For most of my adult life I have kept in the habit of regular exercise. For many years this took the form of jogging and for a time, when I worked close to a public pool, I would swim around a mile almost every day. However, after I took part in the Great South Run in 2016 my rest and recover time extended into a few years.
In around 2015 I was gazing out of the window, watching people jogging by, and realised I had lapsed and had become rather sedentary. I instantly decided that I would change that and so I Googled something like “getting fit over 50” and the most eye-catching result was “Couch to 5K“.
Couch to 5K
The Couch to 5K programme is a brilliant way to get back to jogging or running or to start from scratch. It is a progressive course which starts very slowly (oh boy was I thankful for that) and builds over a nine week period until you are running 30 minutes each session.
I must admit that when I first started I mentally poo-pooed the idea of starting with a five minute brisk walk followed by repetitions of one minute running and one and a half minutes walking – it sounded far too easy. About thirty seconds into my first one minute run and I realised that this program had actually been designed by someone who knew what they were doing and I was very grateful for those walking intervals.
The program is progressive and builds in rest days. I strongly recommend that you stick with the program and take your rest days.
The Couch to 5K program has an app that you can download from Google Play or iTunes. Alternatively you can download individual weekly sessions as podcasts from iTunes. You don’t have to use them, of course, but if, like my wife, you ae happy having the world blocked out while jogging you get the timings given to you as you go. If you’re like me and like the sounds of nature when you are out and about (and don’t want to be hit by a car you didn’t hear coming) you can just use a stop watch or one with a second hand.
Before you start exercising
Speak with your doctor
If you are in any doubt whatsoever you should always consult your GP before you begin any new exercise regime. Tell her or him what you are intending to do and make sure he or she is happy that you will do yourself no harm. Unless you have some underlying medical condition that means that certain types of exercise might endanger your health it’s pretty sure your GP will support your decision and encourage you in your quest for better health and fitness.
The benefits of running or jogging are many and, for me, totally amazing. But one common misconception is that you can be fit and fat at the same time. I was labouring under this impression for quite some time until it wa explained to me that the excess fat you accumulate in your body tends to surround your major organs as visceral fat. This makes your vital organs susceptible to inflammation, can have a detrimental effect on your blood pressure and inhibit insulin sensitivity as well as being implicated in heart diseases and vulnerability to strokes.
If you are overweight regular exercise is a great way of helping reduce your fat and helping you succeed in raising your general levels of health and well-being (exercising is also incredibly good for your mental health). But you will almost certainly need to pay attention to your diet too and your GP can help guide you in this as well.
Invest in some decent footwear
Choosing the right shoes in which to exercise will pay dividends in keeping your feet in good condition and helping protect your skeletal frame from the rigours of jogging, running or other high-impact activity. Even low-impact exercise, such as cycling, will have some overhead on your body and the shoes you wear will impact on your performance and the benefit you derive. You can find a good explanation by clicking on this article: What are the benefits of wearing cycling shoes
For jogging or running you need to find out what type of foot you have – whether your foot is neutral or if you over-pronate or under-pronate. There are many good websites to help you find out but the wet foot test is very simple. Once you understand what your foot does you need to find a good sports equipment shop with staff that understand the shoes they are selling and the feet they are most suited to.
Unfortunately, most of the large “sports shoe” shops are catering almost entirely for the fashion market and their staff generally know nothng about the sports performance of the shoes they are selling – it’s all about the look and the name (and who else is wearing them). So you need to find one of the smaller, specialist sports stores who are aiming at a more serious sports market. In some areas these are hard to find and it’s worth travelling some distance to find the right one.
You can, of course, buy online but my experience of this is very mixed. Sizes vary a great deal, even within one brand, and no amount of market research – and I have done a lot – will find the shoe that perfectly matches your foot, in terms of size, comfort and what you are intending to do with it.
You will also need to factor in how many miles a week you will be doing and whether you will be running on the road or grass/dirt trails, as the level of grip you need and the expected life of the soles will also affect your choice.
Consider what kind of exercise is right for you
I love to be outside and so jogging and walking are perfect for me. I am also conscious that the weight-bearing nature of these activities are helpful in keeping my osteoporosis at bay. As my specialist told me, every jolt with each step helps strengthen the spine and encourage new growth. However, if you have osteoporosis that is in a more advanced stage, or if you have bad knee or ankle problems it might be better for you to choose something more gentle and your specialist, GP or physiotherapist will be able to advise.
For some being in the warmth and shelter of the gym works best and they love the rhythm of those machines and accompanying TVs. You can always get expert advice in a well-equipped gym these days and they will give you a quick (but not in depth) health check before allowing you to use the equipment. They will also be able to suggest which apparatus will best suit your needs and might even outline a program for you to follow.
Swimming is great all-round exercise and has amazing health benefits in terms of keeping your heart and lungs healthy, toning muscles and building endurance and strength. But if you need weight-bearing exercise swimming will not help and you will either need to supplement it with other activities or do something else instead.
I am not going to list all the possible exercise regimes here but your local health centre will be able to point you in the right direction. Most towns have leisure centres with a wide variety of classes and activities available for all levels and abilities and they usually have someone who will happily talk them through with you (in the hope you will sign up for membership).
Couch25K in conclusion
The Couch to 5K program is highly recommended for getting you back to regular exercise. Like any regime that is to have lasting benefit it must be sustainable in the longer term. So work out when you are going to be able to regularly go out and have a jog. Write down your purpose in doing this and then make a plan. Make your jogging part of your routine – make a habit of it. You will find it hard at first but once you are into your stride you will enjoy the many benefits it brings. You will feel better physically and mentally, you will look better and your self-esteem will rise as a result.