For many, life begins at 40. And why not? They’ve spent the last 15 to 20 years of their lives working, saving, and investing for a comfortable life. 40 might be the best time to re-focus your priorities toward health. You might decide to start running.
In terms of exercise, running is one of the best choices for physical activity. It is a skill you’ve learned as soon as you mastered walking. Like all sports, running has its share of health risks. You could experience chronic pain in your feet, shins, knees, hips, and lower back. The probability of injury increases as you get older.
Getting in shape at 40 is a great idea. However, you should exercise smarter instead of harder.
The Body At 40 Years Old: Physical Changes
When you hit 40, your body undergoes dramatic changes. It is easier to put on weight. Walking up the two flights of stairs in your home elicits faster breathing. You find yourself unsure when confronted by situations that require balance and coordination. For example, standing on a chair while changing a light bulb.
These are effects of the physical changes your body goes through as you age. The effects are more evident when you are past the age of 40. What physical changes are we talking about?
- Muscle fibers start to shrink leading to a loss in muscle mass.
- Metabolism slows down; making it more difficult to burn fat and lose excess bodyweight.
- Muscle fibers respond less to nerve impulses; affecting your reaction time and compromising your ability to maintain balance and coordination.
Men lose 1% testosterone for every year past 40. Testosterone is the hormone that is responsible for maintaining muscle mass, skin tone, tendon and bone strength, and libido.
Getting regular exercise is a good way of mitigating the effects of some of these conditions. For example, if you start running, you could jumpstart your metabolism. It could help you maintain a healthier bodyweight.
Weightlifting after 40 can boost testosterone production; leading to improved muscle tone and increased physical strength.
Because of the greater health risks associated with your age, you cannot take on these activities as if you were 14 years old again. You have to be more cautious and take a different approach toward exercise. This is especially true for those who have lived a sedentary lifestyle for the past 15 to 20 years.
How To Start Running When You Are Past 40
Even if you used to run track in high school, it doesn’t mean you should take to running as if you haven’t lost a step. Trust us, you have. Your bones, tendons, and muscle tissues are no longer what they once were.
You may not be able to regain your personal bests, but you will certainly enjoy your second career at running.
Here are ways you can start running when you are past 40:
Start Out Slowly
Approach running as a marathon, not a sprint. We mean that in the figurative as well as the literal sense. Start out slow. Don’t expect to run a 3k race right away. In fact, you may not even complete one kilometre without stopping.
Here are three usable tips on how to start out slowly:
- Set Realistic Goals. Instead of targeting distance, focus on maintaining pace as long as you can then slowly build from there.
- Use the Treadmill. A treadmill produces fewer impact forces. You can also control your pace, change workout intensities, and measure your time.
- Do Interval Training. Interval training means switching up exercise intensities. This is one of the best ways to start running. For example, you can alternate between 3-minute walks and 2-minute runs. Once you’ve completed four intervals, for the next session target six intervals.
When you are past 40, your joints will not be able to handle the constant pounding from running. There will be days when your body remains sore; as if you have not recovered from the previous running session.
The solution is not to take an extra day of rest. Instead, you should cross-train by doing another activity that places less impact forces on the body. Exercising through soreness is not bad. It improves blood circulation, encourages sweating which removes toxins and lactic acid, and gives your body new forms of stimulus.
Here are the best low-impact forms of exercise you can consider:
- Trail Hiking
- Brisk Walking
- Weight- Training
All of these activities provide a great way of getting in shape at 40. Keep in mind that muscle soreness is a by- product of lactic acid accumulation. If you are experiencing discomfort or nagging muscle pain, it would be a good idea to take an extra day of rest and see your doctor.
Take Your Warm Up and Warm Down Routines More Seriously
Perhaps when you were in your teens, you could just bust out of the back door of your house and blaze a trail on the road. Things will be different when you’re running over 40. Try busting out of the back door and you may end up breaking your hip, knee, or shin.
Before taking your first step on the treadmill or the road, warm up thoroughly. Perform dynamic stretches which work to prime your muscles, its fibers, the tendons and joints and prepare the body for the workload ahead. Dynamic stretches provide the best way to start running.
Dynamic stretches are short, quick movements that support the mechanics of the exercise. Examples of dynamic stretches for running include:
- Straight leg kicks to the front, side, and back.
- Bodyweight half or quarter squats with a resistance band below the knees.
- Walking lunges or split squats with one foot on a bench.
After running, static stretches should be performed. Static stretches require you to hold the elongated position for 30 seconds to one minute. Stretch all the muscles involved in running. Static stretching will help the muscles relax, remove excess lactic acid, improve circulation, and fast-track recovery.
Incorporate High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
We briefly touched on interval training as a valuable method for starting out slowly. Once you’ve developed enough muscle strength, coordination, and endurance, you should ramp up the level of intensity by incorporating HIIT in your running program.
Unlike regular interval training, HIIT, as the term implies is more intense. If you were alternating walks with runs before, with HIIT, you will be alternating walks with sprints.
HIIT has many proven benefits for runners who are past 40:
- Increases metabolism
- Enhances fat burning and body fat loss
- Improves muscle tone and strength
- Increases testosterone production
- Builds strength in bones, joints, and tendons
- Improves reaction time, coordination, and balance
Here is a sample HIIT program for runners aged 40 and up:
- Walk for 3 minutes
- Jog for 2 minutes
- Alternate 1 minute walk with 30-second sprints
- Target six intervals for starters
Slowly build up sprinting speed. Don’t go all-out right away. For the first interval, sprint at 80% of your maximum speed. Add 5% speed for each succeeding speed and close out with two all-out sprints.
For past 40 runners, you should do HIIT once-a-week.
Stay Hydrated Before, During, and After Your Runs
When you are past 40, your body’s thirst mechanisms likewise tend to slow down. You may not be aware you are thirsty. Running without enough liquids in your system will lead to dehydration which can have serious health consequences.
Here are a few valuable tips on how to stay hydrated before, during, and after a run:
- Drink 16-ounces of water one hour before you run.
- Wear a runner’s backpack that allows you to carry a few 4-ounce bottles of water. Drink four ounces every 15 to 20 minutes. So if you plan to run for one hour, you should bring 3 to 4 bottles of water.
- Drink 20 to 24 ounces of water for every pound lost after the run.
Water and coconut water are the best choices for hydration. For post-run hydration, you can opt for beverages that have higher glucose content for faster recovery. These include sports drinks and chocolate milk.
Lastly, listen to your body. As we mentioned earlier, if you are in serious pain or are experiencing discomfort, take an extra day and see your doctor. Your body is no longer what it was 20 years ago. Getting back into running after years off will be a challenge. Its recovery and response rate are much slower.
However, aging does not mean you will no longer improve. All you need is to take a smarter approach to running. Be patient. Remember, running when you are past 40 is a marathon not a sprint.