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How Old is Too Old to Run?

We have more knowledge than ever on how to train properly, recover accurately and fuel our body to keep our running machine in tip-top working order to continue with our longevity of running. No one is built the same. There are a multitude of factors that can keep our body moving and minimize the risk of injury.
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As a society, we are not only living and staying active longer, but we are also running well into our golden years! Over half a million runners over the age of 65 finished races last year. Over 10% of Americans over the age of 65 run. You don’t have to set any records or be competitive to reap the benefits of running, you just have to get out there and do it!

 

What Are the Benefits of Running as you Age?

  • Increases muscle strength and bone density through repetitive weight bearing.
  • Decreased overall blood pressure and minimized risk of metabolic disease.
  • Persevere cognitive function by sending more blood flow to the brain.
  • Weight loss with increased calories burned and improved fat metabolism.
  • Improved overall cardiovascular aerobic endurance.
  • Sense of community by joining a club or running group, great for those who are retired and are missing that social interaction.

Runners at any age can have risk of injury.  However, there are some things to think about more when continuing to run as you age:

 

  • Muscles recover at a slower rate. Allow for rest and recovery days and do not over train.
  • Coupled with age-related physiological changes, older runners can have an increased risk of lower body injuries. Studies show that keeping weekly mileage under 40 miles a week (which is still a good amount by the way) and not increasing more than 10% mileage a week in older adults reduces risk of injury.
  • Strength training is a MUST! Muscle mass begins to decline slowly and harder to build up after age 30.
  • Body endurance builds up much slower after age 30, so listen to your body and react accordingly.
  • If you have degenerative joints (which unfortunately happens as we age), think about cross-training more with lower impact activities such as biking, swimming or elliptical. However, note that there is no good evidence to suggest that running increases risk of arthritis.

The great news is that we are constantly learning about the human body and how it performs at different age levels. We have more knowledge than ever on how to train properly, recover accurately and fuel our body to keep our running machine in tip-top working order to continue with our longevity of running. No one is built the same. There are a multitude of factors that can keep our body moving and minimize the risk of injury. If you are looking to start your way into this running community, my suggestion is to meet with a Physical Therapist so they can give you a thorough evaluation and guide you through this journey.

Below, I want to take you through a decade-by-decade guide to keep you running strong and healthy and to keep your inspiration and “why” for running alive!

 

Running in Your 20’s

You are freaking invincible!  You can float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. That late night kegger did not faze you the next morning as you hopped out of bed, stuffed your face with that greasy breakfast burrito and were on your way.  Anyway, that is how I thought I remembered it.  In many ways, your body can get away with a lot more and adapt quicker. It doesn’t mean injuries don’t occur, because let me tell you, I get plenty of twenty something year old runners with injuries in the clinic. This is the time to develop a good foundation and develop habits to keep you running for many decades to come!

Start cross training: Your body has already started to develop bad habits, muscle imbalances, stressors that can build up over time to a breaking point.  Start strength training 2-4x/wk.  This is when you can build up strength the fastest. Running can no longer be the only thing you do.

 

Dynamic and static stretching: Develop the habit of completing a 5-10 min dynamic warm up before a run.  Make sure the body is good and warmed up. It will thank you later.  Add a static stretching and rolling routine.  Develop consistency. If you don’t enjoy stretching then look into assisted stretching. They do the work for you.

 

Listen to your body: Injuries are the number one reason people give up running and injuries this early in the game ignored can become a persistent problem later on.  When injured, seek to find out why.

 

Nutrition: So, the greasy burrito or chili cheese fries don’t count as proper running nutrition? They may taste good now, but this is the time to start developing better eating habits. Nutrition is key to optimum running performance. What we put in our body dictates what we get out of it, so maybe put those fries down and find something that is more substantially nutritious for the body.   Get in the habit now!

Running in Your 30’s

You now have a job, bought a house, and started a family. That’s right, you are a juggler with Barnum and Bailey, with multiple balls in the air.  You now must learn to juggle life and proper training habits. This can get tricky.  Skipping out on foundational basics can lead to injuries. You have to learn to balance intensity, training, recovery and life

Consider interval training: VO2 max can slip more than 10% per decade after age 30 (not a hard fast rule).  Running can reduce that slippage, but high intensity interval training can boost it.  Performing high intensity intervals (i.e., plyometrics, sprint intervals), your heart rate stays elevated during recovery and you’re tapping into your fast twitch fibers, which can reduce with age.  This does NOT take the place of running, but can be added 1-2x/wk.

