Don’t let your size or age put you off taking up running. Age is just a number and body shape doesn’t need to be a barrier, says Christina Neal, Editor of Outdoor Fitness magazine and author of the book, Run Yourself Fit. 

Today is Global Running Day, and when I reflect back on the number of people I knew who were running when I first took it up in 1995, it makes me realise just how much running has increased in popularity. There used to be a perception that you had to be thin and young to run. I’m glad to see more and more people of all ages and shapes taking up running – including myself – I’m not thin or super fit but I can still take part in races and achieve goals. However, I still think we have a way to go before it’s widely believed that running is for everyone. Yet I honestly believe that, provided you’re relatively healthy and don’t have any mobility issues, you should be able to take up running and improve at it fairly quickly. I still talk to many people who run regularly and tell me they’re ‘just not a runner’. Even marathon runners tell me the same thing. Yet you don’t have to be young, thin or super fit to start running.

If you look at the start line of any marathon, half marathon or 10K race you will see that there are all shapes and sizes. Large, thin, old and young – it seems there’s no barrier to running.

If you’re overweight, you may find that some health professionals may try to discourage you from doing it, but if you have a clean bill of health, I would give it a try anyway as it’s such a great way to burn calories. Running can typically burn around 10 to 15 calories per minute depending on your age, weight, fitness level and how hard you work.

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 the volume gradually).

When you run, 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.

Protect your joints
However, it’s important to get the right shoes. 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. Visit a specialist running store rather than a general sports shop and make sure you get fitted with a proper pair of running shoes to suit your gait (how you move) and your feet.

There is lots of talk about running being bad for your joints, but provided you don’t overdo it, it can be beneficial for you. 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.

If we don’t impact or load our bones, they can become weaker. 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 cooldown 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.

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.

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 a healthy range.

So get the right shoes, start at a comfortable pace and do it gradually. Try shorter runs to start with. Rest when you need to and don’t forget to stretch at the end each run to prevent muscle stiffness.