Running is one of the most effective, time-efficient and popular workouts.
It offers tremendous physical and mental health benefits, but like any exercise, creates potential risks as well.
If you are older and thinking of adding running to your exercise routine, take a few minutes to review these tips for senior runners and consider if running is right for you.
Since I am only a casual runner — sort of a jog-walker — I checked out several sources including well-known master’s athlete, Jack McBroom.
He is a long distance runner competing in a number of ultra races, such as the 147-mile Bad Water Death Valley to Mount Whitney race. He is best known for setting the existing world’s record in 2002 for climbing all 15 of California’s 14,000-foot mountains in four days, 11 hours and 19 minutes at the age of 45.
Are you in condition to run?
Ask your doctor if running is the right activity for you considering your age, overall physical condition and whether you should take special precautions.
The discussion should not only be about whether it’s all right for you to exercise, but also how important exercise is for us as older adults. Being too old or frail can’t be considered reasons to avoid physical activity, but you should determine the right exercise and level of activity for your physical condition.
Individuals with orthopedic or heart problems, and those 20 percent or more overweight, may do better with walking, or other activities such as biking, hiking and swimming.
According to McBroom, the hips, knees and ankles are not designed to take the stress of running if you are overweight. In his opinion, injuries to new runners are frequently due to being overweight, so he suggests taking the weight off with other aerobic exercise.
Osteoporosis, loss of agility, poor balance and chronic diseases such as diabetes are all conditions that may require special attention when you exercise or limit your exercise options.
Runners with diabetes should take care to prevent foot irritation by using special footwear and socks.
If balance is an issue, it is critical to start slowly and stay in less busy areas and on level surfaces.
Traditionally, exercise was discouraged in people with certain chronic conditions. Research has found that exercise may improve these conditions in older adults, as long as it’s done during periods when the condition is under control with medication and treatment.
Where can you run?
McBroom suggests that the best surface to run on is grass or your local school’s all-weather tracks.
School and community running tracks are a safe choice for senior runners because of the level and cushioned running surface.
Dirt is another relatively good choice if loose rock is not present. Stick to areas you know and avoid hard surfaces such as sidewalks and unstable areas like graveled paths.
Running need not be a solitary sport. Some communities have groups that plan runs and many provide training programs in preparation for charity runs.
In Green Valley, enjoying the scenery may be enough entertainment, or you may want to take along a CD player for music.
When running near streets or intersections, you should be careful and look for traffic that you might not hear.
What do you need?
A big benefit of running is that you really do not require much equipment, but a good fitting pair of running shoes is essential to prevent blisters, shin splints and sore muscles.
McBroom recommends buying two pairs of running shoes — not walking or cross-training shoes — and alternating them.
They need not be expensive. Very serviceable shoes can be found for $30 on sale at most sporting good stores. Just make sure they fit well and are cushioned to prevent heel strikes and blisters.
Socks that wick away the moisture and keep your feet dry are recommended by many runners.
Of course, dress appropriately for the weather and protect yourself from the sun.
Preparation, injury prevention
Those of us who are over 50 should take additional precautions to prolong running enjoyment.
Senior runners may also have a narrower health margin, so it is critical to pay attention to body signals and needs.
Being sluggish or lethargic may be a sign of not getting enough rest. Localized soreness may be the advance sign of a potential overuse injury or weakness that needs attention.
Regular attention from a certified physical therapist or a sports massage expert can identify and resolve issues before they become problems. Regularly consult an MD who knows you as an athlete, not as a senior citizen who jogs.
Recovery from speed work and races can take more time and injuries can take longer to heal.
Flexibility plays an even greater role as we age, since soft tissues such as muscles, tendons and ligaments require more care.
Warm up thoroughly and always cool down. Follow any run or workout with a gentle stretching routine to encourage muscles to relax, increase range of motion and improve circulation.
For beginners, McBroom suggests starting out easy, walking for five minutes, then jogging for two minutes. Gradually increase the jog time and reduce the walk time.
He also cautions us to not expect results in one or two weeks. It takes about six weeks to see positive results.
Unfortunately, studies have shown most people give up an exercise program after only three weeks.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends three sessions per week, starting with walking for no more than 20 minutes progressing slowly up to 30 minutes of jogging after 12 weeks.
Try to train consistently, and follow a strength-training program on alternate days to help reduce upper-body fatigue. Consider cross training to lessen chances of overuse while keeping conditioning strong.
No matter what your age or fitness level you must stay hydrated, so carry water with you and maybe even a snack. McBroom reminds us not to exercise on an empty stomach, as this may cause you to burn muscle and not fat.
Running is a great activity and may be right for you.
With proper care and preparation running can relieve stress, enhance physical fitness and improve your self image.
Take your time, progress slowly and allow your body to adapt to the rigors of running.
Green Valley resident Ann Sirianni is an ACE Advanced Health & Fitness Specialist. Contact her at 465-1221 or email@example.com.