So, you want to start running at age 50 – or more?
That’s fantastic because running is a sport you can start at any age. And running provides a host of mental and physical health benefits no matter how old you are.
Even if you haven’t run in decades, it’s doable to get started at any time. All you need is some patience, self-awareness, and a good pair of shoes.
In this article, we will cover:
- Can you start running at age 50?
- What are the benefits of running at an older age?
- What are the main differences in running between younger and older runners?
- How to start running at 50? – 12 Top Tips
So, let’s get you started in the wonderful sport of running over 50!
Can you start running at age 50?
You can start running at 50, or older! While a high-impact sport, running isn’t like gymnastics. You can ease into the impact and ready your body to take on the new stress—and it will get stronger and nimbler in the process.
In fact, starting running later in life may actually give some beginner runners an advantage.
Studies show for those who have been running most of their lives will have muscles and connective tissues that are less elastic than those new to the sport, as cited by Matt Fitzgerald and Brad Hudson in the book, Run Faster.
Tissue elasticity is key to running economy because it allows runners to capture energy from impact forces and reuse it to spring off the ground. The authors note some research shows that the age-related decline of these tissues is accelerated with distance-running.
In fact, many of the masters’ world records are held by people who started running later in life!
So, there is no time like the present to get started running!
What are the benefits of running over 50?
Running has so many health benefits no matter your age.
Some mental health benefits for older runners include:
- Better mental acuity
- Better memory
- Less stress and anxiety
- Better sleep
Some physical health benefits for older runners include:
- Lower disability rates
- Better balance
- Stronger bones
- Fewer diseases
- Stronger cardiovascular system
What are the main differences in running between younger and older runners?
There are five main differences between younger and older runners.
- The decline of tissue elasticity
- The decline of muscle mass
- The decline of mobility
- The importance of speed
- The need for more recovery time
Thus, older runners need to train in a way that takes these characteristics into consideration and work to counteract them.
12 Tips To start running at 50 And Beyond
1. Talk to your doctor
Before you start a running regime, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor and get a full physical.
This will ensure you don’t have any risk factors that could be exacerbated by running. Once you get the all-clear from your doctor, you are ready to start your run/walk program!
2. Get the right shoes
Running shoes can make or break your running experience, so be sure to get the right ones. Check out our reviews of running shoes and visit your local running store to have an expert help you.
A running store salesperson should be able to watch you run or walk in shoes to make sure they are providing the right level of stability. You can also jog or take them home to test (many stores nowadays let you return shoes even if you have put some miles on them).
Be sure the shoes provide enough support and cushion, so they keep your legs and feet feeling fresh. While there, pick out some soft sweat-wicking running clothes and socks that keep you feeling light and cool on the run.
3. Do a warm-up and cool-down
Be sure to stretch and warm up your muscles with some air squats, lunges, and walking before you begin your jog. When you cool down, walk until your heart rate lowers.
Then do some light stretching and foam rolling. This is essential for muscle and soft tissue health.
4. Start with walking
Most beginner runners start with walking and then run/walk intervals. Begin by walking and when you can easily walk for half an hour, sprinkle in some running intervals.
For example, run for 2 minutes and then walk for 2 minutes.
After a couple of sessions of this, run for 3 minutes and walk for 1 minute. Gradually increase the time spent running while decreasing the time spent walking.
Our cardiovascular system progresses at a faster rate than our bones, muscles, and connective tissues, so walking will help lessen the stress on your body and prevent injury.
5. Run every other day
Do not begin running by running every day. Even for younger beginner runners, running on nonconsecutive days is advised. This allows your body to adapt from the stress of the previous run before undergoing more stress and breakdown.
Indeed, running every other day ensures you are recovered and stronger for the next run. Runners over 50 need more recovery time, so running every other three days may be appropriate depending on feel.
6. Fuel right
Don’t forget to eat! Be sure to not run longer than 45-60 minutes on an empty stomach. And if your run is longer than 45-60 minutes, be sure to eat some carbs and protein after to aid in muscle repair.
7. Focus on quality over quantity
Hudson and Fitzgerald note that runners need to train efficiently, focusing on speed workouts over filler workouts or junk miles. This “minimizes the negative effects of repetitive impact on tissues elasticity in (the) legs,” notes the authors.
Physiological adaptations of older runners happen more slowly and many older runners are afraid or neglect anerobic training, which is important for distances all the way up to the marathon.
This is a mistake because we lose speed as we get older, as fast-twitch muscle fibres atrophy. High-intensity training is important for older runners,” says Jason Karp, certified running coach and author of the bestseller Running a Marathon for Dummies Jason Karp.
8. Focus on strength
Research shows joint mobility and muscle strength decline with age, especially after age 50.
“Decreased muscle mass results in strength loss and can also predispose us to injury. This makes strength training especially important,” says Dr. Jordan Duncan, of Silverdale Sport and Spine. “Even simple bodyweight exercises with high repetitions can increase muscle mass and strength.”
Strength training just needs to include 5 basic moves: hinge, carry, lunge, push, pull, and squat, two to three times per week. Sessions need not be long. Just twenty to thirty minutes, including about six moves.
Related: Guide to Weight Lifting for Runners
9. The Importance of mobility
Joint mobility also declines as we age. Slow the process and prevent injuries by incorporating mobility routines into your warm-up and your cross-training session.
Mobility routines include hip circles, donkey kicks, leg swings, and hurdlers.
10. Train on a different schedule
“Older runners take longer to recover between hard workouts, so they need to space out the workouts farther apart,” notes Karp.
Thus, the training doesn’t always have to be in a 7-day schedule to match the calendar. A “week”: could be 10 days or 11 days, repeating the workouts every 10 or 11 days instead of every 7, suggests Karp.
11. Pay attention to stretching
As we age, we don’t recover to the same degree that we did when we were younger. Maintaining soft tissue health through stretching and soft tissue therapies such as foam rolling can help to improve the recovery of soft tissues after and between training sessions, says Duncan.
Do not skip this part of your running routine! Dynamic stretches include leg swings front and back and side to side. Static stretching is when you hold the stretch (do this after!). Be sure to stretch all major leg muscle groups and your hips and back.
Related: 5 Low Impact Cardio Workouts To Try
12. Incorporate cross-training
Cross-training is excellent for all runners but is essential for senior runners.
While your muscles, joints, bones, and connective tissues may need a break from the impact of running, your cardiovascular system does not. So, cross-train on your off days with low-impact activities such as biking, elliptical, or swimming.
On days you do not run, consider cross-training to further strengthen your cardiovascular system while aiding in mobility and strength of your joints and muscles. Great cross-training for runners includes the elliptical and bike.
Strength training is also important for older runners to fight the effects of declining muscle mass as well as cross-training activities such as yoga and Pilates to increase the mobility of your joints.
Running over 50 may take more intention and care, but the mental and physical health benefits are well worth it!
Let us help you with your running journey. Check out our resources to get started!