Getting in shape in middle age is a commendable goal and choosing running as the method can take you places you never dreamed of. That has been my experience since I started running at the age of 41.
Running is a great, simple, and effective way to get in shape if you stay healthy and balanced in your approach. Running is a full body workout that builds muscle, increases bone density, and develops the cardiovascular system. As running is a high intensity workout there are also risks that should be considered before starting an exercise routine.
A knowledgeable approach to minimize the risks and maximize the benefits of running can help you reach your fitness goals. Running is one of the simplest exercises to perform, but it can also be one of the most challenging to sustain.
Before setting out on your first run, consider the following tips to help you stay safe and be successful in reaching your goals.
1. Consult your doctor before beginning a running program.
Generally, you should have a physical and discuss with your doctor your goal to start running. Middle age presents more challenges than younger runners and can put one at higher risk of injury.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends getting clearance from your doctor before beginning any exercise program as not all exercises are suitable for everyone. Your doctor can help you determine exercises that are medically safe to engage in.
Depending on your current fitness level and medical condition, running may not be the right exercise to start with. You may need to start with some lighter impact exercises such as walking, biking, or swimming and work up to running.
2. Examine the risks of running before you begin.
Running is a high injury sport, and you really need to be aware of the risks before you begin. That does not mean you will get injured, but you should be educated as to the dangers so you can run safely.
One study done in April 2021 at University of Gothenburg found that almost half of all recreational runners incurred injuries over the course of a year. The good news is that most of the injuries only prevented runners from exercising as normal and were not long-lasting.
Injury prevention should be a priority. Following the tips in this article can help you avoid many injuries, but you will always need to on alert to the dangers and remain sensible in your approach.
3. Follow a walk-to-run plan until you can run for 30 minutes.
Rather than just going out and trying to run for a certain amount of time, you will likely have more success by using a plan. A good plan can keep you on track, make sure you start at a reasonable pace, and progress at a rate that will likely prevent injury.
There are a lot of good free plans on the internet. I recommend choosing a plan that begins with walking. Depending on your fitness level you may be able to progress rather quickly to running.
I started with a walk-run-walk plan as I was already able to easily walk for 30 minutes. I was running continuously for the 30 minutes after a couple of weeks. To my surprise and delight I was never sore or experienced any pain or problems. I then progressed to a beginner runner training plan.
4. Consider hiring a coach.
It’s worth considering hiring a coach if you are serious about running as a sustainable exercise program. Many injuries in running can be avoided, but only if you know what to look for.
Poor running form is a common reason beginner runners get injured. An experienced running coach can help you to run with good form from the beginning. A coach can also recommend exercises targeted for your weaknesses.
Running with good form will save you now and in the future by preventing many injuries attributable to poor form. A coach will also help you progress at a reasonable pace as many injuries occur from running too fast, too far, and too much.
5. Invest in a good pair of running shoes.
You really do need “special” shoes to run as running in regular sneakers can lead to many problems in a short period of time. There seems to be no end to the information available on running shoes so do some research as it’s important to choose the right one for you.
If you want to get started quickly with a solid shoe, I recommend going to a local running store. A reputable running store should be able to do a foot and/or gait analysis. Based on the analysis, they will fit you with a suitable shoe to get you safely running.
Be warned, running shoes are expensive! Prepare to invest around $100 or more, but it’s well worth it. If this seems prohibitive, work with the store salesperson so they can help you choose a good shoe that will also meet your budget.
6. Download a running app on your phone.
The easiest, cheapest, and most convenient way to track your runs is with a running app on your phone. There are a lot of free versions of running apps you can download which are easy to use.
Strava tends to be the most popular running app, but there are many out there with slightly different free features. Most have the option of sharing your runs with others using the app. I have three apps I use as they each have slightly different features that I like.
A running app will help track your runs including the distance, pace, total time, and perhaps some other useful metrics. You don’t need anything fancy, especially in the beginning and tracking your runs with an app will be very rewarding.
The most challenging part of using a running app is finding a way to carry your phone while running. You can use a sports armband for phones that can purchased nearly anywhere. The quickest option for me was to make my own armband out of a sock (How To: DIY ways to carry your phone at the gym – YouTube).
Running watches are great to use for tracking your runs, but they are also expensive. You will want to invest some time researching which is the right watch for you before purchasing one.
7. Get and stay motivated to Run
Set a date to start and have a plan in place for the first week or two. The night before your first run, binge on YouTube videos and/or blogs about running as this will help motivate you. Regardless of when you choose to start, you will need lots of determination to make it happen.
Once you begin, keep the momentum going by continuing to expose yourself to inspirational videos and stories. The simplest thing may be watching YouTube videos and reading some blogs, but there are also a lot of good books out there.
Some of my favorite inspirational running books have been Born to Run, Finding Ultra ( a favorite as it’s about a middle-age and out of shape man that that started running) and Eat and Run.
8. Start an exercise or running journal.
A running or exercise journal can help you track your progress to getting in shape and keep you motivated. While a running app may track details about the run, a digital or paper journal can help you track other important information.
You may want to include more details about your run such as terrain, temperature, and how your felt. You may find a time of day that you enjoy better. Recording how you felt during the run may also help you avoid an injury by paying attention to the warnings.
You may want to track your morning weight and what you ate if overall fitness is your goal. Recording and seeing your progress will help you stay motivated and give you a sense of accomplishment.
9. Commit to a race.
Signing up for a race is a great way to stay motivated, keep on track, and reward yourself for all your hard work. I love the idea of signing up for a race as the level of commitment is that much more. Not only is your ego at stake, but so is your pocketbook.
You are more likely to stick with any program if you have invested a bit of cash. If the actual cost of the race is rather inexpensive, try planning a destination run. I did this for my first run and it was one of the best experiences of my life (click here for my first race experience).
Depending on your fitness level and how quickly you can scale to running, setting a 5K goal in a couple months is probably a reasonable goal. If you like more of a challenge, consider a 10K or half marathon and plan appropriately.
Be cautious of setting the goal of a marathon as a short-term goal. Many coaches and experts recommend having at least 6 months to a year of consistent running under your belt before beginning a marathon training plan.
There are many people who take up running successfully in middle-age. While there is a higher risk of injury with running compared to walking or swimming, it is also a great way to get in shape because it is a high intensity full-body workout.
You will want to consider all the pros and cons of running before starting an exercise program. I find running a convenient and efficient way to stay in shape and feel great.
It may be challenging to get started, but hopefully the above tips can get you moving quickly and safely.