should aim for a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night, though eight to nine is ideal.
#22: See Yourself as a Runner
Lastly, no matter how old you are when you first pick up running, embrace your new identity as a runner. You, yes you, are a runner. Wear the label with pride, invest in good quality gear, and pat yourself on the back for doing one of the best things you can possibly do for your body and mind.
As you can see, you are never too old to take up running. Now that you know how to start running at 40, let’s get going with your first 5k with our Couch to 5k plans here!
3 thoughts on “How To Start Running At 40 And Beyond: 22 Expert Tips”
Thank you so much for this article! I started running last year at 40. It was thr first time in my life and I took it really slow in the beginning using intervals (30 second run / 8 min walk then 1 min run / 7 min walk, etc) until I could run for 10 minutes straight. But when I tried to follow a different plan to get up to 5km I had hip pain that stopped me for 3 weeks. I realized I was just going to have to adjust my training plan to work within the limitations of my body. This year I am incorporating a lot more strength training and rest days and (hopefully) reasonable expectations.
Thanks for sharing your story and good for you for picking up the sport at age 40. Your approach and mindset are both fantastic. Keep listening to your body. Enjoy the process!
Great article. I’m early 40s and a couple of weeks into the “running outdoors” journey after running short distances indoors for a couple of years on a treadmill. For some reason even after 2 years running on the treadmill I never considered myself a runner, but after I finally decided to give it a go outdoors it has really opened up a whole new world.