If you’re a woman runner over the age of 40, have you noticed some changes in your running recently? These changes could include
- Decreased speed
- More frequent injuries
- A recent fall
- Increased fatigue
As highlighted in my recent article about menopause, though these changes seem to be new, your current running issues are actually to be expected. During menopause, your body goes through hormonal changes (particularly, a drop in estrogen), causing musculoskeletal changes. These changes can lead to issues that affect your running.
Here are some things you can do to mitigate those issues and better deal with your bodily changes as they arise:
When injured, you can’t rush Mother Nature as your healing time is slower. All improvements in form, speed, endurance, and strength will take longer than when you were younger. And that’s okay!
There is an old adage that says, “If you want to improve how to do something, then you need to practice doing that activity the most.” This is true for running; however, running is a repetitive activity of pounding two-and-a-half times your body weight with each step. If you’re out for a five-mile run (or longer), that’s a lot of steps and body weight to carry around.
To avoid injury, add in at least two days of cross-training, such as on the elliptical, biking, swimming, aqua jogging, or yoga. This will give your joints and soft tissue a much-needed break from the constant pounding.
Focus on Balance, Mobility, and Strength
Runners need a supplemental exercise program tailored to building balance, mobility, and strength in order to be fast, efficient, and injury-free.
- Balance: Runners need great balance, as running is a series of one-legged hops.
- Mobility: Runners need to have enough mobility in their joints—spine, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles, and big toes—in order to absorb each step and be as efficient as possible.
- Strength: Runners need strength in order to create enough force to propel their body through the air at 2.5x their body weight.
Even though I am a physical therapist, I can’t treat myself; so, through my multiple injuries, I saw another PT who provided me with the specific exercises I needed to build balance, mobility, and strength. Sprinkle these focused exercises throughout your day for maximum benefits.
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Your core stabilizes your trunk and pelvis as you are running, and if your core is not doing its job, injuries will happen. A common issue I see in women is a diastasis, a separation of the six-pack muscle, in the rectus abdominis. This is often caused by pregnancy. I can’t tell you how many women I see who still have a diastasis years after giving birth.
To determine if you have a diastasis, see a PT who will also help you safely strengthen your core. Next, do core exercises at least twice a week. When you’re ready, make sure some of your exercises are done while standing.
Acceptance of your current self is key; don’t compare your current abilities to your younger self or to others.
Be Open-Minded to a New Training Schedule
It might be time to try something new in your training regimen. Do a walk/run program, don’t run two days in a row, decrease your total running days each week, and always make sure to rest for at least one or two days every week.
Be Mindful while running or walking, and take in your surroundings to prevent falls. Keep your form and fatigue level in check too; this prevents falls and other injuries.
Improve Form Efficiency
If you’re not sure if your running form is supportive, consider getting your running analyzed by professionals.
Make Sure the Shoe Fits
If your running shoes don’t fit right, this can cause a host of problems. Have a professional evaluate your feet to be sure you are wearing the best shoes for you and in the correct size. There are even tests you can do to help you select the best shoe for you.
Improve Body Awareness
At any age, it’s a must that you listen to your body. Ask yourself each day if your body is ready to run today or not, and listen to what it’s saying.
With all of these tips in mind, you’ll be able to ease into a new stage of exercise to correspond with the changes going on in your body. Consider coming in for a wellness check at the onset of menopause to determine what you specifically need to work on to prevent injury, run faster, and exercise more efficiently.