So you’re a guy over 40 who wants to use running to lose weight and get back in shape? You’re certainly not alone. The great thing about running is that it has a slew of benefits— calorie burn included. Not only has picking up the pace been shown to boost aerobic fitness and cognitive flexibility, it can also lower your risk for diabetes —among other perks.
The tough part? Well, you’ve gotta get moving to make this work. Not only that, but you need to be a little strategic about how you do so. Since shedding pounds is your ultimate goal, you’re going to have to keep some things in mind when it comes to implementing running into your regular routine. That’s where our top experts come in to give you the helpful tips you need to stave off injury while watching the number on the scale go down. Here’s everything you need to know about running and weight loss over 40.
How many days per week should you be running to lose weight if you’re over 40?
As one would imagine, this answer can vary based on a lot of different aspects, including weight, injury history, and geographic location (especially in mid-summer or winter, when temperature can be a limiting factor for safe exercise). Make sure to consult with a physician before taking on any new exercise program.
“Somebody could run seven days a week if they wanted to,” says Leslie Bonci, R.D., a sports dietician for the Kansas City Chiefs. “Although, running is hardly a strengthening exercise, so I’d probably be more prone to recommend four days per week, combined with two or three of strength work.”
What else should over-40 men keep in mind when it comes to running for weight loss versus fitness?
There are plenty of different types of running that a person can add into their weekly schedule. A great way for someone to get into running for weight loss is with intervals, says John Honerkamp, a New York-based run coach. Interval training will help you build strong muscles and can even be more enjoyable, according to a 2014 study in the journal PLoS One.
“This will help you avoid getting bored, and it’s a helpful way to avoid injury if you’re just getting into the swing of things,” he says. Honerkamp says that a great example workout to get your heart rate up is a set of 400-meter repeats (for running newbies, that’s equivalent to one lap around the track). Push for one 400, rest up and leisurely walk for 60 to 90 seconds, then repeat six to 10 times. “You want to avoid mindlessly going out there, and making sure that there is an intention behind what you’re doing.”
What are some red flags men over 40 may want to keep in mind when running for weight loss?
To actually drop weight, you’re going to have to think holistically, says Bonci. “If you’ve been sedentary and then you start to become more physically active, you’ll get hungrier,” she adds. “If you lean into the mentality ‘I’m running and I burned a lot of calories so therefore I can eat whatever I want,’ then you’re going to run into some issues on your weight loss journey.”
While post-sweat donuts may be mega tempting, Bonci recommends a good mix of carbohydrates and proteins that will give your muscles the post-workout nutrition and replenishment they really need.
Bonci also stresses the importance of hydration. “If somebody is going to be running more, they’re going to be sweating more. So, they’ll need to be doing an optimal job with hydration—that is critically important.”
Naturally the question arises: What is “optimal” hydration for me? A solid tactic: Weigh yourself pre- and post-exercise on a day that you’re working out. For every pound of weight you lose, you’ll need to drink 20 to 24 ounces (2 1/2 to 3 cups) of fluid to restore balance.
How can men over 40 expect their bodies to change when they take up running to lose weight?
If you were an athlete in your high school or college glory days, it’s important to accept that it’s very unlikely you’ll be performing like you did back in your peak. For Honerkamp, a father over 40 himself, he now reframes his goals to meet himself where he’s at. “I think ‘OK, I want to run my fastest mile as a 40-year-old,’ or ‘This is my fastest 5K as a dad.’ It’s important to remove the judgement so that you can truly appreciate your accomplishments for what they are.”
Also to keep in mind: Typically, strength and muscle mass declines with age. According to a report from the American College of Sports Medicine, muscle mass diminishes roughly 10 percent by 50 and then 15 percent per decade through your 60s and 70s. This decrease can contribute to everything from a decrease in VO2 max to changes in overall running form.
One 2016 study published in the journal Medical & Science in Sports & Exercise found that older runners take shorter strides than their younger counterparts, largely because of weaker push-off from the calf and ankle muscles.
How should men over 40 plan recovery into their running routine to help stave off injury?
Strength training for runners is critical, as it can help better your overall running economy, neuromuscular function, and prevent injury. Honerkamp recommends incorporating strength work at least two days per week. “This can be as simple as 10 to 15 minutes at the end of a run,” he says. “You don’t need an hour powerlifting session or loads of equipment to get big benefits.”
Focus on the muscle groups that support your stride, including your posterior chain (the backside of your body) as well as your core.
What should I do if I hit a weight loss plateau while running to get in shape?
Plateaus—or when you seem to hit a stopping point on your weight loss journey and the scale isn’t budging—are a frequent-but-hated part of the process, says Bonci. When they happen, she recommends doing a check-in with yourself. “Sometimes, we don’t even realize that we’re sabotaging ourselves. So, go ahead and check in. Ask yourself: ‘what are my portions like? Am I drinking more now than I was before? Am I fueling smart?’ Things like that can be easy to slip up on.”
If you do this pulse check and find that things still don’t have an explanation, don’t freak out. Honerkamp recommends making time for intervals during your weekly workouts. “It’s easy to get into the groove of just doing the same thing all the time, but if you’re constantly training too hard or too easy, your routine will become stagnant and plateaus could happen. So, try mixing things up.”
Any essential running gear that men over 40 specifically should invest in to help with their weight loss goals?
There are a lot of helpful items to have in your runners’ toolbox, but both of our experts agree that the most useful thing for a new runner is the right pair of sneakers. The right pick can help you run for longer and injury-free. The wrong one? Say hello to cramping and pain. Make sure that you’re choosing a pair of shoes that are meant for running, rather than something like CrossFit or bootcamp shoes.
“Go to a running specialty shop where you can get fit for the right shoe,” suggests Bonci. “Preferably, they’ll put you up on a treadmill, check out your gait, and see you in different styles.” The goal: Find a shoe that is going to help—not hinder—your progress.
What would you suggest someone do with their motivation for running is beginning to fade?
Start with actually diversifying your running routine. If you happen to live near a trail or track, incorporate efforts in these spaces for a sweet change of scenery. If you’re looking for something more extrinsic, Honerkamp recommends linking up with a running group. One 2017 study from the American Osteopathic Association found that having a training partner can reduce stress while enhancing overall well-being and improving physical fitness.
“It’s fun to share the experience with others, and it’s also a great way to meet people and make it more of a thing you want to do instead of something you feel like you have to do.”
How fast should you expect to make progress with your mileage/pacing?
When you’re working on establishing a habit like running for weight loss, Honerkamp recommends sticking to your plan for at least three or four weeks without judgement. “At this point, things may start to feel a little easier for you. It takes a minute to get here. Of course, everyone is different, but the more you run, the more you may surprise yourself with those moments where things feel shockingly easier than they used to.”
What’s the best recovery gear that men over 40 can invest in to help them avoid pain and run injury-free?
You don’t need to spend an arm and a leg to get gear that can help you run smarter. Bonci recommends having a foam roller around that you can use before and after your workouts (along with a mid-weekend Netflix binge). Also, fill up water bottles to keep in your fridge, and use them to roll out after a tough effort.
While options like percussive therapy guns (see Hypervolt, Theragun) and Normatec boots have been shown to help with inflammation and recovery, however, they aren’t necessarily a must-have item for beginners.
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