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Tips for New Senior Runners

Updated on January 14, 2014

Getting in shape for a Run/Walk 5K

Just retired? You MUST exercise

I am a woman and I retired a year ago at the age of 64. I had been working in retail for the last 10 years of my employment - which is a whole other story in it's self about how I ended up working in it because I was NEVER suited to it. I was just sort of "stuck" in it during those latter years in the workforce. The only good thing I can say about working in most retail jobs is you do get plenty of exercise contrary to what most customers seem to assume. Most of the exercise is walking and you normally do it at a relatively brisk pace. For seniors over the age of 50 this is very good for the cardiovascular and circulatory systems.

Upon retirement it occurred to me very quickly that my senior body was "not" getting the exercise it had been used to for the last 9 years at a rate of at least 5 days per week. Common sense told me that since I live in a senior housing community which limits my ability to get out and work in a yard, that I needed to figure out some way or ways to incorporate exercise back into my day for my physical and mental health's sake.

I tried walking around the complex where I live but it has so many inclines and grades that I quickly lost interest in that. Not to mention people wanting me to stop and chat with them. Additionally, weather would often pose a big problem. Too cold or windy (sometimes both) in the winter and fall, rain in the spring and scorching sun in the summer. To add to all of that were bugs and a slight fear for my own safety when walking alone.

I needed a place that I could exercise at my leisure, pace and financial ability. I found a really nice gym here in my area that is open 24/7 that only charges $15.00 per month. I paid them a visit, was given a tour of their facility and signed up that very day. That was a year and 20 lbs (that I badly needed to lose) ago. A special NOTE TO SENIORS: I highly recommend that you only utilize these gyms and workout centers that stay open around the clock during staff hours for your own safety. I've never had or heard of any one having a bad experience after staff hours but my own common sense just tells me it is better to be there while the staff is present. At the gym I go to there are never less then 6 or 7 staff members there and for the most part the patrons are seniors because everyone younger is at work or school. It is always very very busy and loud in those places after 5:00 p.m. I like the atmosphere during later morning or very early afternoon much better. That also makes it nice going at those times because I can stop and shop on my way home if necessary while it is still daylight and feel safe.

When I first joined the gym I started out on the elliptical which is a very good piece of cardiovascular equipment. I stayed with that for about 4 months but decided I didn't enjoy it and quit completely. The elliptical is a piece of equipment that you either love or hate. I hate it. I had also been using the treadmill during my daily visits to the gym and worked up to a brisk pace very quickly. One nice thing about the treadmill, elliptical, air bikes etc. is you are able to hold on to handles each of those pieces of equipment has and check your heart rate to make sure you are staying in a proper range for your health and age. My heart is in good condition and therefore, for my age I can get my heart rate up to as high as 154. However, I rarely do. When I arrive and get on the treadmill I check my heart rate and it is usually around 98 give or take a number or two on one side or the other. While walking on the treadmill I often get it up to around 139.

As time has gone on a friend and I who is about 8 years my junior have decided to start entering some RUN/WALK 5K's. Our first being tomorrow and we are both excited and nervous. We both feel are physical capabilities we'll probably allow us to run 2/3rds of it and walk 1/3. We are both able to run a 13 to 14 minute mile and we both can walk as fast as we run so we know we will come across the finish line well within the hour time frame they want you to. We should finish in approximately 45 minutes or a little less. Not bad!

Now back to the treadmill. You have to be very careful when using equipment at these gyms and question the right trainers and even research or read blogs like this. One trainer in his mid twenties told me to raise the elevation higher and higher each day to help build up my calf muscles to prepare for this 5K. Well in NO time my calf muscles were hard as bricks and well defined when I flexed them but, they hurt something terrible. In addition to that my knees were hurting like they were arthritic. I questioned a young athlete friend of mine about that and he claimed it was just my age and the wear and tear on them and nothing I could do. Boy, I tell you men do NOT know a woman's body better then a woman does. I encountered quite by accident recently a woman trainer at my gym and she told me without knowing of my knee soreness that she had to stay off the treadmills because it was causing her knees a problem and it can do permanent damage. I immediately STOPPED using the treadmill. What I do now to prepare for a 5K is go downtown to the historic safe part of the town I live in and run 2 miles. Running on a treadmill and running outside regardless if it is on grass, asphalt or blacktop are completely different experiences and have a different affect on our bodies and joints. If you do attempt to use the treadmill and I do recommend you try them out continue using it if you do not experience any pain in your knees. If you use the elevation feature or any other features I HIGHLY recommend you do those very sparingly and see how it goes. The slightest pain that seems unusual is a sign you need to refrain from whatever feature you were using. I will resume using the treadmill in a few weeks but have elected for now to give my knees and calves a rest. When I do resume the usage of the equipment I will limit it to just flat walking no elevations, and rolling hills, etc.

