My college roommate’s dad has gone for a run after dinner for as long as I can remember. (I’ve been out of college for a while.) Now in his late 70s, he still heads out in the evenings, meets up with a friend or a few friends, and runs along the woodchip Veteran’s Parkway in Manhattan Beach or on the hardpacked sand on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. He says his outings are more of a walk these days, but he still gets out and runs slowly, walks some, and runs again.
While his evening runs have been part of his daily routine for decades, anyone can start running in their golden years. Take John Schultz, who Philadelphia Magazine reported didn’t start running until he was 69 years old but then ran 60 marathons by the time he was 82. Or these three marathoners who didn’t start running until after age 55, as reported by Prevention magazine.
At any age (and whether you’re running marathons or two miles), there will always be people who look at you sideways when you tell them you’re starting to run—or that you’re a runner. They may say things like, “Isn’t running bad for your knees?” Or, “What about swimming, or yoga?”
Not only is running good for us at every stage of our lives, there’s evidence that running can help ward off disease and illness and improve overall quality of life well into our golden years.
The U.S. News and World report ran a story about running warding off the ills of aging, but here’s a look at the benefits that go beyond the physical, plus some tips on how to be safe when picking up running later in life.
Running obviously strengthens muscles, but it also strengthens ligaments and tendons. Together, a stronger body means a more controlled, fortified body. That translates to less likelihood for falls and mishaps from daily movements like going up and down stairs or chasing grandchildren.
Warding off osteoporosis
While low-impact activities like swimming, rowing, and yoga have many benefits, the high-impact of running is good for your bones. Similar to weight training, every single step of running strengthens your bones and helps ward off osteoporosis.
The increase in heart rate you feel when running means that your heart is pumping blood to your muscles, which improves the efficiency of your cardiovascular system. That’s great work for overall heart health and keep blood pressure levels in check.
The huffing and puffing you do while running means you’re improving your lung capacity, which makes breathing easier no matter what you’re doing. Your heart and lungs work together and become more efficient, and healthier in general when you run.
Being physically fit keeps your body weight in check and your cholesterol levels healthy.
Warding off Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Studies have shown that runners have less likelihood of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Sleep Cycle Benefit
As we age, falling and staying asleep can be difficult. Exercise during the day helps us fall into deeper sleep at night. And good sleep translates to overall improved quality of life.
Meeting up with a friend or friends to run or run-walk is great at any age, but doing so in our older years can provide a wonderfully healthy outlet and even save us from isolation. Staying social as a senior has even been proven to help physical health.
Mental Health Benefit
The social side of running is great for the mental health of seniors, but so is running or run-walking in general. Getting outside and into nature, even if it’s around the block, has been proven to boost mental health as has exercise of all kinds.
With all these benefits in mind, why wouldn’t anyone at any age start running? There may be some fear around starting something new.
As with any new physical activity, it’s important to check with your doctor before starting a plan. But with some extra care as noted below, running as a senior can be a beautiful thing.
Tips for Starting to Run at a Seasoned Age:
- Start slowly. Since you’re reading this on the None to Run website, you’re already ahead of the game. Gradual increases in your running segments—interspersed with walking to help your overall system recover—is smart at any age. But for older runners, this is even more imperative to avoid injury.
- Don’t JUST run. Runners at any age should weight train, but older runners need to weight train and resistance train to stay balanced. Running can cause weight loss, which can be healthy, but too much weight loss for seniors can create brittle bodies. Weight training and resistance training will help fortify your body and only make you a better runner.
- Refuel. Since running burns calories, it’s important for anyone—but especially older runners—to refuel properly. Calcium, vitamins (D, B6, B12), and antioxidants become even more important as we age. And fueling and refueling with good nutrition and possibly supplements can help keep us healthy. Talk with a doctor or dietician and let them know you’re running to make sure you’re getting what you need.
- Recover. Our overall systems—muscles, cardiovascular, etc.—need time to recover between efforts. That’s how we get stronger. Days in between efforts, and good sleep, will help you not only improve your running, but keep you healthy overall.