Many people believe that running is bad for your joints, especially for your knees, and if you want to preserve your joint health in old age you better not run. The common thinking behind this is that the more you move, the more stress you inflict on your joints and, as a result, the more prone you are to injury. As a result, the older we get, the less physical activity we clock in, without even knowing that by being sedentary, we are doing our joints more harm than good.
You see, sedentary lifestyle is almost inevitably associated with weight gain along with a slew of other health complications. Each additional pound of weight means more stress to the joints. Staying active helps you manage weight and supposedly helps fight inflammation throughout the body.
One of the easiest ways to stay active on a regular basis is running. It is a simple activity that doesn’t involve any special equipment (unless you’re running indoors on a treadmill) and that can be taken up by anybody. You are in charge of the time, speed, and intensity of your session. Many older people dismiss running as an option out of fear of developing arthritis or any other damage to the knee, but the truth is, no study has shown that running on its own causes arthritis. According to Dr. Tracy Ray, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Duke University School in Durham, North Carolina, if you haven’t had a knee injury and if you don’t have a diagnosed wear-and-tear of the cartilage, nothing deems you unfit to train.
So, if you’re looking to protect your joints and get them moving, running may be a great option as long as you do it safely.
The importance of a good warm-up before any kind of physical activity cannot be stressed enough, and it’s particularly important for anyone over the age of 40. A study at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital has shown that middle-aged recreational runners who engaged in static stretching before their jog (that is, they held a stretching position for a few seconds) were less prone to strains and muscle tears. It only takes five minutes to ensure that you benefit from your run.
Once you’re done your static stretching, proceed to walking at a fast pace, then switch to a light jog for another five-to-ten minutes until you are warm enough to run. Remember, you’re not competing with anybody. Listen to your body and do what’s comfortable for you. The goal is to get yourself moving and do it in a way that is gentle for your joints.
And, of course, just like a thorough warm-up is important for a safe run, so is a cool-down after your training to avoid any injuries.
You may have heard a lot about maintaining proper form while running. Sure, minding your posture, noting how you hold your head and where your arms are is helpful, but don’t get too obsessed with it. You get better by simply running more often as your body adapts to the movement.
If you just started jogging and you’re doing great, don’t get overambitious. Many people who find it easy in the beginning tend to amp up their training too soon, and that’s where the danger is. Progressing too quickly poses a risk to your joints and tendons in the form of unexpected stress they are not prepared to sustain. Experts advise sticking to a 10 percent rule: Increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10 percent. This is particularly important to novices and middle-aged runners.
A good way to approach your training is alternating between walking and jogging. Your body gradually gets used to running for longer periods of time. The run-walk technique puts less strain on your muscles and joints, and you feel less tired at the end of the session.
Finally, give your muscles and your joints time to rest. Don’t run every day – try running every other day. Use your rest days for some gentle cross-training, like yoga or swimming, to ensure your body recovers and is ready for more. And if you feel really sore or if anything is hurting, just take a day off.
Old age doesn’t mean you stop moving around. It’s never too late to get moving. Just make sure you do it safely, and your body will thank you for it!