Think running is only for the young and fit? Think again! Even if you’re officially qualified for a senior citizen’s discount, you’re never too old to start running. Case in point? Our own home-grown heroine, Gloria Lau, first Singaporean woman to complete a marathon in each continent, only started running at the age of 57. Contrary to popular misconception, running does not cause osteoarthritis, carrying excess weight does. In fact, running may even protect you from developing osteoarthritis in the first place.
Benefits of physical activity
Exercise is the closest thing to an anti-ageing pill that exists in this world. No, it won’t erase your wrinkles, but it just might do everything else, including shrinking that spare tyre around the middle. Yet, it is the invisible benefits of exercise that truly makes it a veritable fountain of youth.
Here’s how regular exercise can improve the quality of your life in your golden years:
- Loss of muscle mass slows the metabolism; exercise helps build, or at least, maintain muscle mass.
- Regular exercise burns calories, helping you maintain a healthy weight.
- Furthermore, it keeps your metabolic functions healthy, such as improving insulin sensitivity, lowering your blood lipid levels, thus reducing the incidence of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
- Suffering from insomnia? Exercise helps you sleep better.
- Keep your brain sharp with exercise; the latest research shows regular activity is key to preventing memory loss, and reducing the risks of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The case for running:
- For post-menopausal women, osteoporosis becomes a real concern. Running is a weight-bearing activity which strengthens the muscles and the bones.
- Running improves your coordination and mobility, which help prevent the likelihood of accidental falls.
- A 15-year research conducted on 55,000 adults demonstrated that running can significantly increase your life expectancy.
Top 3 Running Advice for Seniors
Focus on Your Form
To run happily, you must run safely; thus, the main priority is injury prevention. You might be familiar with the advice to buy good shoes, warm-up, cool down and stretch properly, but more important than all these is maintaining proper form while running.
Run with a slight forward lean. Keeping an overly erect back can lead to lower back and hip injuries.
If you have weak knees, aim to land with a forefoot or a mid-foot strike, instead of a heel strike. This shifts the shock absorption to your ankles.
Take many small steps instead of big, long ones. Overstriding leads to landing with excessive force, which unnecessarily stresses your knees and joints.
Quality and Consistency
The beauty of running is that no matter what age you begin running, you will see improvements in your performance over the first seven years. Realistically, you may never beat your best 2.4km time from secondary school, but if you take up running at 55, there is a chance that you’ll be running faster at 60 if you train consistently.
This is the importance of injury prevention, for nothing hurts progress more than being out of action for a few months at a time. Better to gradually build a strong running base by getting your body comfortable with the sport, than shocking the system with an unaccustomed sprint or long distance run.
With age, you also require more rest and recovery after a workout. It is better to finish three runs a week feeling strong and happy, than five a week feeling weak and lousy. Those extra miles bring no additional benefit, and you are better off performing an alternative exercise.
Enjoying the Experience
Above all, enjoy the experience! You may find that your interest wanes after a few runs, in which case, it probably isn’t for you. By this stage, life is too short to do what you dislike. However, if the atmosphere of races, the conviviality of group running, and the thought of continuously challenging yourself excites you, then running is definitely going to be an enriching addition.