All sizes and ages can run
Don’t let your size or age put you off running. Age is just a number and body shape doesn’t need to be a barrier
You don’t have to be thin or young to take up running. All sizes and ages run regularly. You only need to look at the start line of any marathon or mass participation race and you’ll see all types of runners. Large, thin, old and young – all of them can do it.
If you’re overweight, you may be discouraged by your GP from running. Some doctors and fitness experts may recommend low impact exercise instead, such as using the cross-trainer or stationary bike. However, unless you are carrying an extremely excessive amount of weight and you find running very uncomfortable, some of these well-meaning experts may be missing the point. According to experts at Bupa UK, you can still run, so long as you don’t have any major medical conditions, you start gradually and have adequate rest periods in between each run (don’t run every day at first, build up volume gradually).
Running is one of the most effective forms of cardiovascular exercise for weight loss. It’s convenient, which may inspire you to do it more frequently. The more frequently you run, the more likely you are to lose weight. It’s a great calorie burner, as it burns around 10 to 15 calories per minute. And the more you weigh, the more calories you’ll burn. Your body will become more efficient at using fat as fuel and your metabolic rate will go up, leading to more calories burned at rest. Other benefits include a reduced risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
Protect your joints
You may be concerned about joint health. Every runner, whatever their size, should get the right footwear. Larger runners may benefit from a well-cushioned shoe as the more you weigh, the greater the impact on your joints. When you run, a force equal to roughly two and a half to three times your body weight will go through your knees. Even a small reduction in weight can reduce the impact considerably.
But it’s also worth noting that running can actually improve bone and joint health. As it’s a weight-bearing activity, it improves bone density, therefore reducing the risk of osteoporosis. And according to Bupa UK, research shows that runners have a lower risk of osteoarthritis and hip replacements, thought to be due to the lower BMI (Body Mass Index) levels in runners.
Some loading is actually good for the joints. If we don’t impact or load our bones, they can become weaker, which is why weight-bearing exercise like running can strengthen bone tissue. The compression and movement that occurs at the joint causes nutrients to be released in the joint space, also benefiting joint health.
However, it’s important to warm up properly (warming up releases a fluid called synovial fluid that lubricates the joints, preparing them for activity) and cool down at the end. Cooling down (gradually reducing your speed to a walk rather than just stopping) helps to disperse lactic acid, a waste product that builds up in the body during exercise, which can lead to stiffness the next day. Having good lower leg strength will also help to protect your knee joints. When you run, the quadriceps (front thighs) will take up to 60 per cent of the impact away from the knee, so the stronger your quads, the better.
So be positive about your running. If you train regularly, you’ll get results. Multiple marathon runner Lisa Jackson was a size 20 when she first started and is now a size 14. To date, she has completed 87 marathons.
It’s never too late
You don’t have to be young to start running either, though many people let age put them off. A survey from Bupa showed that 93 per cent of people aged 50 to 65 don’t run. The survey also showed that 60 per cent of adults believe their body won’t hold up to the demands of running once they are over 50.
So long as you’re mobile and healthy, there’s nothing stopping you. Visit your GP first to get the all clear. Then look at the proof all around you for inspiration. TV presenter Jennie Bond ran her first 10K as a new runner at the age of 63. Fauja Singh started running at the age of 81. He became a marathon runner and completed his last marathon in Hong Kong in 2013, at the age of 101. Ed Whitlock was the first person over the age of 70 to run a marathon in less than three hours (his time was 2:59:10). Ron Hill has run every single day since 1964.
Running can offset the changes that naturally occur with age.
When you run, the heart muscle fibres get stronger and thicker. New fibres grow, along with new blood vessels. The heart becomes stronger and more effective at pumping, so the heart doesn’t have to work so hard to pump blood. Your blood pressure is also more likely to stay within the healthy range.
For older runners just starting out, much of the basic advice for beginners applies. Get the right shoes, start at a comfortable pace and do it gradually. Bupa experts recommend doing shorter runs but more often. Rest when you need to and don’t forget to stretch at the end each run to prevent muscle stiffness.
About the author
Christina Macdonald is a highly experienced fitness writer and editor with more than 20 years’ of experience in media. She launched and edited Women’s Fitness magazine for three years and more recently was Editor-in-Chief of Women’s Running for six years, during which time the title won three industry awards. A keen runner herself, she has completed numerous 5K and 10K events, ten half marathons and two marathons. She is also a qualified Level 3 Personal Trainer and running group leader. Christina remains as Contributing Editor for Women’s Running in addition to owning her own content company, Healthy Content. Follow her @writefitchris