Running after forty? Absolutely!

mikebaird on Flikr.comI have been running off and on for over thirty years. However, I did not start running races until my early forties.That being said, I am not a Capital ‘R’ Runner, but I do place in the middle of my age category, which I am more than happy with.

I have found, however, that running after the age of forty is very different than running before the age of forty. While I have far more discipline than I did as a younger woman, I can no longer push myself to extremes. As a matter of fact, when I do push too hard, I end up feeling quite unhealthy.

So, I run as the mood strikes me, and pay far more attention to my body. On the days my body is hinting that the couch looks like a better deal, I run for ten minutes. If the couch is still calling my name, I head home, and don’t feel the least bit guilty about it. I know that I’ll be ready to try again in a day or so.

Is it okay to start running after the age of forty?

It certainly is (with the usual caveat of always checking with a doctor first). But take it slow. Start off with brisk walking, with no running, for the first several sessions. As you get comfortable with this, start adding in intervals of running. For example, walk for five minutes, and run for one minute. Over time, add more running and decrease the walking.

Why is running different after forty?

Like it or not, our bodies change after forty:

  • the ability to transport and utilize oxygen (V02 Max) decreases;
  • our muscle fibres shrink;
  • balance becomes more difficult;
  • recovery time from injuries is longer;
  • we start to lose bone mass.

Can we compensate for these changes?

We cannot prevent the natural changes our body undergoes, but we can work with them:

  • concentrate on reasonably paced long distance runs, as opposed to short and fast runs;
  • add short sprints into your runs once or twice a week;
  • gently stretch your muscles after a run;
  • round out your exercise regime with strength training;
  • add activities that improve your balance, such as yoga or Tai Chi;
  • allow more rest days between runs;
  • stop a run if starts to hurt, and allow the injury to heal.

Do we having anything over those younger gals?

Yes we do! We have years of life experience, in general, that can add up to far more motivation and determination. And if we are seasoned runners, we are well tuned into the rhythm of running. So, while we may no longer beat them in the 100 yard dash, we have what it takes to wave at them as we pass them in the 10K and longer races.

What are the health benefits?

There are many benefits to running, both physical and mental:

  • improves the functioning of our heart and arteries;
  • strengthens our bones;
  • builds muscle mass to protect us from breaks;
  • boosts our immune system;
  • improves thinking, learning and memory.

And my personal favourite:

  • increases our sexual satisfaction.

I have a love/hate relationship with running. There are days when I wonder what the heck I’m doing, and other days I feel like I’m flying. But I keep at it, because in the end I am healthier and happier for it. And I plan on running well into old age. I’ll just make some adjustments to how I run as I go.

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Comments

  1. Your first question made me smile – I wanted to shout, “We are born to run, so we definitely should, at any age!”

    This is all great stuff and I wish you and anyone else who is starting or has been running at any age all the best.

    Probably the only advice I could give (and feel free to ignore it) is to choose the proper footwear for you. For me, that is nothing or practically nothing. While that may not work for everyone, it makes the run very enjoyable because I feel absolutely connected to the earth that way.

    It is kind of hard to explain – but I feel a bit like Hermes, sprinting across the sky, with wings on my feet!

    • @Brett – yes, we run all the time as small children, and then for some reason we stop. I can understand running in bare feet. It certainly feels wonderful across a beach, or even a field of grass. There is no way I am running in barefeet on the roads and sidewalks in my neighbourhood. Talk about puttting myself at risk for a serious cut.

  2. My knees don’t take too kindly to running — I can still do it — but I wonder if I kept it up, would the knees improve?

    • @Lori – as XUP explains in her comment, most knee problems are because the muscles get too tight and pull the knee out of alignment. It can also be because the quad muscles aren’t strong enough to keep things all lined up. So, stretch gently, and start off at a nice slow pace and short distance, slowly building up to longer runs. I have been running off and on for over 30 years and have never had a knee problem.

  3. I’ve been running since I was a kid. Not non-stop. (ha ha) Every once in a while, I get tired of running and I’ll sign up for some sort of aerobics class and I do that for a couple of months, by which time I’m raring to go running again. I did a bit of racing back in my 20s and 30s, but I never enjoyed that much. I also don’t like running in groups or even with another person. I just want to go at my own pace, without any particular goal in mind and without distractions so I can get lost in my head. So that means going really, really early in the morning. I also recently discovered that a lot of what people consider to be knee problems while running could just be muscle issues. The muscles around the knees are apparantly very tight and need to be stretched in order to properly support running. So, doing gentle lunges and squats (but lots of them) after and between runs, will help improve that “sore knee” feeling. Of course you also can’t rule out bad knees altogether

    • @XUP – I too am a solitary runner. I want to know I can speed up, slow down, and change routes at will. I do like to run the occassional race. It’s a very different type of running which involves more strategy. It also forces me to push just a little harder than I might normally.

  4. It is the same here – in fact, just down the street is a house that regularly (once a week) has a 24-bottle smashing party on the street in front of the house. The police do nothing.

    I just watch where I run – or I do the “practically nothing” thing, and get about 95 percent of the effect.

    Like this:

    http://vibramfivefingers.com/

    or this

    http://www.sockwa.com.p2.hostingprod.com/home

    or some hand made leather huaraches.

    From what I’ve read and learned first hand, many running related injuries come from the false sense of security that “modern” padded/cushioned shoes can give. If you forget to look where you are going and get into that “runner’s trance”, that’s when you hit a pothole and turn an ankle or blow out a knee.

