How to Make Running a Lifelong Sport

Cheerful mature woman with female friend jogging in forest

The Good Brigade

Whether young or old, a seasoned athlete or new to exercise—anyone can start running. Not only can you start running at any age, but you can make it a habit that lasts a lifetime. There are many reasons to start running for both physical and mental health.

For example, running even 5 to 10 minutes daily is associated with reduced risks of death from all causes and cardiovascular disease. Also, running helps preserve, and even improve, memory and cognitive function as you age.

But before lacing up your running shoes and heading out the door, read on to find out why running is a tremendous lifelong exercise, the challenges you may encounter as you get older, tips for falling in love with the sport, and how you can start running at any age.

Why Running Is a Good Lifelong Sport

From the days of hunter-gatherers running in the wild to modern-day marathoners running at record-breaking paces, running is a natural human activity we have been doing for thousands of years. Because running is so engrained in our history as a species, nearly anyone can start running regardless of their age and achieve their health and fitness goals. Here are some benefits of running at any age.

Promotes Longevity and Improves Quality of Life

In a 2020 meta-analysis of more than 200,000 runners, researchers found that regular runners experienced a 23% to 30% lower risk of all-cause mortality, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. The researchers concluded that running, even once per week, can substantially improve overall health and longevity.

Enhances Brain Health

Almost every runner has experienced a runner’s high at some point—that rush of endorphins that causes a sense of euphoria and well-being while running. However, the mental benefits of running (and exercise in general) extend beyond this phenomenon. For example, a 2019 study published in Genes showed that regular exercise improves brain health at any age, including mental health, cognitive function, mood, and memory.

Improves Sleep Quality

If you are looking for ways to improve your sleep, running may be the solution. Multiple studies show running substantially impacts sleep quality, according to a 2018 meta-analysis. The benefits that running has on sleep include a deeper, more restorative sleep, less time required to fall asleep, and fewer awakenings during the night.

Helps Maintain a Healthy Body Weight

Running is an effective form of exercise for burning calories. According to a 2013 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, you expend more energy running than walking, helping you stay within a normal weight range—a critical component for healthy aging. Being overweight (especially as you get older) increases your risk of health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes.

Strengthens Bones and Joints

Running is considered a high-impact activity, meaning it increases the load on bones and has bone-strengthening impacts—a critical factor to keep in mind as you age. In a 2017 study that spanned a decade, researchers compared knee pain and degeneration in runners with and without osteoarthritis. They found that regular running can strengthen joints and protect against knee osteoarthritis.

Challenges You Might Face as You Age

It is understandable to shy away from running when you’re older. Many of us wonder, “Can I run like I used to in my 20s and 30s? Does running after 50 cause more harm than good?” Older runners are more likely to sustain injuries, such as muscle strain, and often need more recovery time from injury than younger runners, but this doesn’t mean you can’t stay active as you age.

A 2012 study looking at New York City marathoners aged 20 to 79 found that over 30 years, the percentage of runners over 40 increased significantly while those under 40 decreased. The researchers concluded that older runners (men over 65 and women over 40) likely have not yet reached their limits in marathon performance.

This is encouraging news for mature runners. Remember that being less active and having a sedentary lifestyle as you age is a significant contributor to a decline in physical fitness and performance.

Others might be resistant to running because they always viewed running as an unpleasant experience. Perhaps it was used as a punishment for other sports growing up or was part of a grueling pre-season conditioning routine for another sport. Or maybe you have memories of an embarrassing gym class mile.

If you are experiencing these mental roadblocks, rest assured that wondering if you are up for the challenge is actually the first step in investing in your running outcome. It shows that you care and that you are realistic about the work required. Yes, it may be hard to take those first steps. But if you go slow and listen to your body, you will likely be glad you started running in the end.

How to Rekindle Your Passion for Running

Were you once a dedicated runner or competitive athlete but now find yourself less active with age? There are many reasons to quit running as you get older—higher risk of injury, longer recovery time, less energy. Still, it’s possible to rediscover the love you once had for running so you can continue running into your 50s, 60s, and beyond. 

Adopt a positive mindset and have realistic expectations of what you can achieve. Start by setting small, attainable goals, and don’t compare yourself to others—especially younger runners (or your younger self).

