The marathon has always been a physical feat that not many people attempt due to the extreme distance and the training required to cross the finish line. The marathon is a foot race that measures 26.2 miles, and less than half a percent of Americans have run a marathon — the statistics are even lower for those who finished the marathon they started! If you are not a runner and think that you are too old to get started because you are a baby boomer or part of the silent generation, think again! Barbara Brady is 73 years young, has completed more than 80 marathons, and didn’t begin running until she was 45. Even more impressive is Margaret Davis, who didn’t begin her running career until well into her 70s and completed her first marathon at age 79.

These amazing feats of human physical ability are not only impressive, but more importantly, they are a testament to the fact that being a “senior” does not mean that your fitness has to slow down or, worse yet, stop. For some reason, when people think about senior fitness, they often equate it with a challenge, such as a marathon. However, staying or becoming fit in your golden years is much easier and much more important than people care to discuss. So, how does senior fitness compare to marathon running? Unless you are over 50 and training for your first marathon, the two are really not that related. However, here are a few ways they compare.

Age and Distance Are Just Numbers

Harriet Thompson completed her 15th marathon at age 91, and Buster Martin completed a marathon at age 101. John Keston, aged 83, began running at age 55, when he was diagnosed with hypertension. He was told that he had two treatment options, either exercise or be put on lifelong medications. Instead of surrendering to a life of doctor’s appointments, pills, and constant monitoring, he hit the pavement and began running. Not only did the improved fitness “cure” his hypertension, it kept him young! At age 69, he recorded his personal best marathon. And, while he has slowed down and the weekly training miles he completes has decreased, he is still keeping chronic diseases at bay by running. He currently holds the world records for the age group 80 to 84 in the half marathon and indoor mile. The biggest takeaway from Keston’s example is that age and distance are just arbitrary numbers and are by no means a form of limitation.

Fitness Tips for Seniors

While the act of running does not change as you age, recovery times and other considerations do. Here are some tips for those who start or continue to run after their 50th birthday.

Take Time to Recover

John Keston was running 70 training miles a week in his 60s, which has reduced to an average in the 40-mile range in his 80s. Jeff Galloway, 67-year-old Olympian and running coach, recommends no more than two strenuous, long-distance runs weekly for those over 70, but suggests that daily runs are still great. As we age, recovery time takes a little longer, which means you need to take that additional recovery time to avoid injury, but runs should be consistent and regular to maintain fitness.

Cross Train

If a marathon is not in your fitness goal plans, great! Whatever it is that you do, cross training is important, and even more so as you age. Whether walking, running, or cycling is your thing, it is a good idea to spend a few days a week lifting weights or engaging in an activity such as yoga or swimming. Weight lifting helps build muscle that is important to supporting joints, strengthening bones, and helping with stamina. Yoga and swimming are low impact activities that help rest your joints while still offering an excellent cardiorespiratory and muscular workout.

Fuel Your Efforts

At any age, the importance of nutrition and fueling your physical efforts through a healthy diet cannot be underestimated! Protein helps to support and build muscles and speeds recovery time. A healthy diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and healthy grains. Avoid saturated fat, processed sugar, and salt as much as possible. Drink plenty of water and low-fat milk.

Shake Up Your Routine

In addition to cross training, it is always a good idea to mix up your training. For instance, if you are a runner, spend one training run working on speed and the next as a long-distance slower run. You can run on trails, treadmills, the road, and hills to mix up what muscles you use. If you enjoy walking, walking on different surfaces helps to prevent injury and keeps it interesting. If you like lifting, alternate body groups and light and heavy lifting.

Ease Into It

While age and distance truly are just numbers, it is important to remember that if you were athletic or worked out regularly when you were younger, you are no longer in your 30s and should ease into your training or fitness plan. Give yourself time to start where you currently are and work up to where you want to be. Don’t limit yourself, but remember that everyone who is new to fitness, regardless of age, must ease into a new routine to successfully avoid injury.

Studies have suggested that you can expect to add two hours to your life for every hour spent exercising. It is never too late to begin your fitness journey. Prescribe yourself a fitness plan to extend your life and make that life a little easier to live! If you are over the age of 50 and looking for a realistic lifestyle change, seek the coaching of Donald Thomsen. As a 79-year-old fitness enthusiast, Don will help guide you with his program, Lifestyle Change After 50. You’ll get a real-life training partner who will guide you through a realistic program and help you modify it to fit your individual needs. Start your journey and contact Donald Thomsen today!