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Completing the Boston Marathon is an achievement in speed and endurance. A sprint across the finish line represents months, if not years, of diligent training.

Maybe you want to join these athletes one day, or maybe you just want to get off the couch and complete the 5K run. The good news is that almost anyone who is physically healthy can run, says Roger Fielding, associate director of the USDA Jane Mayer Center for Human Nutrition Research on Aging at Tufts and leader and chief scientist for the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology, and Sarcopenia (NEPS) team. .

It offers a range of health benefits as well.

“Running is one of several types of activities that use a lot of the large muscle groups in our bodies. It can be performed at an intensity that revitalizes our cardiovascular system. It raises our heart rates and allows the cardiovascular system to do its job: pumping a lot of blood to the Our working muscles,” says Fielding, who has completed some half marathons himself.

When you start running a marathon, your muscles have to adapt and maximize their internal storage of carbohydrates, known as muscle glycogen. As the marathon progresses, these stocks become depleted, leading to exhaustion or exhaustion. Boston’s many cliff sections also cause prolongation or eccentric contractions, which can lead to muscle damage and soreness that requires days or weeks of recovery.

In addition to maintaining muscle, cardiovascular fitness when running is key: To complete a marathon, you need to be able to run at 50 to 70 percent of your maximum aerobic capacity for up to three to five hours. Also known as VO2max, maximum aerobic capacity is the “gold standard” for cardiorespiratory fitness, says Fielding. Usually measured on a treadmill, this is the maximum amount of oxygen a person can consume per minute during intense exercise. This primarily reflects how well your heart and blood vessels are able to pump and deliver oxygen, and how effectively your working muscles are extracting that oxygen. Values ​​vary by gender, age, weight, genes, and fitness level.

This will not happen overnight. It is important to build gradually to avoid injury. Here’s how to get started at any age.

Twenties and Thirties: Cardio fitness is at its peak now (and it’s dropping 1 percent each year—another insult to aging!), so now’s the time to put your shoes on. But even young adults should start with lower-intensity, shorter runs, urges Fielding.

“As your body adapts, you can increase the duration or distance you run, and start thinking about increasing the intensity or speed,” he says.

Fielding says that young runners who are hyperactive often think they can go through injuries, such as shin splints or knee or hip pain, which exacerbate their arthritis.

Durations and distances are very individual, but no matter what: “The one thing I always tell people is to make sure you don’t overtrain and do nothing to get injured,” he warns.

Forties and fifties: Now, it may take a little longer to build muscle and recover from each run.

Fielding says that all middle-aged people, whether runners or not, should strive for 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week. Training for a marathon requires more activity, depending on your basic fitness, but this is a good place to start.

And it encourages (literally): Small amounts of exercise are important, even if they don’t prepare you for a full marathon.

“Even if you go from being sedentary to walking 15 or 20 minutes a day, these health benefits are really important,” he says.

If you have risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol, check with your doctor before training.

fifties and up: First, the good news: “You’re never too old to run a marathon, but you have to enter the race while in proper cardiovascular and endurance condition,” says Fielding.

At this point, it can take approximately six to 12 months of training to prepare for a grueling 26.2 miles. It’s important to combine training with plenty of recovery periods (which will vary for each individual), and check with a doctor to ensure cardiovascular fitness.

Older adults’ muscles are also susceptible to sarcopenia, an age-related syndrome in which muscle mass decreases.

With sarcopenia, “the actual size and cross-sectional area of ​​individual muscle cells and fibers decreases. In addition, there are well-described decreases in the maximum voluntary force that those muscles can generate,” he explains.

Sarcopenia can be prevented with a structured program of strength training. Protein supplementation can also promote gains in muscle mass when combined with exercise.

Last but not least: Hydration is key, whether you’re 25 or 75.

“As people exercise, they sweat and dissipate heat through our body’s sweating mechanisms. They lose body water. If you don’t adequately compensate for the loss of sweat by taking fluids, you can actually get into a very dangerous situation of either heat exhaustion or heat stroke,” he warns. .

According to the National Academy of Sciences, men need 15.5 cups of water per day, while women should aim for 11.5 cups. Fielding also recommends solutions that contain both liquids and carbohydrates, such as Pedialyte or Gatorade. They are quickly absorbed by the small intestine, which leads to rapid dehydration.

And even if you’re not ready to pound the pavement, maintaining muscle tone is an essential part of long-term health.

“It may improve your quality of life and increase what we think of as your period of health, the number of years you live disease-free or independently. Muscle strength is a really important component of maintaining a person’s independence as they age,” says Fielding.

Aerobic exercise – in any form – is also important for young people. Fielding says, “Gains in physical fitness and aerobic strength have multiple health benefits at most ages, including improved blood pressure…positive effects on mental ability, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and many types of cancer, improved sleep, improved glucose tolerance.

Best of all?

“These benefits happen even with modest amounts of training. You don’t have to train for a marathon”.

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