Injury Prevention the Key to Starting a Mid-Life Sport
It’s a race against the clock. Quad Citians over 50 are finding that mid-life is the perfect opportunity to regain their fitness — no matter how you reach the starting line. Just ask marathoner Lori French, 53, Bettendorf, whose arthritic knee pain hasn’t slowed her down, even after 30 marathons.
“Running is a part of me and helps balance my busy life of raising a family,” says Lori. “It’s something I can do with a full-time teaching career, and it’s also great for my mental health. I tell everyone, especially women, that they can run too. You just need to be smart about it.”
Although Lori has been running since high school, she says a lot of her friends have taken up running, walking or other sports later in life – a trend national running statistics corroborate.
Women Runners on the Rise
According to Running USA, a non-profit organization that promotes the sport, the number of marathoners is setting new records every year as the total number of marathon finishers (including men and women) has almost doubled in the last 20 years — from over 6 million in 1990 to nearly 20 million runners in 2013.
Those like Lori (who is training for the Quad Cities Marathon) also signify the growing number of women runners now dominating events like the half marathon. Running USA reports women now make up more than half of the runners in 5K (58%), 10K (57%), and half-marathon (69%) events.
“Running is a great sport for women and a perfect choice for busy, working mothers who can get into shape, socialize, and relieve stress all at once,” says Dr. Jessica Ellis, Quad City sports medicine physician, ORA Orthopedics Sports Medicine Center of Excellence. Dr. Ellis has also come to enjoy the benefits of running later in her life, and she says those over 50 can start a running program, if they listen to their bodies to prevent injury.
Listen to Your Body
“Lori is a great example of how running or even walking can enhance your quality of life, at any age” says Dr. Ellis, who is also treating Lori for mild arthritic knee pain with cortisone shots (an MRI showed she was safe to run). “Lori is not unusual in that I find many runners, especially older runners, experience knee pain from arthritis and inflammation from tendons like the IT band, as their bodies begin to show signs of wear and tear near their joints.”
But Dr. Ellis says aches and pains don’t necessarily mean people shouldn’t run, only that they practice common sense when they feel pain.
“It used to be that if you had arthritis, you were probably told not to run, but evidence doesn’t support the data that running causes arthritis. You need to look at the whole picture. People who are advised to stop running can often lose their social outlet or gain weight, thus defeating the whole purpose of getting fit in the first place,” she adds.
Walking a Good Alternative
If running doesn’t appeal to you, Dr. Ellis offers walking as a beneficial alternative. “You can get fit walking, but it just takes more time. If you walk at a moderate pace (which means you can hold a conversation) for 30 minutes 5 times a week, you get 80% of health benefits of exercise. Anyone can do this. It’s the other 20% you work for.”
4 Tips to Get Started Walking or Running
Dr. Ellis offers the following advice for new walkers or runners at any age:
1. Start with a realistic plan
Find a couch-to-5K program and begin to increase your distance over time. No one should be running a ½ marathon in the first year or you risk injury.
2. Strength train to build your core and strengthen your hips
Lori French, who is a member of the Scott County YMCA, lifts weights, uses the elliptical and bikes on her off-days to stay strong for running. Playing the same sport can lead to overuse injuries, so mix it up.
3. Know the difference between soreness and pain
Dr. Ellis says muscle soreness will go away. However if you feel joint, bone or foot pain, back off the activity or call your physician. Don’t “exercise through the pain.”
4. See your physician first
Before you start any exercise program, see your doctor, especially if you are over 50 or have risk factors for heart attacks, heart disease, or stroke.