We know none of us are getting any younger, but did our muscles always ache this much? Maybe not, says fitness coach Jamey Yon. But it’s completely normal to feel this way.
“As you age, your bones, ligaments, and muscles aren’t as resilient as they used to be, so you can hurt yourself doing normal stuff,” says Yon. But that’s not a good reason to stop – in fact, it’s your best reason to keep moving! “The benefits of staying active as you age are being able to continue your normal activities that you’re used to.”
Yon points to the old adage that you can get 30 good years of running out of your knees and legs. If you start when you’re younger, take it easy and take care of yourself. The older you are when you start, says Yon, the longer you can run as you age – if you do it right.
First, says Yon, do some strength training.
“Running is a contact sport because your legs impact the asphalt every time you hit the pavement,” says Yon. “Strength training strengthens the muscles, ligaments, and tendons around your lower body and makes you more resilient.” You don’t need a weight room – walking lunges, pushups, planks, and deep squats are a great start.
Next, don’t head out the door for that same routine you used to do in your 20’s if you’ve taken a few years (or more than a few years) off. It takes years of experience to build up to a distance race. Consistency over time is what builds fitness and lifelong PR’s, says Yon. Your body will adapt, and you’ll get faster as you get fitter, so don’t jackrabbit out the door at top speed on your first run.
“Knowing when to rest, and having the guts and strength to sit out a day when you feel those strange aches and pains, is key,” says Yon. Don’t force yourself to run when you feel hurt, either – you could set yourself back 6-8 weeks, and then you’ll practically have to start over. Those days might be a good time to do low-impact strength training.
Third – and stop me if you’ve heard this one – fuel your body properly. Yes, that changes as you age, too, so that means you’re selecting the right nutrients, electrolytes, and hydration for the body you now have, instead of the one you used to have.
“It becomes way more of a balance as you age,” says Yon. “In your 50’s, it’s about selecting foods that are right for you. Little mistakes are amplified at this age.”
Judy Caswell is living proof you can get better with age. At 61, she’s a cancer survivor who is still doing personal bests, even though she really didn’t start running as a sport until her 40’s. She always enjoyed team sports, but running was her “backup workout.” Once she found a regular running group, though, she started running more regularly and improving. She knew she had really hit her stride when she started training and racing her high school and college-aged sons — and winning.
But more than just fitness, running became her lifeline in her 50’s after she was diagnosed with rectal cancer. It was a shock, considering the shape she was in. Even after two surgeries, and months of chemotherapy and radiation, she made sure she got out the door to walk when she couldn’t run, and run when she could.
“Running was great because I could do it when I needed to, and it made me feel normal,” says Caswell. One of running’s greatest benefits, she says, was that she could do it any time, making it less likely she’d skip a day. The flexibility became running’s greatest asset. She also learned to listen to her body, so she’d know when to rest. This year, she completed her 62nd race, and did a personal best time! She’s such an advocate for lifelong running, she is one of this year’s Novant Health Charlotte Marathon Ambassadors.
She gave her 6 tips for being a lifelong runner who feels and runs their best at any age:
- Keep moving. If you take time off, you’ll feel stiffer. If you can’t run, just walk; but make sure you move every day.
- Really listen to your body. Some days you’ll feel great and go far, other days you’ll run just a few slow miles. That’s okay.
- Learn things. If something feels funny, look at your form. If one thing hurts, you can concentrate on training other parts of your body as you fix what hurts.
- Do other things. Use other muscles, add weights, do your stretching, work your upper body work to maintain balance. Try trail running and hiking, even yoga or meditation to mix it up and work your whole body.
- Watch what you eat. (Here it is again!) Your body fuels differently as you age. Eat to fix your shortcomings like iron-poor blood or lack of energy.
- Give yourself grace. Adjust as necessary, walk if you need to.
Yon acknowledges none of us are getting younger, but adds we can definitely slow down the clock by staying in better shape. It takes work, but the best may be yet to come – especially for “late bloomers.”
“If you never peaked, you can still run a longer, faster PR,” says Yon. Set new goals for your age group, instead of competing with your younger self if you were a runner in your youth. But for sure: “You should just keep going.”
They’re words Judy Caswell lives by.
“I’m not comparing myself anymore,” she says. “I feel better than I ever have in my life.”