One of the best things about running is that it’s accessible to almost anybody. Any fitness level, any experience level, any ability… And any age. It doesn’t matter if you’re 20 or 70—you can run.
So if you’ve been agonizing over learning how to start running in your 50s, don’t! It’s as good a time as any to begin and rather start now than waiting another 10 years before you take control of your fitness.
That said, you need to carefully consider your health and fitness before running out the door.
Here’s our guide on running at 50+ and becoming a successful runner!
Why Starting to Run In Your 50s Is a Good Idea
There’s never a bad time to focus on your fitness and health. It’s around this time that many people start to experience health issues, but it’s also when most of us start reflecting on life because we realize we’re getting older!
If you haven’t paid much attention to health and fitness before now, it’s not too late. You can still make excellent fitness gains and noticeably improve your health—some people even find that their health improves enough to go off their chronic meds, although you should ask your doctor about this!
And ultimately, the various benefits you gain from running—at any age—can extend your lifespan and give you many more quality years on this planet than you would’ve had before becoming a runner. Running keeps you younger for longer!
Why Is It Hard to Run as You Get Older?
As you age, your muscle mass and VO2 max naturally decrease. That is unless you take active steps to maintain them. Most people don’t, though, so by the time you’re 50, you’re already less muscular and have a lower aerobic capacity.
This makes it harder to start running as you get older and means that if you’ve always been a runner, you’ll begin to slow down as you age. Some research shows that you can expect a 10% decline in endurance every decade after you hit the age of 30!
However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Runners of 90+ still break records regularly, so don’t let it put you off! If you do it right, you can easily build up the strength and endurance needed to be a great runner in your age group, but it does require work.
The one thing that counts for you at this age is that you have more time to run. If you’ve got older kids who don’t need constant supervision, it might be easier to fit regular training into your daily schedule.
Benefits of Running in Your 50s
Now for the good stuff. If you’re in your 50s and planning on getting started with a running routine, here are some benefits you can expect to gain.
Improved Cardiovascular Health and Endurance
Like any muscle, the more you work the heart, the stronger it gets. Regular running strengthens your cardiovascular system, which can help reduce cardiovascular symptoms and your medication dosage.
It may also become easier for you to walk around the mall, do yard work, or do other physical work. No more huffing and puffing when climbing the stairs!
If you suffer from any cardiovascular condition, it’s wise to ask your doctor about running first. They’ll be able to advise you on how it might affect you with your specific medical issue.
Stronger Bones and Muscles
Running is a weight-bearing exercise, which means it helps to strengthen your bones. Most people tend to do less and less weight-bearing exercise as they age, which causes the bones to become weaker and more brittle. This makes you more prone to bone breaks and cracks.
Not for runners! All that running keeps the bones strong and strengthens the muscles. Muscles play an important role in holding the bones in position, keeping them stable. So this is a win-win situation for bone and muscle health.
Increased Energy Levels
Who doesn’t want more energy, no matter what age you are? It might sound counterintuitive that exercising can give you more energy, but studies show that older adults who run regularly have similar energy to young adults in their 20s!
Weight Loss or Maintenance
It’s possible to lose weight in your 50s and beyond! As long as your running is paired with a calorie-controlled diet, you can lose weight or stay at a weight you’re happy with.
It’s a good idea to figure out how much energy your body expends on a daily basis, using a calculator like this one. From there, you can use an app like MyFitnessPal to ensure you’re eating the right number of calories every day. Weight loss is inevitable if you stick to your numbers!
Reduced Risk of Chronic Diseases
Increased physical activity and reduced weight are both excellent contributors to a healthier immune system. Running regularly can help reduce your chance of suffering from chronic diseases.
As your heart, lungs, and immune system become stronger, they’re less susceptible to disease. Oxygen intake plays a big role in this—many diseases are caused or worsened by oxygen deficiency. When you run, your O2 levels increase as you breathe heavier, which can make a big difference to your overall health.
Improved Sleep Quality
The combination of expending energy during the day, coming down from the endorphin rush, and your body naturally balancing its hormones better can lead to improved sleep.
Not only will your body be happier for the rest, but your hormonal levels can fluctuate based on activity or no activity. It’ll be more likely to bring you down into a sleep-ready state if you run during the day.
Improved Mental Health
One of the most underrated benefits of running is that it releases endorphins. These “happy chemicals” flood the brain and the body, improving your mood and alleviating stress by counteracting cortisol, the stress hormone.
This plays a huge role in boosting mental health. Evidence suggests that exercise alleviates anxiety and depression, so you can expect a better mood and mindset when running regularly.
Plus, if running helps you shed some pounds, become more mobile, and find a hobby you enjoy, your self-confidence, independence, and sense of joy will be higher!
Before You Lace Your Running Shoes
Ready to start building a new healthy habit at 50? Here are some things to consider before you get into it.