    That is unlikely to happen to me because I’m watching for everything!

    Then again, I need my head examined… :)

    In any case – the main thing is to have fun – the rest comes naturally!

    • @Brett – don’t know if I have the gumption to out in public with the first shoes, but the sockwas look very interesting. Do you have a pair, and are they comfy?

  5. @Eliza,

    You have to be a bit of an extrovert with the Fivefingers, that’s for sure :)

    I’ll be ordering some Sockwas very soon, and I’ll let you know. Some of the folks I know say they are really good, and there’s a new product coming next year that will be specifically designed for pavement (the current models were not designed with that in mind, but I’m sure they’ll still be okay).

    The Fivefingers really do last, though. My first pair have over a thousand miles on them, and very little wear…

    • @Brett – yes please keep me posted on how the new shoes work out. I think the important thing is them being able to absorb the shock of running on concrete, because on the first part of my run it’s too busy traffic wise to run on the asphalt.

  6. @Eliza

    Oh, Brett is VERY proud of those five-toed shoes. He’ll even wear them outside when it’s minus 20C. Just to mess with people’s heads.

    They recently started enforcing a “Shoe Policy” at work, and listed in GREAT DETAIL, which footwear is appropriate or not.

    Surprisingly, Brett’s 5-toed shoes did not make the list. I want to see what happens when he wears his to the factory.

    As for me, regarding running. I actually started to get into it last year. Believe it or not, (considering my size), I actually did a 10 km race. Running gave me my fresh air, I was losing weight, I found an exercise I didst’ mind doing. You go out for a quick 30 minutes…it’s over and done with, and it doesn’t feel like a hardship. It was great.

    But then (dammit to hell) I’ve had to give it up. I’ve had multiple knee surgeries, and I had some problems last year. I’ve been told that I have only so many years left on my knees. I can use them up now by running. Or I can find another non-impact form of excecise, and still be able to ski when I’m 70.

    So..(sigh), I’ve given up running. Though I haven’t found another rpelacment excercise (I dont’ like walking, cycling, or swimming). And the weight’s starting to come back on again.

    Oh well..back to the drawing board. And eating nuts and berries .

    • @Friar – running is the only aerobic activity I enjoy as well. I am too nervous to bike on the roads, and I really really don’t enjoy swimming. I guess the trick, for you, is to find a Summer equivalent to skiing. Rollerblading? Actually, I enjoy that too.

  7. A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!

  8. Hi Eliza. So, running increases our sexual satisfaction eh? You saved the best for the last :-)
    Unfortunately, I’m not a runner. I was one of those sickly kids and was excused from gym class a lot. I never developed the stamina, mostly because I have asthma. I’ve tried low impact aerobics but ended up feeling like I’d been run over by a truck after the class. I’m a good long distance walker though.

    • @Davina – walking is just as effective as running. It just takes twice as long to burn the same amount of calories as running. And it is still weight bearing, although not quite as much. I get exercise induced asthma, but my brother who runs told me to run through it. It works! I can actually feel my lungs snap open. But that’s not the same as your asthma, and I know that feeling of being run over by a truck. Not nice!

  9. @Eliza,

    I probably sound like a fanatic (well, I am!) but as long as you’ve not punished your feet to the point of deformity with bad shoes (high heels with pointy toes etc.) you would be surprised.

    The arch of your foot provides enough shock absorption to run on concrete or asphalt if you run properly (and you’ll know in the first 20 steps or so if you are – land on the balls of your feet, then lower your heels, let the arch take the shock – much simpler description of what’s happening, but your body knows what to do).

    Generally any sort of padding in shoes just kind of “tricks” your body into thinking things are okay – most of the shock (95 percent) still reaches your body, and if this makes any sense, because your feet are padded, you unconsciously tend to strike *harder* so as to get some feedback to your feet.

    (200,000 nerve endings or so in your feet)

    Put another way – I’m around 200 pounds or so. I was running near barefoot late one night (in the funny toe shoes). I make virtually no noise when I run, so light are my steps.

    A nice young lady who might have weighed 110 soaking wet ran by me from the other direction, and I could hear her about 200 yards away, her foot strikes were so loud.

    (I’ll show you whenever I do happen to make it to your house to prove to you that Friar and I are not the same person!)

    I will let you know, though – the Sockwas are a little less extreme and so may not generate so many questions.

    • @Brett and @XUP- I am totally willing to give these a try. I don’t like running shoes either. I like the freedom of running like I did as a kid.

  10. I love Brett’s shoe suggestions. I’m going to see if I can find me some because I’m really not fond of running shoes. This is great. I’m learning stuff!! Thanks Brett

  11. If you’d like a nice book on running (proper form and much, much more), have a look at this – don’t worry, it is free to distribute.

    Even if you read the first 20 to 30 pages you will learn a lot. I realized I was doing a lot of things right, but a lot of things wrong as well.

    http://files.getdropbox.com/u/1409696/Running%20Fast%20and%20Injury%20Free%20-%20Gordon%20Pirie.pdf

    (This is from my Dropbox account.)

    Barefoot Ted’s site is one of the best resources online for minimalist running – I learned a lot here and there’s always good stuff to read.

    If you want to learn more about this stuff just let me know!

  12. (PS – the book is really big, don’t worry – it will eventually open, all 153 pages!)

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