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Ask the Doctors: Am I Too Old to Start Running?

Q: I am 63 and even though my kids think I’m too old, I want to start running. Can you help me to prove them wrong?

Dr. Elizabeth Ko and Dr. Eve Glazier
Drs. Elizabeth Ko, left, and Eve Glazier are internal medicine specialists at UCLA Health

A: We believe that it’s never too late to become physically active. And if you’re careful about how you begin – and maintain – your new exercise regimen, there’s no reason why running can’t be at least one part of the program.

To get your kids on board, let’s start with all of the good things that come from regular exercise. And when we say exercise, we’re referring specifically to activities like brisk walking, jogging, running, swimming laps and dancing that will increase your heart rate and breathing for an extended period of time.

Regular exercise can help control your weight, reduce your risk of serious health problems like heart disease, type-2 diabetes and some cancers, and even improve your sleep and your mood.  It also strengthens muscles and bones, which not only makes it easier to perform everyday tasks and activities, but also helps with balance and reducing your fall risk. For older adults, regular exercise increases your chances of living longer.

To succeed with your running program, you’ll need to be smart about the way you get started. It’s always wise to enlist your primary care physician as your partner when making this lifestyle change. She or he knows your health history and can flag any potential risks or problems.

As for running itself, there are several things to ensure a smooth start. Before you even take your first step, be sure you have the right shoes. Proper footwear not only cushions your step, but also helps with alignment and guards against knee, hip and ankle pain. Good socks and comfortable exercise clothes are also important.

Although your goal is running, you should begin with a long, brisk walk. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your heart rate goes up. Plan a route – 20 minutes is reasonable to start – and see how it feels. As time goes by, you can increase both pace and distance. When you’re ready, start mixing a few minutes of running into your walk.

Easing into a run-walk routine helps you to build strength and allows your body to adjust to the physical impact. As with any physical activity, include a slow warm-up and a deliberate cool-down.

The main thing is balance. Don’t try to do too much too quickly. And whatever you choose, have fun!

Eve Glazier, MD, MBA, and Elizabeth Ko, MD, are internal medicine specialists at UCLA Health.


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