I think most runners learn to enjoy it so much that they eventually worry as they age about the impact of running. The good news is that with minor adjustments it usually is not a big problem, just learn to manage your expectations and how to properly manage your body and the various impacts of any kind of exercise as you age.
It should be no surprise that running will feel different for a 17 year old than for a 57 year old.
How does running change as you age?
In your Teens
When you are young, energy seems endless – as well as your ability to recover. However, it is important not to run too much, as growing bones and joints may be at risk when running high volume.
In your 20’s to 30’s
Male and female runners hit their peak during their late 20’s and early 30’s in terms of running economy, metabolism, and ability to recover. These athletes can often handle more intense training than their younger and older counterparts, and starting a new training program may be easiest during this time.
In your 40’s
As far as competition is concerned, 40 appears to be the magic number where performance begins to decline. However, this should not deter you from starting a running program. Performance only declines 1 – 2% per year after 40, and affects competitive runners most strongly. The most important aspect of running as a “master’s athlete” is to allow your body more time to recover from strenuous activity. More cross training days may be necessary, as well as a lighter kilometerage load. Many master’s runners find that increasing the intensity while decreasing distance can help them stay just as fit to become “faster as a master.”
In your 50’s
As you reach your 50’s it is especially important to adjust your goals and focus on both strength training and recovery. Men and women will both undergo hormonal changes during this time period which will affect their muscular strength, power output, and the body’s ability to repair itself. Decreasing training load while increasing intensity and cross training days are recommended. Also aim to run on soft, even surfaces to reduce damage to joints.
Many runners enjoy this activity well into their golden years. What is the secret to running into your 60’s and beyond? Even though your VO2 max drops significantly during this decade, research has shown that the 60+ age group continues to get faster. Aging runners need to be vigilant about self-care, particularly when it comes to areas of previous injury. Healthy diet, regular massage, plenty of cross training days, and focused stretching and strengthening exercises are important.
Overall, running can truly be a lifetime sport. Runners should take care to understand their strengths and weaknesses as they age, and make necessary adjustments.