How Older Adults Can Get Started on a Running Program

When it comes to people ages 65 and over taking up running, there is a time and a pace for everyone.

Running, like walking, only requires a pair of sneakers, an open stretch of road and the ability to put one foot in front of the other.

“Able-bodied older adults can reap tremendous physical and mental benefits from running,” says senior physical therapist Julie Drew.

“Studies show that running is an aerobic activity that helps improve cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength, balance and mental acuity, and build stronger bones and increase energy and mood.”

How to Get Started

If you're considering a running regiment, Ms. Drew offers these tips to get you on the road to good health:

  • See your doctor. If you haven't exercised in a while, get the green light to start running from a medical professional before you hit the track. “If you have been actively exercising for years, beginning a running program should not be too difficult,” Ms. Drew says. “However, people with cardiovascular conditions, joint replacements, osteoarthritis and weight problems must follow their doctor's recommendation prior to embarking on a running program, particularly if they have been sedentary for a while.”
  • Wear proper running shoes. “Poor fit or support can affect your balance and cause foot injury or increased risk of falls,” Ms. Drew says. “Skip the big-box stores and buy your running shoes in a specialty running store.”
  • Carry a water bottle. Drink often during your run to stay hydrated. People tend to drink less as they age, so drink before, during and after a run.
  • Begin slowly. If you're new to exercise, start by walking for several weeks. Once you get in better shape, add short running spurts to your walking routine. Eventually, you'll be able to run for longer periods of time.
  • Run with a buddy. “Running with a friend makes the experience more enjoyable and helps keep you motivated,” Ms. Drew says.
  • Warm up. Always stretch before running. And if needed, begin your run with a brisk walking pace.
  • Practice interval training. “This means alternate between walking and running to build endurance,” she says.
  • Take plenty of rest days. Older runners take longer to recover from tough workouts than younger runners do, so take rest days when needed.
  • Eat a snack. After your run eat a piece of fruit or a healthy snack. “Make sure you get enough protein, carbs, fruits and vegetables in your diet during the day,” Ms. Drew says.

Once you begin a running program make sure you listen to your body.

“If your body is sore for longer than a day after running, you need to rest for a while so you don’t make your injury worse,” she says. “Also, if you experience sudden or severe pain while running, stop immediately and contact your health care provider.”

As far as running marathons or lesser races, Ms. Drew is all for older adults taking part in long-distance running. Just make sure you've trained properly first, and include a lot of cross-training workouts in your preparation.

“It’s gratifying to see more and more older adults running and competing in races than ever before,” she says. “Even if someone has not exercised in years, starting an exercise program late is still better than never.”

To help new runners get started, Drew recommends signing up for the UH Running 101 course offered at 10 different University Hospitals locations throughout Northeast Ohio. Members of UH’s Rehabilitation & Sports Medicine departments screen participants interested in beginning a running program by testing their flexibility, gait, risk factors for injuries and general fitness level.

Running 101 is offered at these University Hospitals locations:

Julie Drew, PT, DPT, is a senior physical therapist at University Hospitals Rehabilitation Services at the UH Mentor Health Center. You can request an appointment with Drew or any University Hospitals health care provider online.

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