As long as you’re in good health, there’s no reason not to start running, no matter what your age. Even if you’ve never run before, you can begin running if you’re in your 40s, 50s or even your 60s. And you’ll be happy to know if you do that, you’re not alone. More than half the runners of the New York City Marathon are over the age of 40.

Running offers numerous benefits that can offset the natural aging process. Although you may not be able to run as fast as someone in their 20s, running is good for your muscles, bones, heart and lungs. In fact, running has even been shown to help improve your brain. Studies show that regular aerobic exercise can increase the size of your hippocampus, which impacts your memory and thinking skills.

Exercise also helps reduce insulin resistance and inflammation, improves mood and sleep, can alleviate stress and anxiety, and may help you lose weight. These benefits don’t just come from running, but from any type of aerobic activity.

A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that people in their 60s who are aerobically fit were less likely to develop major chronic disease, depression and physical or cognitive impairment, even if they first started working out in their 60s. The participants in the study, who were followed over eight years, were 2.67 times more likely to experience healthy aging if they engaged in moderate activity at least once a week. If their activity level was considered to be vigorous, they were 3.53 times more likely to be healthier as they aged.

Not only did those who were more physically active show health benefits, but participants who became more physically active during the study were even more likely to experience healthy aging. The study shows why engaging in physical activity when you’re older can help improve your health, even if you start later in life.

So, now that you know why running can be so beneficial, how do you get started if you’ve never run before and are not quite a “spring chicken” anymore?

Here are 5 steps to get you ready to run:

  1. Visit your doctor. This is especially important if you have any health conditions, are overweight or have lived a sedentary lifestyle. It’s always a good idea to get your physician’s okay before you start any type of new fitness routine.
  2. Get a good pair of running shoes. This is the single most important piece of equipment you need so visit a running store to have shoes fit properly. They should be able to evaluate things like your pronation and any imbalances and can then recommend a shoe that will work best for you.
  3. Start out by alternating running and walking to help build up your endurance. Begin with a schedule you feel comfortable with and then build from there. For example, you may want to walk for 5 minutes and then run for 1 minute. Continue these intervals until you feel ready to increase the amount of time you can run between each walking interval. Before you know it, you’ll be running more than you might have thought possible and may even be able to eliminate the walking intervals entirely.
  4. Increase mileage and the time you spend running slowly. Start by running not too far, not too fast. The best way to avoid injury is to keep increases to no more than 10 percent per week.
  5. Listen to your body. It’s important to pay attention to how you feel before, during and after you run. Don’t ignore anything that doesn’t feel right. If you have pain, give your body a chance to recover. Older muscles and joints may not bounce back as quickly as they did when you’re young, so you may have to cut yourself some slack when things start to hurt.

Sources:

http://www.runnersworld.com/newswire/why-its-never-too-late-to-start-running

http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2013/10/28/bjsports-2013-092993

http://www.runningforfitness.org/book/chapter-5-older-and-younger-runners/older-runners

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110

http://www.livestrong.com/article/362972-how-to-start-to-run-at-50-for-women/