Elaine Doll-Dunn, Psy.D.

A fine Italian wine or Kool-Aid, do you treat them any differently? Not really. Maybe more respect for the wine, a more careful decanting, more diligent storage. The Kool-Aid keeps happily refrigerated in a plastic pitcher, ready to serve in the Wal-Mart tumblers; the wine resides at room temperature in its decorative rack, then is slowly swirled into the crystal wine glass.
So the same with maturing women. We do the same things, have the same expectations, and achieve the desired results, but the difference is in the manner in which we’re handled and appreciated.

As in fitness. There is no need to change our fitness regimen just because the calendar is moving faster than the stop watch. We can and should continue with our same program; running, lifting, eating right, hydrating…we just need to realize that although the results may look a little different, the end result is the same; a fit, fine, fun female body, ready to take on the world in more relaxed terms. So we’re a little slower….deal with it.

Not only am I an older runner, but I was older when I started! At this point in my life I feel like I was a youngster when I began this activity at age forty, but according to Complete Book of Women’s Running, “older” begins around 30. Enter the panacea….or close to it; running. Running can’t stop time, but it can sure soften the blows. In the typical sedentary woman, the fitness level declines over the decades, starting as early as age 30 with gradual decreasing aerobic capacity, muscle mass, bone density, metabolic rate, and immunity. Happily, several studies have shown that aerobic and weight-bearing exercise such as running does slow these and other natural effects of aging. In addition to physical benefits, studies also show that, as fit women age, they have better psychological health. In fact, women who engage in regular aerobic exercise programs, such as running, are less likely to suffer from:
• Cardiovascular disease
• High blood pressure
• Diabetes
• Breast cancer
• Stroke
• Symptoms of menopause
• Obesity
• Mood disturbances

And the good news isn’t limited to those who have been training since they were middle-age or younger; these benefits can be reaped at any age. Lynn Jaffee, program director of the Melpomene Institute in St Paul, Minnesota, which specializes in women’s health research, says that even if you have been sedentary throughout your life, you’ll enjoy positive effects from running, whether you start in your forties or in your seventies. (Look out Asics, here they come!)

This past weekend I was privileged to spend some time with Lorraine Moeller, a four-time Olympic marathoner who won the bronze medal in the 1992 Olympic Games. She now coaches and runs recreationally. “Women age at different rates,” she said, “and there is not a line or a point at which they must change their training.” So the training you were doing at 20 or 30 can be the same you follow at 40, 50, or 60…I plan to run 70 miles on my 70th birthday (I do have a while to train if you’re counting!); I just know that I need to take more time, more rest days, be more patient with myself, and be excited about wherever I finish in a race. To finish and feel good are the goals.

I now have 104 marathons under my belt and the following habits outlined in Runner’s World are a critical part of my regimen.

1. Always warm up. Just a quick walk, slow jog, about six minutes to break a sweat and get the muscles warmed up to prevent injury and get the heart rate up to a comfort zone.
2. Focus on recovery. It just takes more time to recover between long runs, speed workouts, or hill training. Give yourself a break, the muscle rebuilding during your rest day is what makes you strong, fast, and healthy.
3. Take easier ‘off’ days. If you’ve had a really strenuous run, don’t do a killer bike ride the next day and call it rest. Your body knows the difference. Pay attention to your body’s signals; a slow walk or even a nap is okay.
4. Always stretch after your runs. Counteracting the tightening effects of running becomes more important with age. Stretch gently, without bouncing, in order to avoid injury.
5. Do strength training to keep your muscles and bones strong. Both muscle and bone strength tend to diminish with age. But a strength-training program can slow down this natural process so that you can keep running and stay active in all your other endeavors.
6. Take a multivitamin and stay hydrated. As we age, our bodies do not absorb nutrients as efficiently as they once did. We also have an even higher need for calcium as we age. So drink plenty of water and watch your intake of diuretic drinks such as coffee and soda.
7. Never run in a worn-out pair of shoes. Replace your shoes about every 400 miles, and it’s a good idea to have two pair so you can rotate.
8. Switch from joint-jarring roads to softer trails. Trails, dirt roads, and grassy parks all cushion the blow to your legs, and asphalt is more forgiving than concrete.
9. Keep challenging yourself. As you age, the pace of your steady runs and speed work will eventually slow. That doesn’t mean that you can’t still challenge yourself. Continue to push your limits, in intensity and distance. Your hard training days can still be hard days; they just might not be as fast.
10. Run because you enjoy it. I don’t always enjoy running, but I enjoy having done it. Same diff.

As I mature and the library of running logs I have accrued reflect the years more accurately than the hair color, I run for other reasons. Sure, still for fitness, but I try different types of races; trails, triathlons, relays, and even longer distances…taken slowly the really are a “walk in the park”. I run not so much to lower my times, but cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight. I run for someone else. Either to raise money for a cause or just to dedicate it to a friend or relative for some specific reason…that really gives new meaning to ‘try’! Or, I run to see the world. No better way to get your geography lesson than to leave 26.2 miles of sweat on new terrain. My Asics and I have seen Russia, Germany, Panama, Italy, Canada, Africa, and 40 of our beautiful United States plus DC; up close and personal. So pick a place you want to see and plan a vacation around it, a great health investment at any age! And remember, guzzle Kool-Aid, savor wine.

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