When I was a little girl, my Dad quietly left the house every morning in his Adidas tracksuit (remember those?) and headed out on an early morning run. A pioneer of multitasking, he listened to professional development lectures on his tape recorder. As one of the original health-promoting physicians, he was faithful in his commitment to exercise and truly lived the healthy lifestyle he asked of his patients.
Unlike me, he was content to run without races, big distances, or clubs. His preferences lay in running surface and familiar routes (woodchip trails – good, unleashed dogs – bad). He carried on through all types of weather, in the dark of winter, and in what many of us considered at the time to be a small fit of madness, he ran every day for two years (although now I completely get that type of commitment). His tongue-in-cheek assessment of his habit was, "Running won't make me live longer; it will just feel longer."
My Dad ran right up until his 80th birthday. Unfortunately, his times on the woodchips ended, and he passed away a few years later. I dearly miss my time with my dad but thankfully, his love of running lives on in me. I've coached running teams, owned a running company, and have run regularly for the past 34 years. I tell you this because, as you can probably guess, I believe running is an excellent exercise for so many people.
If you're feeling some resistance to that statement, hear me out - by the end of this post, I want you to know that many people can take up running safely, that running won't destroy your knees, and that running can be a fantastic exercise for women well into later life.
First, I have to dispel the myths. The two most common things people say to me when they hear I'm a long-distance runner are, "Why would you do that? Are you crazy?" but more often, "How are your knees holding up?"
Does running destroy your knees? The short answer is no. Knee osteoarthritis is considerably higher in sedentary people than their running counterparts (in one study, the difference was 12% higher in the non-active group). Another study of over 2000 participants (including those who took up a running program and then stopped) compared runners and non-runners. The researchers found that the runners not only showed lower levels of knee pain, but they also showed less objective signs of arthritis (e.g., evidence via x-ray). In my favourite plot twist of all times, new research showed that middle-aged adults who took up marathoning could actually reverse existing knee damage.
Running can also effectively turn-back-the clock on aging. Researchers studied a collection of studies representing 232,149 people and found that those who made a habit of running once per week had a significantly lower death rate from any cause than those who didn't. Other studies suggest that a regular running routine can roll back common signs of aging by almost a decade.
Interested in starting this low-cost, accessible, and portable exercise routine? Here's what you need to know:
Invest in some good runners. I'll be the first to admit that there is very little scientific evidence to support the idea that athletic shoe design prevents injuries. But supportive, well-made, running-specific shoes are definitely worth the investment for your experience on the road. Although shoe salespeople will give you all sorts of compelling reasons to buy a particular model, the truth is that the best shoes are the ones that feel good on your foot. It's also worth purchasing a moisture-wicking bra and running top. I wrote a whole blog post about buying outdoor exercise gear that you can read here.
Set your baseline low. Many people remember running programs from highschool and assume that the same approach will work in mid-life. I can't tell you how many women tell me, "I tried running, but only made it for about 15 minutes." And guess what? Their knees hurt afterwards.
Of the hundreds of novice runners that I coached, I started almost all of them on a walk/run program that began with no more than one minute of running, alternating with four minutes of walking. I always say, your cardiovascular system is going to feel pretty good to begin, but your muscles and tendons need to catch up. Go easier than what feels good at first, and your body will thank you later. There are all sorts of excellent novice running programs online. Look for ones that start slow and progress gradually.
Accept that it might be hard at first. I run very long-distances not because I have a special skill or because I'm particularly athletic. The beauty of running is that anyone can be a good runner if they're persistent enough. I used to coach a charity marathon team that included a range of ages, body types, and fitness levels. I can truthfully say that the toughest marathoners of the group were the women 45 and older who came into the program usually worried about starting with limited fitness.
Find your people. Of the hundreds and hundreds of fellow runners that I have trained with over the years, almost every single one was kind, supportive, and usually pretty interesting. Running is the great equalizer; we all come in our running clothes - I have run with CEOs of international companies, TV personalities, and senior government officials without realizing what they did for a living until many months into our time together. You won’t have to look far to find other supportive runners who are happy to run at your pace.
Find some trails. This one is my favourite. I have a special love for trail-running for so many reasons. Trails typically force you to navigate different surfaces (great for balance training) and move side to side rather than just the continuous forward motion of road running (great for hip strength). The softer surface is also easier on your joints, and trails are, well, more fun!
I hope that you might consider running as a great way to exercise, especially in these times of social distancing. Running is inexpensive, good for your aging process, and, when done correctly, won't destroy your knees.
Are you a midlife runner? Leave a comment on our Facebook Page to let me know about how running keeps you fit. And if you think this article might help a fellow Age Sister, use the links above to share it with a friend.
See you on the trails.
Your sister in health,
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