Tell me if this sounds familiar. You are doing something physical in the yard, maybe raking leaves or digging in the garden. The next morning when you roll out of bed you think, “I’m too old for this.” It happens to all of us at one time or another. We feel our age. All the inspirational posters you see on Instagram and Pinterest tell you that age is just a number. Which is true. Age is just a number, but it is also something that limits us. There are a number of societal norms that put the “correct” age on everything from starting a business to completing a marathon. The latter is the one that I’d like to address.
What age is too old to run a marathon? A great questions for sure. This is a topic that I think many of my readers are wondering about. After all, if we find that age is just a number when it comes to marathon running, that is one less objection resolved so you can get started with your training. What it really boils down to is a question of endurance, which is your bodies ability to continue working for an extended period of time. One thing that I noticed is that as I trained and ran marathons while in my 20’s, I had the ability to run longer with less recovery time. As I got older, I noticed that training felt a little more difficult and my recovery took longer. There is no such thing as being too old to start running. You can start at anytime with the recommendation of your doctor. Running helps to slow the effects of aging, can improve overall health, fitness and mobility.
Let’s look at some of the benefits for older runners.
Arteries carry blood to and from the heart. As we age, we tend to do less activities that raise our heart rate, like high intensity exercise. With blood less frequently pumping through the arteries, this causes the arteries to lose their elasticity, which can lead to higher blood pressure. Running, is an activity that increases the heart rate, increases blood flow which helps your arteries to retain their elasticity, lowering the propensity to high blood pressure.
Exercise that gets your heart pumping over an extended period of time will help with overall fat loss. Training for a long race, like a marathon, will help with fat burn overall. This helps to reduce the risk of clogged arteries, diabetes and obesity.
Muscle Strength and Bone Density
Two areas that are affected by aging are decreased muscle strength and bone density. Because many of us tend to reduce our physical exertion as we age our muscles are worked less, resulting in decreased muscle strength. Seems logical right? The less we exercise our muscles the weaker they become. Bone density is like the bone equivalent. The less we use our bones the weaker they become. Researchers have found that regular exercise and good diet can slow these effects dramatically. Another plus for running.
Increased Oxygen and Blood Flow
Running increases both oxygen and blood flow to the heart. The increased blood flow in the brain helps to reduce the risk for stroke. It also works to stimulate the brain’s release of the feel good hormone, endorphins.
The heavy breathing of running increases the supply of oxygen to the body which circulates antioxidants through the body, which helps to repair cells, combat free radicals that can cause cancer.
Some people don’t like to sweat. But it actually has healing effects. There is a reason why human beings since the beginning of time have used sweat baths for health purposes. Sweating has proven to be an effective way to flush the body of toxins and disease and even help with mental health.
I have laid out some of the benefits for running at a later age. The risks are really centered around the individual. We each have our own health histories, genetics and we’ve made life decisions in which marathon running may pose certain risks. Always check with your doctor before beginning any running program, especially if you are older and have a family history of chronic illness. For the most part though, if you are cleared by your doctor to start running the benefits far outweigh the risks.
How to get started so that you can prevent injury in a few easy steps.
Don’t Overdo It
Start with a training load that you can handle. If that means walking, start there.
Work with Friends
Training with a spouse or friend can improve both the quality and the length of your training. This adds a level of accountability and motivation to your training.
Set Measurable Goals
To help keep you moving forward, start where you are and go from there. I know that sounds super simplistic, but I’ve found that it’s easy to get discouraged or off track when we look externally as a barometer of success instead of internally. There will always be someone who can run further, faster and recover quicker. Setting your own measurable goals allows you to see your individual progress and that will continue to push you forward. Break down your year into months, weeks and days, with specific goals for each period, and then reassess after each period. If you find that you are in fact improving, take it up a notch. There is no reason why you can’t increase your training duration or distance.
The benefits of marathon training outlined, are true for both old and young alike. Training for and running a marathon is a great accomplishment for a person of any age. As long as you make sure that you are ready physically and mentally for the journey, I applaud you and I’ll see you at the finish line.
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