Instead, accept where you’re at and focus on running for enjoyment. The physical and mental health benefits you will experience will fuel your motivation, encouraging you to get outside and keep running. Here are some tips for mature runners to stay safe and motivated.

Set New Goals

Goal-setting is a helpful strategy for healthy behavior change. Look ahead and create refreshing new goals that get you excited about running again.

For example, find an upcoming 5k race and train for it. Signing up for a race in another city is a fun way to stay motivated, plus you get to plan a trip and have something to look forward to.

Listen to Your Body

It’s important to pay attention to your body’s cues to prevent injury. If you’re fatigued and stiff, don’t overextend yourself by forcing yourself to run that day.

Low energy, lack of motivation, and soreness could be signs of overtraining syndrome. Taking a day off to recover is a better option if it means avoiding injury and being able to run the next day.

Celebrate Your Successes

Your goals don’t need to be outcome-driven. For example, set a goal to run five days per week for a month and mark each day you run with an X on a calendar.

If you stick with your running routine for an entire month, reward yourself with a night out or something you have been wanting for a long time. You could even reward yourself with a new pair of running shoes or some other type of running gear to keep you motivated.

Remember to Warm Up

We all know we should warm-up before exercise and cool down afterward, but how many of us actually do it? These overlooked activities become increasingly important as we age.

Be sure to warm up by stretching and walking at a brisk pace for 5 minutes to get your heart rate elevated. Then, cool down with a 5-minute walk and stretch your hamstrings, quads, and calves to reduce soreness and injury risk.

Join a Running Group

A 2017 study found that runners who participated in mass running events experienced beneficial impacts on mental well-being and socio-psychological status as a result of group participation and engagement. Find a local running group and schedule a regular meeting time each week.

This could be anything from a group of several people running twice a week or going for early morning runs with a friend. The key is to have accountability. Building a social network around running is an excellent way to keep you motivated and active.

How to Start Running at Any Age

The low threshold to get started makes running such a great exercise. All you need is a pair of running shoes, a safe place to run, self-discipline, and a desire to get healthier. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind before venturing out on your first run.

Get a Complete Physical

Schedule a physical exam with your healthcare provider before you start running. Discuss your running plans and ask if there are any health concerns to be aware of, such as heart disease, diabetes, or joint issues.

Buy Good Running Shoes

Good quality running shoes can significantly impact running-related injury and performance. Ideally, purchase running shoes from a specialty running store that can determine the right pair of shoes based on your biomechanics.

Start Slow

Try the run/walk method when starting. Alternate between one-minute jogging and one minute walking for 20 minutes. Continue doing that until you can run 5 minutes at a time, then 10, then 20, then 30.

A Word From Verywell

Regardless of age or fitness level, there’s plenty to gain from running. You can improve cardiovascular health, increased lifespan, healthy body composition, enhanced brain power, and improved mental health.

Any type of running or physical activity is a step in the right direction, so don’t stress about speed or distance when starting. Reach out to your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise program, especially if you have a chronic condition such as heart disease or arthritis.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does running add years to your life?

    A great way to increase your lifespan is through healthy behaviors, such as regular exercise. A meta-analysis of 11 studies found that all-cause mortality decreased by 30% to 35% in physically active participants, plus reduced risks of hypertension, stroke, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. The research revealed that running had an average increase in life expectancy of 5.7 years.

  • Why is running considered a lifelong sport?

    Running can be enjoyed by nearly anyone at any point in their lives, making it one of the best lifelong activities for health and longevity. In addition, there is a low barrier to entry for running, making it ideal for anyone looking to get active or switch up their existing exercise routine.

  • How much should you run for longevity?

    According to a 2018 study published in Missouri Medicine, the longevity benefits of running plateaus at running one to two times per week for a cumulative distance of 5 to 6 miles. Conversely, running more than 30 miles per week can counteract the health benefits and reduce life expectancy benefits.

  • Is running OK at any age?

    Running is a sport you can start at any age. You can reap the mental and physical benefits no matter how old you are. Even if you haven't run in decades, getting started is as easy as putting on running shoes and going for a 5-minute jog. Speak with your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise program, though.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Adam Meyer
Adam is a health writer, certified holistic nutritionist, and plant-based athlete.