Running After 50

How to Start Running at 50—Or Keep Up a Running Habit As You Age

Running after age 50 can be a great way to improve cardiovascular fitness, and it's a particularly effective way to stay fit and strong as you grow older. But because running is tough on your muscles and joints, it can also lead to injury if you don't adapt your training routine to suit your body's needs. Learning how to start and keep running at 50 (and beyond!) can help you safely participate in the sport.

While some naysayers may argue that running in your 50s isn't healthy or safe, the sport remains popular with this age group. In fact, masters runners (those who are over a certain age, usually 40) are the fastest-growing age group in the sport.

In a study looking at participants in the New York City Marathon between 1980 and 2009, the percent of masters runners significantly increased, while the number of finishers under age 40 decreased.

Whether you're new to running or you're a veteran runner entering a new age group, there are ways to make your running program both enjoyable and effective in your 50s and beyond.

Check With Your Doctor

If you're new to running or you've had a lengthy break from the sport, make sure you check with a healthcare provider to make sure you are healthy enough for vigorous activity. Chances are good that they will encourage you to get started, but it's important to get the stamp of approval.

Know Your Limits

mature woman running on the road

adamkaz / Getty Images

Before you start a running program, it is important to understand some of the basic physical effects of aging. Physical fitness typically peaks in your 20s and 30s. Even the most elite athletes begin to experience declines in performance once they hit their 40s.

As you age, several changes may occur:

  • Cardiovascular endurance starts to decline
  • Muscle fibers begin to shrink in size and number
  • Strength, coordination, and balance also decrease

Becoming less active as you age contributes to many of the declines in fitness and performance. Your individual aging experience depends on factors such as your lifestyle, diet, genetics, and activity levels. But this doesn't mean that working out harder or ramping up the frequency of your workouts is the solution.

Older adults are more prone to experiencing overuse injuries, such as pulled muscles, knee strains, and overtraining syndrome.

Successfully introducing a running routine in your 40s and 50s means training right and working smarter rather than harder.

Increase Your Effort Gradually

For any runner, it is important to be cautious about increasing the time and intensity of workouts. Sudden, dramatic jumps in speed or distance often lead to injury or soreness that keeps you sidelined.

Starting slowly is important, and as an older runner, you'll need to take it easier than you might have when you were younger.

Follow the 10% rule to prevent injuries: Avoid adding more than 10% in running intensity or distance each week.

For example, to kick off your running program, you might start with a 20-minute workout. Begin with a 5- to 10-minute warm-up, then try running for 30 seconds intervals followed by 2 minutes of walking.

Going slow and building your fitness incrementally ensures that you are improving fitness and strength while minimizing your risk of getting hurt.

Ease Expectations

If you started running when you were younger, it can be tough to admit that you’re slowing down with age. Unfortunately, however, it’s a fact of life. Let go of those expectations and avoid comparing your older self to your younger self.

Consider age-graded results, which allow you to compare your race times to the standard for your age and gender. As we get older, we lose muscle strength and aerobic capacity and we need more recovery time. So we usually can’t train and race at the same level.

But while you may not beat the personal records you set in your 20s and 30s, that doesn’t mean that you can't set goals to help motivate you and give you a serious sense of accomplishment. 

One study found that while performance in elite athletes starts to decline around age 35, recreational runners do not begin declining until around age 50.

Adjust Your Goals

Whether you are training for a marathon or simply trying to get into the running habit, it is important to set training goals that are appropriate for your age and your current fitness level.

If you are just getting started with running, your weekly training schedule might look something like this:

  • Day 1: 20-minute strength training
  • Day 2: 20-minute easy run
  • Day 3: Rest day 
  • Day 4: 30-minute cross-training activity
  • Day 5: 30-minute interval run
  • Day 6: Rest day
  • Day 7: 45-minute slow-paced jog

Adjust your expectations, pick realistic goals, and be proud that you're an active, committed runner.

Recover Properly

While you may have been able to run every day in your younger years, as you age, you'll probably find that you don’t bounce back as quickly as you used to. 

Listen to your body and don’t force runs if you’re not feeling fully recovered. You may find that you feel better when you run every other day, as opposed to every day.

Days off from running don't have to be complete rest days. You can do cross-training activities such as cycling, swimming, yoga, or any other activity that you enjoy.

Add Strength Training

Strength training is beneficial for runners of any age, but its benefits are even more significant for older runners.

People naturally lose muscle mass as they age. Regular strength training can help you avoid this decline.

Improved muscle strength helps your muscles to absorb more of the impact while running, which eases the stress on your joints. Simple leg and core exercises such as squats, planks, push-ups, and lunges can make a big difference in running performance and injury prevention.

Improve Your Balance

Improving your balance is helpful for running, but also necessary for everyone, especially as we age. If you have good balance, you're less likely to fall and more able to regain your balance if you do start to fall.

You can improve your balance simply by standing on one leg (and alternating legs) for 30 seconds. Or, do some basic yoga balance moves such as tree pose, eagle pose, or king dancer pose.

Practice Flexibility

As you age, you may notice that your legs, back, hips, and shoulders feel stiffer than when you were younger, especially when you first wake up or have been sitting for a long period of time.

Everyone's muscles and tendons lose some elasticity with time. But you can maintain or even improve your flexibility if you work on it.

Regular stretching or yoga, especially after runs, can help you become more flexible.

Make sure you do a proper warm-up before running, especially if you're racing or doing a hard workout. Start with a 5- to 10-minute walk or easy jog, followed by some dynamic stretching.

Dynamic stretches are active movements of muscles, moving you through a range of motion without bouncing. Dynamic stretches are different than static stretches, in which you hold a stretch in a static position. Examples of dynamic stretching would be arm circles, heel raises, or lunges.

Prevent Injury

Be proactive in your approach to injury prevention. If you feel the onset of an injury, be proactive. Don't ignore warning signs like soreness or inflammation.

As you age, you may find that you need to take new injury-prevention steps, such as regular massages, using a foam roller, and more rest days.

Invest in Good Running Shoes

One of the best things you can do to minimize injuries is to buy running shoes that are right for your body. Visit a specialty running store and talk to an expert about the shoes that will work best for your fit, stride, and physical needs. 

Take Time to Recover

If you do get injured? Be patient. As we age, it does take longer to recover from injuries. One study found that older runners are much more likely to experience problems with their hamstrings, calf muscles, and Achilles tendons than younger runners.

The authors of the study suggest that this might be because normal wear and tear takes longer to repair in older adults than it does in younger adults. This may indicate that older runners should allow themselves more time to recover following a workout.

Don't rush back to running too quickly, as you may find yourself out for even longer than necessary. Listen to your body, take a break from running, and see a doctor if you have injury-related pain that lasts more than 10 days.

5 Sources
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 Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.