 

Prioritize rest and active recovery. Long gone are the days of jumping out of bed and going.  If you did a hard workout or run, do not put those back to back, scatter in some rest days.  If your body is stressed, let’s face it, adulting is hard, rest, don’t over push your body if it is just worn out.  Your body will thank you in the long run.  Also, learn about active recovery techniques such as foam rolling, massage gun, ice/head, IASTM (instrument assistive soft tissue mobilization), cupping or myofascial decompression.  We need to take care of our body.

 

Fueling before, during and after activity: Food, water and electrolyte balance are fuel for the body.  Proper fueling maximizes our body’s potential.  Unfortunately, metabolism can start dipping 5-10% a decade during adulthood, so we start to notice weight creeping up if we do not eat right, even if we exercise the same. I ecommend working with a sports nutritionist to help you learn how to fuel your body. Everyone is different.

 

Strength train consistently and with purpose.

Running in Your 40’s

I’m here now and injured, yay! Well, recovering from a hamstring injury, but it’s going well. Also, you are now a Master’s Runner, so new pace standards for qualifying are different.

Dynamic warmups are a must. Trust me, warm up the body and those muscles adequately before a run.

 

Strength Train: you might be sensing a theme here. Running is not going to build those muscles; you need to lift with weights. Incorporate 2-3x/week of dedicated strength training.

 

Let injuries heal completely. We are no longer 20, little nagging injuries can turn into full-blown problems if we try to push through them. Adequately rest, rehab, cross-train, DO NOT push through injuries.

 

Eat well and include some type of protein with every meal. We need protein to rebuild muscle after break down. Again, working with a nutritonist to learn your required protein intake is important.

 

Plan for rest and active recovery.

Running in Your 50’s

It is never too old to start running! Everything in the 30’s and 40’s decade applies.

Range of motion and mobility need to be a priority. Your muscles get tighter and connective tissue loses elasticity.  Not only are dynamic warm-ups a must before a run but incorporate a daily static stretching and rolling routine. No time you say? That is just a sorry excuse. MAKE TIME. It’s your body.  Try incorporating stretching in the evening before bed if you have to. Like many, if you don’t enjoy stretching, you should try assisted stretching.

 

Not only is continued strength training important but having a 1-2x/wk plyometric routine is important to maintain functional strength. Running is hopping from one leg to the next (plyometrics), incorporate some of these movements into your strength training routine to maintain and enhance functional strengthening.

 

Sleep! Getting into a deep REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is our body’s best way to recovery. Maintain a healthy sleep cycle.  Cut out distractions right before bed and make sure good sleep routines have been established. The body’s best medicine is a good night’s rest.

Running in Your 60’s

If you made it reading this so far, great job! You don’t have to stop running or let anyone tell you to stop or be afraid to start for that matter. However, you need to manage expectations and where you’re at. No, I’m not saying you can’t achieve a specific goal in mind, just be realistic.

If it is not already, balance and proprioception exercises should be incorporated into strength training days. Balance on one leg, on unstable surfaces (i.e., balance pad, dyna disc, BOSU ball).  We tend to lose some proprioceptive awareness during this decade so trips, falls and subsequent injuries can be decreased by incorporating these exercises.

 

Fuel for running is important. Plan food/carb intake around your runs. Working with a sports nutritonist can help you determine what and when you should be eating to support your body during runs.

 

Rest, recovery, cross training is VERY important.

 

Again, you are not running through injuries here. And yes, your joints have degrees of degeneration already, sorry,  that is just the reality of the situation. So, re-think those back-to-back running days. Also, walk/jog intervals are freaking fantastic! Who says you have to maintain a run at a certain pace.

Running in Your 70’s+

Amazing! Those of you still running or have this as your goal, a big round of applause goes out to you! You have overcome injuries, disease, burnout that can ground runners in their later years. Remember, if you run a minute, you’re a freaking runner! If you are still reading this post and in your 70’s+, please share your story, successes, what has worked or not worked for you, we all want to hear.

Listen to your body and train smart!

PRIORITIZE strength training. A study of adults ages 85-97 found that a 12-week strength training program improved leg strength by close to 50%. So, lift those weights!

Remember one thing, when running at any age, do it because you also enjoy it! I get running is hard. It is the hardest thing we do to our body, but it is so damn rewarding for many reasons.  Remember the WHY you do it and keep that fire burning!  It is not a secret that we get older and our body changes, make those adjustments through the decades. IT IS OK!  That is why you don’t see many professional athletes compete at the elite level past age 40, unless you’re the Benjamin Button of athletes, Tom Brady, and eat avocado ice cream. Adjust expectations, listen to your body, and more importantly have fun!

If you have any questions or want to schedule an evaluation for you run related injury feel free to reach out to me and schedule at our Vida Ravenna Clinic (206-315-7998).

Follow me on Instagram @pt4inspiredrunner and/or visit my website at www.pt4inspiredrunner.com

Jason Godfrey, PT, DPT, OCS, SCS

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