Being physically active is one of the best things you can do for your health as you age. Your aerobic capacity, muscle mass and bone density all decrease as you get older, but taking up running can help you reverse those processes.
However, running is a strenuous activity that should be taken up with care. Make sure you're in good health before you begin, progress gradually and ensure your diet supports your new athletic endeavor.
Visit Your Doctor
Before starting an exercise routine, it's a good idea to have a check-up with your physician. This is especially true for a vigorous activity like running, and if you have any pre-existing health conditions. Let your doctor know that you plan to start running, and ask him if he has any concerns about your physical ability to do so.
If your doctor has concerns, he'll be able to make recommendations for how to safely begin a running routine or help you choose another exercise activity that won't exacerbate your condition.
Get the Right Gear
You don't need to blow the bank to start running; in fact, running is one of the more affordable athletic hobbies. However, you must have the right footwear and comfortable athletic clothing.
Go to a local running store and ask a knowledgeable clerk to help you pick out a running shoe. Running shoes come in all different styles, and the right shoe for you is not necessarily right for someone else. A quality running store will have salespeople skilled in walking/running assessments. They'll be able to look at your gait, ask some personalized questions and recommend a shoe to meet your needs.
Look for running clothing made from breathable, sweat-wicking, non-chafing fabrics such as spandex, bamboo, tencel or nylon microfiber. The label should say "performance fabric" and/or "wicking" and "breathable."
Read more: Top 10 Best Specific Running Shoes
Start With Walking
If you've been active in another sport you can probably skip this step. If you've been sedentary, make sure not to skip this step. Doing too much too soon can lead to injury.
Start with a one-mile walk on flat terrain. Keep a "conversational pace" -- a slow enough pace that you could have a conversation without gasping for air. If this is easy, pick up the pace your next time out. If it's challenging, stay with a mile for at least a week before increasing the distance.
Add time and/or distance to your walks gradually until you can easily walk three miles. Add in some hilly terrain to challenge yourself and build leg muscle.
In the beginning, walk every other day; as you become conditioned, you can walk every day.
Progress to Run/Walk
The intermediate step between walking and running is a run/walk. This is also a good place to start for people who have previously been active in another activity, such as cycling or swimming. This will help your body become accustomed to a weight-bearing activity like running.
Choose a level course of 1 to 3 miles. Warm up by walking at a moderate pace for 5 to 10 minutes. When you're ready, begin to jog. Jog at an easy pace for as long as you're comfortably able, then return to a walk for a few minutes. Continue to alternate between walking and jogging for the remainder of your run.
Each time you go out, increase the amount of time you spend jogging until you can jog the entire distance.
Fine-Tune Your Technique
Hiring a running coach for a few sessions isn't a bad idea when you're a new runner. It's an investment, but one that will pay off as far as performance and injury prevention. A pro will be able to look at your current running form and make suggestions for changes that will help you run faster with less effort.
Good running form includes these basic principles:
- Keep your spine straight and tall and your shoulders back with a slight forward lean to your torso. Keep your head up and look straight ahead at the horizon. Relax your shoulders, neck and jaw.
- Keep your torso and hips facing forward. Slightly swing your arms forward and back in time with your opposite foot. Do not swing your arms across the body or rotate the hips or torso.
- Keep your core muscles strong and stable.
- Land lightly on the mid to forefoot. Do not heel strike.
- Maintain a slight forward lean at the ankles.
- Keep your elbows bent at about 90 degrees.
The Next Steps
Continue to build your endurance by increasing your speed and distance. Keep in mind that running can take a toll on your muscles, bones and ligaments, so you shouldn't overdo it, especially in the beginning. Stick to short distances of two to three miles a few times a week. On your off days you can strength train and crosstrain with non-weight-bearing activities.
Strength training is key to running longer and faster and without injury. Twice a week, do a full-body routine to strengthen all your major muscle groups, including your core -- your abs, obliques and lower back. Squats, lunges, step ups, push-ups, pull-ups, rows, crunches, planks and Supermans are effective compound exercises for runners.
Don't forget to stretch! After every run, take 5 minutes to do static stretches for your hamstrings, calves, quadriceps and glutes. Dynamic stretches, such as leg swings and butt kicks, are a good idea at the beginning of your workout after you've warmed up. They help prime the muscles for activity and can help prevent injury.
As you increase your activity level, your diet may need some tweaking. You may need more calories than you did when you were sedentary. You'll also need more energy-promoting foods and protein for muscle support. A healthy diet for a runner focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain carbs, lean meats and fish and small amounts of dairy, nuts and seeds and healthy oils. If you need help adjusting your diet, speak with your doctor or a nutritionist.
Read more: The 8 Best Stretches to Do Before Running