One of the hardest things to do is to step out of your comfort zone. And the older you get, the more difficult it becomes. But the other thing that comes to mind more frequently as you age is getting healthier.
So if you’re wondering how to start running at 40—or even possible—it’s a valid question. The good news is that running is one of the easiest forms of exercise you can start—you don’t need a lot of equipment, you can do it almost anywhere, and it’s a great way to boost your cardiovascular health.
Trying to start a healthy exercise habit? Here’s how to start running at 40—or later—safely and enjoyably.
Am I Too Old to Start Running?
No! The truth is, there is no “right time” to start running. If you haven’t been keeping up with your health, don’t assume it’s too late. Now is as good a time as any, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve run before or are new to it.
It’s natural to wonder if you’ll ever be a good runner when you start this late. While many runners peak in their 20s and 30s, that doesn’t mean you can’t be successful when starting at 40 or older.
The most important reason for starting to run after 40 is to improve your health. But there’s still plenty of competition in these age groups, so it doesn’t mean you’ll never win races and set records!
So regardless of your goals, don’t let your age stop you from starting something new. Especially something that’s going to give you a health and fitness boost!
How Often Should You Run?
When you begin, you should have at least one day between each run to allow your body to rest. So 3 days a week is a good way to start. Once your body is quite used to it, you can increase it to 4 or 5 days a week.
You can do cross-training on your non-running days to stay fit. This is a form of “active recovery,” but keep at least one full day per week as a proper rest day.
What Are the Benefits of Starting Running at 40?
Hitting 40 means we start realizing just how important our health is. The good news? Running can make a positive difference to your health, regardless of age. Here’s what you can expect when you start running at 40 or beyond:
- Improved heart health: Regular running strengthens the cardiovascular system, so you can do more before fatigue. It also lowers your chances of developing heart conditions as you age, keeping your heart and lungs strong.
- Better circulation: With improved heart health comes better circulation. As your heart beats more strongly, it pumps blood more easily to the extremities, reducing the chance of varicose veins, neuropathy, and other circulation-related issues.
- Stronger muscles: Yes, running helps to build muscle, especially in the lower body. You’ll build a much stronger set of legs as a runner—you might even have more muscle than you did as a younger person!
- Lower your chance of osteoporosis: Running is a weight-bearing exercise that strengthens your bones. Running more often means you’ll have less chance of developing bone-related issues like osteoarthritis.
- Reduced risk of certain diseases: The more you run, the stronger your immune system gets. This means less chance of developing diabetes, cardiovascular issues, and cancer.
- Improved sleep quality: Exhausting your muscles during the day means you’re more likely to get better rest at night. It should be easier to fall asleep as your body is fatigued, allowing you better quality rest to heal.
How Long Does It Take Your Body to Adapt to Running?
Everyone is different. For those with a good base fitness level, it shouldn’t take long to adjust to the running motion. You may be able to find your feet in a week or two and start getting into the swing of things.
If you’re new to running and have no fitness base, it may take a little longer—a month or two. However, if you can push past the difficult beginning, you’ll find that it gets to a point where you suddenly realize it’s not as hard as it used to be.
The key is not to put a number on it. Expect a few weeks to a few months, depending on your fitness level—but know that the initial adaptation period will pass, and you’ll start to see progress very quickly.
Tips to Start Running at 40
Getting ready to start running at 40 or older? Here are our top tips for doing it safely and sustainably.
Visit Your Doctor and Evaluate Your Overall Health
It’s a good idea to get a check-up before you start any kind of exercise plan. Your doctor will be able to let you know if there’s anything you should be concerned about, which will help you to know where to begin.
If there are concerns, your doctor can advise you on how best to treat them so you can get to running sooner.
Create a Running Plan
Having a running plan is invaluable. If you don’t have a plan, it can quickly become frustrating and easy to lose motivation.
Having a plan means you don’t need to worry about how far or long you run on any given day. You know exactly what you’re doing, and you can just get down to the business of doing it.
Your plan should include the number of days running—including distance or time, whatever works for you—as well as active recovery and at least one rest day per week.
Find a Safe Running Route
It’s a good idea to find a route that you know is safe. You should ensure there’s no hazardous terrain, dangerous sections, or areas that might be difficult to run in, like busy intersections.
Buy Proper Running Shoes
Make sure your feet are properly kitted out for injury-free running. It’s important to figure out if you’re an overpronator or have a neutral foot—if you overpronate, you need a stability shoe to provide extra support for your feet.
Don’t neglect this step! You might have an old pair of running shoes lying around that you’re planning on wearing, but we highly recommend buying a brand-new pair.
Starting off with a worn-out pair means your feet won’t be protected, and you’ll be more likely to develop injuries, ruining your motivation for running.
Warm Up and Cool Down Properly
Warming up is essential and will prime your muscles for the movement you’re about to do. Dynamic stretching is a good way to start, and you can add some running drills once you’re a little more experienced.
Don’t forget about cooling down. A few minutes of walking followed by static stretching should be enough.
