Still, running (like any sport) is not without its risks, but by following these six tips you can minimize those risks and reap the benefits of running for many years to come.
1.Check in With Your Doctor1 of 7
If you're generally healthy, you've been exercising consistently and things are going well, then beginning or continuing a running program is a great idea. However, if you are overweight, have an elevated risk for any chronic conditions, have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, or have had a past musculoskeletal injury, then you should talk to your doctor before you begin a new running or exercise program. Together, the two of you can map out a plan to safely take you from where you are today to becoming the runner you aspire to be.
2. Practice Good Form2 of 7
Running with poor form is bad for everyone, but it can be especially damaging to older runners' joints, muscles and ligaments. Learning the proper mechanics of running before you get started will go a long way toward keeping you healthy. In general, you want to run with an upright posture and an open chest (shoulders wide, not hunched forward), and you want your body to make a straight line from your ears through your shoulders, hips and knees, to your ankles (not bent forward at the waist). This can be a lot to remember and can feel awkward if you're not used to it, but it's too important to ignore.
3. Work With a Coach3 of 7
It's a great idea for every runner--not just those who want to run competitively--to work with a coach, at least long enough to master the basics. A good coach will assess your form and help you make adjustments, recommend a sensible training protocol, and help you work around any old injuries or other limitations you may have.
4. Slow It Down4 of 7
Did you know that running faster places significantly more stress on your muscles than running slow? That's why top running coaches have their athletes run most of their miles very slowly. About 80 percent of your training miles should be run at a pace that allows you to carry on a conversation in brief, but complete, sentences. That may mean that when you first start out, you'll be doing more walking than running, but if you train consistently and stick with it, over time you should see your pace increase while your effort level remains consistent.
5. Prioritize Recovery5 of 7
While researchers and doctors agree that running can improve many health markers in older adults, it's also a fact that as we age, more recovery time is needed between workouts, otherwise the risk of injury goes up. A 2011 review of running injuries and demographics noted in particular that older runners have higher incidences of soft tissue injury along the entire back chain of the legs--hamstrings, calves and Achilles tendons--than their younger counterparts.
Keeping this in mind, it's not only important to honor your scheduled rest days, but to make the most of them. Incorporating foam rolling or massages, focusing on great nutrition and getting a little extra sleep can all help your body recover better and more quickly between runs.
6. Mix in Some Cross Training6 of 7
In the past, runners--especially those who consider it their primary sport or activity--have been notorious for skimping on strength training. More recently, however, targeted strength training as a supplement to running has come into vogue. This has been the result of research focused on both boosting performance and preventing injuries, and many top coaches and runners have embraced it wholeheartedly.
Strength training is especially important for older adults, because if left unchecked, loss of lean muscle mass and functional strength accelerates with each passing decade. This can not only hurt running performance and contribute to running-related injuries, but it can lead to serious limitations on your ability to perform routine day-to-day activities. A good strength-training program for runners should include exercises that target all of the major muscle groups--upper and lower body, as well as the core. If you're new to strength training, it's a good idea to hire a certified trainer to help create a program that will build functional strength and complement your running routine.
With the right approach, almost anyone can run safely well beyond middle age.