Few experiences elicit the buzz of emotion, excitement, and celebration more than watching a community of people who have trained for the better part of a year complete a marathon. In major cities like Boston, New York, and Los Angeles, runners gather from across the globe to complete 26.2 miles – a feat of the mind, body, and spirit. As we approach the 51st annual New York City Marathon on November 6th, we investigated the benefits of marathon training for 50+ men and women.
A common misconception is that running isn’t a safe exercise for older adults. However, running can often benefit aging minds and bodies as long as you listen to your body and determine when it’s time for a rest day (or a few)!
Let’s start with one obvious concern many have about running for aging bodies – joint health. Sure, running yields a lot of impact on the joints (in particular, the knees); however, that impact might not be harmful. Multiple studies have shown that regular running strengthens the joints and protects against the development of osteoarthritis later in life. Dr. Steven Mayer, MD, told Northwestern Medicine, “There have been several recent studies that have debunked that myth. In fact, they have shown the opposite — that running tends to be protective of knee arthritis.” Furthermore, Harvard Health tells us, “Other studies that measure knee cartilage suggest that running may stimulate cartilage to grow, not wear it out.”
Running may help to slow the aging process when it comes to bone density loss, which tends to accelerate for women around and following menopause. Dr. Stacy Sims, Creator of Osmo Nutrition, tells Women’s Running, “As a runner, the impact of the sport helps stress the bone to maintain its density.” It’s important to also supplement with calcium and vitamin D as part of your running plan.
Few activities connect our minds and bodies, like the long runs of marathon training. At first, these lengthy, solo runs might feel uncomfortable – chances are you haven’t spent that quality time alone with your thoughts in quite a while! You may start noticing new details along a route you have driven past hundreds of times – this kind of present-moment awareness is an excellent form of meditation. The clarity and peace you feel following one of these long runs might motivate you to continue training for the big race.
Running is a great cardiovascular exercise and highly supportive of the circulatory system. As blood circulates the body, it delivers oxygen-rich blood to the brain and other tissues. Running can also help bring oxygen-poor blood away from the brain and body and back to the lungs for reoxygenation. A 2018 study notes that regular exercise is associated with improved cardiovascular performance and lower blood pressure.
Running is also a great way to lower your resting heart rate, a key indicator of cardiovascular health. Jeré Longman (age 65) trained for the NYC Marathon in 2019 and told the New York Times, “After nearly 40 years of running, I have a resting heart rate of 44 to 48 beats per minute. Sixty to 100 is average.”
Older adults are more prone to experiencing overuse injuries, such as pulled muscles, knee strains, and dehydration. While a commitment to training is essential for your success, it’s also important to schedule rest, stretch, and strength-building days between runs. Starting slowly and building gradually to your distance is critical. Very Well Fit suggests following the 10% rule to prevent injuries: Avoid adding more than 10% in running intensity or distance each week.
One of the most popular online training schedules is by Hal Higdon – who offers training guides for everyone from novice runners to more competitive ones. Hal even designed one for seniors in particular. No matter what program you’re following, it’s important to check in with your body and customize the rest it needs at any given time. Most local running shops offer running clubs, a great way to find community in the sport.
Now more than ever, runners have many products that provide optimal support. A few cornerstone pieces most runners swear by include:
- Sneakers: check out this thorough review by solereview to learn about the leading brands and technology behind them. A general rule of thumb is to replace your running shoes every 300-400 miles.
- Smart Watch: Garmin and Apple Watch seem to be fan favorites. These watches can help you with GPS, distance tracking, split timing, and communication if needed while out on a long run.
- Hydration: Electrolyte supplements are a great way to boost your hydration and support your body as you train. LiquidIV makes several flavors of their Hydration Multiplier, which are super easy to add to your water bottle.
- Muscle TLC: Theragun and foam rolling are great ways to support muscle recovery. An Epsom salt bath can soothe sore muscles and aid in healing blisters and toenail injuries on the feet.
Running isn’t only for the young. It’s one of the most equalizing sports available, and no fancy gym membership is required. Whether you are considering revisiting the sport or trying it out for the first time, there are many benefits for a mature runner’s mind, body, and soul.
*Disclaimer: Always consult your doctor before starting a new fitness program, such as marathon training.