Get a Physical Exam
Never fun, but always a good idea. Get a checkup to ensure you’re in decent condition and have nothing serious to worry about. You may want to ask the doctor if you can start running, just to be safe.
Invest in the Right Gear
Wearing the wrong gear can make running miserable from the start, but choosing the right stuff will set you up for life. Here’s what you need:
- The right shoes for your feet.
- Comfortable, soft clothing.
- A sports bra for the ladies.
- Moisture-wicking socks.
- A smartwatch with running features.
- Something to carry water in.
- A running app or journal to track progress.
- Gear for specific weather (beanie, sweatband, etc)
Practice Good Running Form
You must get your form right from the very beginning. Watch YouTube videos or get a coach, but we can’t emphasize this enough. If you start off learning the wrong form, you’ll be more prone to injury, and it becomes harder and harder to undo it once you’re in the habit.
It might take some time, but it’s worth doing. Work on engaging your core, maintaining a good posture, and make sure you’re not reaching your front foot out ahead of your body when you run. Ideally, you want your foot to land right below your hips on every stride.
Create a Realistic Plan and Goals
The best way to start building a running habit is to follow a plan that works for you. For example, aiming to run daily as a complete beginner isn’t realistic because you need recovery time. You also need to find something that fits your schedule and your ability level.
You can download free running plans all over the internet. However, we particularly love the Couch to 5K training plan, because it’s designed to take a newbie and turn them into a 5K runner in a short period of time.
How to Get Started With Running
Ready to go? Here are our top tips to get started safely and effectively.
Start Slow With a Gradual Increase
When you’re starting out, don’t worry about pace and distance. Unless you already have good base fitness, you should aim to boost endurance. The run/walk method is the best way to begin.
Alternate between running and walking intervals for 20 to 30 minutes in total. You can start with whatever interval works for you—one minute of running followed by two minutes of walking, or 30 seconds of running and a minute of rest.
The idea is to build up to running for longer and walking for shorter periods until you can run for an extended time without needing to slow down and walk.
Create Your Warm-Up and Cool-Down Routine
Even as a beginner, you need to warm up and cool down. This prepares the muscle for activity, making you less likely to get injured. You don’t need to make a big deal of them—5 minutes of stretching before your run and a few minutes of walking afterward is enough.
But you should create a routine so you know what you’re going to be doing, and do it every time you run. It’s an excellent habit to get into.
Incorporate Strength Training and Cross-Training
Yes, you’re becoming a runner, not a weightlifter! But trust us—a little strength training can go a long way. The more muscle you have, the more power you’ll have when running, so we advise including a day or two of strength training in your routine. One upper body and one lower body day should work.
Cross-training is technically anything that isn’t running. Things like cycling, swimming, rowing, and ellipticals target the same muscles as running, so you can build muscle without the impact of running on your joints. A few cross-training sessions a week should be fine.
Follow a Balanced Diet
Your running performance will increase if you’re eating healthy. A calorie-controlled diet of healthy, whole foods is ideal. Make sure you’re getting protein with every meal, which will help build muscle. Avoid sugar, processed foods, and fatty foods. They’re not only empty calories, but they’ll mess with your stomach when running!
Make Your Runs Fun
You don’t have to be bored while running! If you’re out on the road, listen to music, change up your routes, or join a running challenge so you have something to work towards.
On the treadmill, you can put your favorite show on the TV or play your music loud to keep you going.
Plan Time for Your Recovery
Recovery is just as important as anything else, especially when you’re in your 50s. Don’t neglect it—it’s a good idea to plan your recovery so you can stick to it more closely.
You can include things like massage, foam rolling, compression gear, hot and cold therapy, and stretching/yoga in your recovery routine. Healthy eating and good rest should also be a natural part of it.
Listen to Your Body
Pay attention to how you feel. If you’re sore or feel discomfort, there’s nothing wrong with easing up and taking a day off. Don’t push yourself too hard, especially in the beginning. Listen to your body and trust your instinct.
How to Stay Motivated
Eventually, you may find that motivation gets low, and you struggle to continue. Here are some tried-and-true ways to find inspiration!
- Find a running community: Find a group of people who will motivate, encourage, and keep you accountable. This is invaluable!
- Track your progress: Tracking your progress can help you see how far you’ve come. It’s motivating to see that you’re improving with every run.
- Use technology better: Download running apps, learn how your smartwatch works in more detail, or try a smart treadmill. The options are all there in front of you!
- Try virtual runs on a treadmill: If you’ve got a treadmill, you can do virtual runs where you run through a particular destination or along a well-known race route. This is fun and keeps things interesting!
- Listen to podcasts: Depending on the topic, podcasts can be more motivating than music, especially if they’re about running.
- Participate in challenges: If you’ve got a competitive streak, entering running challenges (real-world or virtual) can be highly motivating to perform.
- Celebrate your achievements: When you hit a milestone, reward yourself! Don’t binge on unhealthy food or go on a drinking spree; reward yourself with something you’ve been wanting. Be your own motivation!