Is There a Right Age to Start Running?
Running is a versatile sport — which means that people take it up for a variety of reasons. You could start running either to improve your health, compete in a race, raise money for a charity, lose weight, or for a select few, to become a professional runner. Now, you might be wondering about the right age to start running — if there is such a thing as too early or too late — and how it affects your body differently. Let’s find out.
Most, though not all, professional distance runners start running very young, usually even before they turn 10. And if they haven’t been a long-time runner, they’d have likely participated in other endurance sports at a higher level from an early age. Most elite runners have years of competitive running under their belts before “going pro”.
It is important to note that speed and endurance are largely inversely related. As people age, their speed diminishes, but their endurance does not. However, one’s absolute aerobic capacity does decrease with the years. So, while there is no strict or right age where an individual must start running in order to become a professional, generally speaking, the latest age would be between the late 20s and early 30s.
When is it a good time to start running?
From a health perspective, there is never a wrong time. Running is a series of small one-legged jumps that most people can do. Many myths, such as running being hard on the knees, have been proven to be just that — myths. So, at the end of the day, there is no age that is not appropriate to start running.
Running is often introduced in middle school (grades 5 to 8) as part of physical fitness classes. When starting out at a young age, the focus should be on fun and possibly integrating running with other sports.
From one’s late teens to the thirties, the focus is often on competition and using fitness as a means to lose weight and get in shape. In one’s late thirties and beyond, the focus is often on overall health, weight loss, and stress reduction.
Also read: Which Time of the Day is Best for Running?
Are there any prerequisites?
Before undertaking any sort of physical fitness routine, regardless of the modality, it is a good idea to get a medical clearance from a professional. You may want to go to a sports cardiologist or any specialized sports clinic. Tests such as blood work and electrocardiography (ECG) are often performed to ensure that an individual has no underlying heart or other issues.
A medical screening would help to know if the potential runner has any contraindications (for instance, doesn’t have a heart rate above 140), which can be discussed before beginning an exercise program. Also, it helps in identifying any underlying conditions that may only occur during cardiovascular activity.
Cardiovascular fitness precedes musculoskeletal readiness
What this means is that one’s cardiovascular system develops at a faster rate than one’s bones, muscles, and connective tissue (i.e., tendons and ligaments). Just because a runner can handle a particular intensity and/or distance from a cardiovascular standpoint, doesn’t guarantee that their connective tissue, bones, and muscles can do the same. This is why many new runners are susceptible to issues such as tendinosis (or tendonitis), shin splints, and muscle strains.
Therefore, a running program for a beginner should focus on slow progression with adequate rest days. If someone is out of shape, a run/walk program is often suggested. A beginner runner should work with a coach on a customized program, which will help monitor their progress.
Running for beginners calls for personalized coaching, dedication, and persistence. And some love for the sport. So, when’s the right time to start running? Right now!