Start at a level that’s appropriate for your current fitness level. Rather start too slowly than too fast, otherwise you’ll be at risk of injuring yourself. Once you find your perfect distance, time, or pace, you can work on progressing.
Use the Run-Walk Method
If you’re a beginner to running, you can use the run-walk method to get started. This is an easy way to build up your fitness to progress faster.
Rather than aiming to run for your whole distance or time, work on intervals of running and walking. The ratio you choose is up to you—1 minute of running to 4 or 5 minutes of walking should be all right for a beginner.
As you improve, you can gradually decrease the walking time and increase the running time. Eventually, you’ll be able to run without stopping to walk.
Make Sure to Hydrate Effectively
Running without hydrating effectively means you won’t be running at your full capacity. You should be sipping on water every few minutes—waiting until you feel thirsty is too late.
Find an easy way to carry water with you so you can stay hydrated throughout your run. Be aware that the longer your run, the more water you’ll need to carry with you.
Determine Your Caloric Needs
Whether you want to lose weight by running or get healthier, it’s a good idea to determine your caloric needs so you know you’re fueling yourself correctly.
Using a calorie calculator like this one will help you to figure out how many calories you need to eat on a daily basis.
This is important because under fueling yourself will lead to feeling fatigued and not performing at your best. Overeating will mean you don’t lose weight, no matter how much running you do!
Practice Running With Proper Form
Getting your form right from the start will help lower your chances of injury. You should keep your torso straight and look ahead, not toward the ground.
One of the most important things to get right is your foot placement. Make sure your front foot is not landing out in front of your body as you land—it should be landing underneath your hips.
This may feel unnatural at first, but working on it will help to improve your cadence and ultimately, improve your performance. You can try running to music that’s at your ideal cadence—this will help you to get into the rhythm of it.
Vary Your Runs: Tempo and Speedwork
Varying your runs can make your running routine more exciting. But it also helps to build up stamina and endurance by varying your pace—do some tempo runs, speedwork, and easy runs.
Prioritize Recovery Time Between Your Workouts
Allow your body enough time between workouts to recover. If you’ve done some speedwork or interval training on a particular day, it’s wise to take a rest day or do some cross-training the following day.
However, if you’ve done an easy run, you should be able to do another run the following day, as your body won’t need as much rest time.
It’s a good idea to take some extra recovery measures on your rest days, regardless of whether you do active recovery or not. Foam rolling, compression gear, and hot/cold therapy can be helpful.
Include Cross-Training and Strength Training
Cross-training is a valuable way of boosting fitness, strengthening your “running muscles” without overworking them, and doing active recovery.
The idea of cross-training is to do a form of exercise that’s different to running but still gives you a good workout.
You can choose any form of cross-training that works for you. Cycling, swimming, jumping rope, rowing, elliptical… Anything that gives you a good cardiovascular workout without running.
Strength training—lifting weights—is an excellent form of cross-training. It builds muscle throughout the body, strengthening the muscles used in running and building endurance.
Building these muscles helps to increase your running power, boosting your performance by increasing your speed and stamina.
How to Stay Motivated
Your motivation may wane in the first few weeks and months after you start running. The good news is that this happens to everyone—not just those who start running after 40! Here are some ways to stay motivated when you need a bit more of a push.
Set Achievable Goals
Setting goals outside your ability level is one of the easiest ways to lose motivation. If you’re completely new to running and your goal is to run a 10k in 2 months, you’re probably shooting too far.
Set goals that are appropriate for your skill. If you’re new, aim to run a mile as your first goal; You may need to do the run-walk method for a few weeks until you can run a mile without stopping.
From there, you can up it to 2 miles, 3 miles, 5 miles, and so on. But be aware that this will likely progress over a few months. But starting with something that’s within your current ability level is essential.
Join a Running Group or Hire a Running Coach
The best way to learn how to run effectively is to join a running group where you can learn from others. Or, if you have the budget, you can hire a running coach.
There’s nothing wrong with running on your own. But running with others adds an element of accountability and an opportunity to learn and take the advice of those who may be more experienced than you are.
Use a Running App
As an alternative, you can use a running journal if you aren’t into apps. You can track all the same data manually, and you can still track your progress by comparing to previous performances.
Create a Support System
Even if you’re a lone kind of runner, you will need some sort of accountability. Creating a support system will give you some sort of accountability… Plus, it’s always nice to have some cheerleaders!
You don’t need to create a formal group. But you might want to tell some friends and family members about your plans and ask for their support and accountability. Or, you can consider joining an online group.
This is the most important part of your running. Without consistency, it’ll be difficult to reach your goals—whether that’s losing weight or running a race.
Building a running habit doesn’t happen overnight. You’ll need to commit to at least 8 to 12 weeks of running before seeing and feeling noticeable effects.
But if you stay consistent, you’ll soon notice the positive benefits on both your body and mind. Push through those difficult periods in the beginning. You’ll thank yourself later!