If you decide you want to start preparing for a RUN/WALK 5K I highly recommend that you do an online search for a method of training that is especially good for new runners and senior runners called THE COUCH TO 5K approach. Essentially, what you do is run as far as you can until you become just too uncomfortable physically or with your breathing and then walk until you regain your resilience again. Once you've regained it start running again. Just run at a pace that is comfortable for you and don't spend all of your energy as soon as you start.

Some good advice I acquired recently when I encountered a man from South Africa that runs: Wear a ball cap or visor and pull it down toward your brow quite a ways and DON'T look ahead to far. It will mess with your mind and cause you to wear out faster. Just look downward about 10 to 15 feet in front of you. I personally do that and it really helps. I also will see a leaf 9 ft away or so and think just make it to that leaf. Next thing I know I'm there and looking ahead another 8 feet or so and see a pebble and think just make it to that pebble and that really helps my endurance. This gentleman taught me that it is ALL in your head and I am finding that he is correct. Running out of breath was a big problem for me but he explained to me to breath "with" my body just like I do when I walk naturally. To take a breath from way down in my stomach with my nose and let it out through my mouth. The lady trainer at the gym gave me a good piece of advice the other day. She said when exercise is hurting or causing discomfort is when you should be breathing OUT not IN. It truly works.

Let's TWIST AGAIN, like we did last summer

Other IMPORTANT benefits of Seniors exercising

Your first winter as a retired senior can be very scary. If you don't have a hobby or interest that keeps you active you need to get one for your physical and emotional health. When we don't exercise and it is gray and gloomy out or even if it is sunny out we prevent our seratonin level from raising and that is what keeps us from becoming depressed. It is important that you get your body moving to a good brisk pace for at least 30 minutes (no less) per day. If you can't join a gym or refuse to then get off that couch, out of that chair and turn on some music and dance. Do the twist, the electric slide, the charleston, the boogaloo but get moving or you will very quickly fall into a depression that will sneak up on you and you'll not even know it is happening. You can dance 30 minutes straight or you can do it in 10 minute intervals 3 times per day. The important thing is the 30 minutes per day. This is also good for your heart rate and circulation. Many seniors develop health issues when they retire or even before they retire because they refuse to assess exactly where there body is headed and why. As we grow older we start slowing down on our own because the activities that we once participated in seem too juvenile to us now. That is non-sense. You can still go bowl, play golf, and many other things. We bring on our own health problems most of the time because we stop moving our bodies and then they become stiff, circulatory, cardiovascular and joint problems start setting in. These things if caught in time and it's rarely too late can be reversed with exercise and diet. Diet which brings me to another issue. Let's face it, as children we could eat anything but we were ACTIVE and our bodies were muscle not fat and muscle burns fat which explains why most children are thin. The ones that are obese are that way because they are inactive - not because they are overeating but because they are NOT MOVING.

In order to speed up my weight lost I started using a few simple easy weight machines at the gym and the very day my muscles started building up I starting gaining weight. That is normal at first. However, that very same muscle will shortly afterwards start burning fat. Muscle burns fat 24/7 - even while you sleep. I wake up and I'm a pound lighter everyday. Currently, I am eating a totally organic diet with red meat only once a month. I eat lots of different colorful vegetables sautee'd and no carbs after lunch time. I limit my portions. I'm rarely hungry. If I am - I have a few rice crackers from Trader Joes and some of their wonderful humus. NO FAST FOOD, pizza is a treat now and so are desserts. Eat like a senior not a teenager, build muscle and exercise. Your health will improve. Your good health will be even better. You will slow down the aging process and be happier.

Eat like a SENIOR not a teenager and be colorful

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