May 7, 2011

Women (Over 50) Who Run

68 year old Dipsea winner
Melody Anne-Schultz

More than ever before, women’s health issues are a primary concern for aging baby boomers. Our mother’s and grandmother’s didn’t have the same advantage that we do today. They didn’t know about trans fat and saturated fat, or the effects it had on our bodies and health. Nor did they participate in any regular sports activities.

Conversely, women over 50 are more active now than ever before. In the past it was thought that 50 was too old to start a running program, but that is no longer the case. With proper attention given to the basics, women over 50 can actively participate in 5k’s and 10k’s, in addition to half-marathons and even full marathons.

A number of running programs are especially suited toward older adults seeking to be more active. The key is to begin slowly, perhaps with walking, and build up to jogging/running. Certainly older adults starting a running program should be more careful and place an emphasis primarily on their physical fitness with special attention paid to nutrition and hydration. A visit to a physician before starting any kind of exercise regimen is advised.

Keeping any health issues in mind, a running program can be specially tailored to the particular needs of the individual. Since older adult women are prone to loss of bone density and often suffer with joint problems or arthritis, softer surfaces such as a treadmill or specially designed soft running tracks found at many schools and parks can be used.

The reasons that older adult women are taking up running are many and varied. Besides not needing any special skills, pricey gear or athletic ability, running only requires a pair of running shoes, determination and time.

According to researchers at Stanford University, regular runners live longer and stay healthier. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that running is as good for bone-building as strength training, a vital “must” for active older women.

Christine Hinton, a running coach from Crofton, Maryland, says, “Virtually every system in your body benefits from running.” This includes both physical and mental elements. Running burns more calories than almost any other exercise. It tones the body and staves off stress.

A sports psychology consultant and assistant professor of athletic coaching at West Virginia University, Kristen Dieffenbach, Ph.D., says, “Your arms, legs, and breathing fall into a rhythm that eventually lulls your brain into a meditative “no-stress zone.”

Running also improves mental health. The area in the brain that is associated with mood becomes saturated with endorphins after exercise, creating what is called the “runners high.”

Although running has its critics, many of their issues are found to be myths. Some say that the relentless pounding is hard on the joints and even causes wrinkles.  However, the Journal of Anatomy has found that running strengthens muscles and ligaments, which in turn protects hips and knee joints. The reason that runners can be viewed as weathered is because they are generally thinner with less body fat, which can define wrinkles and make them appear more prominent. They also spend a lot of time outdoors in the sun which causes wrinkles. Sunscreen should always be used when spending time outdoors.


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