Dear Doctor: I was a runner in college, but I stopped running after marriage and kids and work. I'm 62 now, and everyone says that if I resume running I'll get hurt because I'm too old. What do you think?
Dear Reader: We believe it's never too late to begin exercising and, with certain important caveats, this includes running.
Studies show that running offers a range of benefits to both physical and mental health. These include improvements to cardiovascular function, strength, endurance and bone health, as well as mood and cognition. An analysis of running studies conducted by British researchers published last year found that running as little as once a week was associated with increased longevity. A similar study published in 2017 found that runners reduced their risk of premature death by up to 40%. Several studies have associated running with an increase in metabolic markers associated with bone formation.
This potentially good news matters only if your approach to running matches your age and your fitness level. That includes taking into account muscle strength, balance, range of motion, heart and lung function, and any chronic health conditions you may have. Even if you are in great shape, your running life will be different today from how it was in your 20s. Based on your age, you'll need to adjust your frequency, speed, intensity and mileage.
Since osteoporosis is a risk for post-menopausal women, and running is a high-impact activity, we believe it's important get a bone density test. It's a quick and painless scan that assesses bone health and can reveal any potential problems. It can also be a predictor of future injuries.
Also, please check with your health care provider before you get back to running. They can be a great resource to keep you strong and healthy, and to help track your progress. They can also make sure you're being safe while getting back into running.
Do not try to do too much too soon. You've heard this before, but it really is important to ease in to your new activity. The most common running injuries, such as shin splints, stress fractures and Achilles tendon pain, arise from overuse. It's tempting to set goals in terms of miles, but we recommend you think in terms of minutes. Begin by interspersing two or three minutes of gentle running (people used to call it jogging) with five or six minutes of running. Take a moment between cycles to stretch your quads and hamstrings, check your posture and control your breath. Give yourself a few months to gradually build up to a regular running schedule. Make sure to include strength and resistance training in your weekly exercise rotation, which will help prevent overuse injuries. Finally, finishing with gentle leg, hip and torso stretches will help your body recover and get you ready for your next run.