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Experts state that running regularly can help to increase your life expectancy and that even jogging and short runs are beneficial. Additionally, running can reduce the risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases, such as bowel cancer and type 2 diabetes.

This month ISEH consultant in Sports and Exercise Medicine Dr Courtney Kipps spoke to Women’s Running Magazine about safe ways to take up running when you're overweight or facing other health issues such as high cholesterol or blood pressure and whether you can run with arthritis.

Q. What advice do you have for middle-aged women taking up running because they have high cholesterol or high blood pressure? Is it safe for them to run? Is it safe for a woman who has been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes to run?  

CK. Yes, it is safe for middle-aged women with high cholesterol, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes to take up running.  In fact, it would be advantageous to do so, as exercise helps to combat both high cholesterol and high blood pressure. 

Q. Is it safe for a woman who has asthma to run?

CK. Yes, it is safe for a woman with asthma to run but it’s important to carry a reliever inhaler.

Q. What advice do you have for middle-aged women taking up running who are overweight? Can they still run safely?

CK. Yes, taking up running is a great thing to do if you’re overweight and you’ll soon see the benefits as it will help you lose weight. But build up slowly – don’t try to go too far and too fast too soon, as you won’t enjoy it as much, you’ll risk injury and may well lose interest.

Q. What advice do you have for middle-aged women taking up running who are worried they might be putting their knees at risk of problems in later life and making it worse?

CK. You should not be discouraged from taking up running, provided you build-up to slowly and don’t try too much too soon. Gradually increase the intensity of your runs to work out what is an acceptable level of exercise that doesn't cause any pain or discomfort. Everybody is different so it’s important to use symptoms like aches or pains as a guide.

The evidence shows that risk of Osteoarthritis is no more in runners than sedentary individuals, provided they have no other previous injuries. The key is to build up slowly and not overexert too soon. It also helps to do some strengthening exercises for the back, hips, and core to optimise control and develop technique for reducing the chance of developing other injuries. For more advice on these techniques you should seek professional advice or come to one of our relevant medical events at ISEH to speak to a specialist – a list of our forthcoming events is available at here.

Q. What advice do you have for middle-aged women taking up running who have high blood pressure or high cholesterol who want to do it but are worried it might bring on a heart attack? Could you explain why it improves heart health and try to reassure them?

CK. The risk of myocardial infarction (MI), commonly known as a heart attack, is low, even for people with high blood pressure or high cholesterol. The risk-benefit ratio suggests that people will considerably reduce their long-term risk of MI associated with high blood pressure or high cholesterol by exercising regularly. The heart is a muscle and exercise encourages improved blood flow to muscles through new vessel formation and the reduction of resistance to blood flow in arteries (therefore improving blood flow as well). Exercise also enables muscles to use glucose in blood more effectively, reducing the risk of diabetes.

Q. What advice do you have for middle-aged women taking up running who have no health issues but have family links to heart disease and arthritis from a genetic viewpoint, who are worried that running might make it worse?

CK. Running and exercise is a positive step to take and I absolutely encourage people considering running to get involved, perhaps by joining a local running club or simply running on your own at home. Exercise will reduce risk, not increase it.

Q. Do you have any other advice or tips for middle-aged women scared to take up running because they are fearful it might be too much of a strain on their body? What can they do to make it as comfortable as possible?

CK. It can be encouraging to take a moment to look at events like the London marathon. What most people will see is people who are older, heavier and slower than them achieving incredible feats. The key is to build up slowly. A good pair of running shoes that suit your foot type will reduce the risk of injury. It’s good to start each run with a gentle warm-up of at least five minutes. When you first start out, it can be helpful to try alternating between running and walking during your session.

Q . Is it generally OK for an unfit woman to take up running if she starts gradually? If so, any tips?

CK. It is absolutely OK – going further, I strongly encourage it! Make a commitment. Plan your runs. Take a friend. Aim for small goals. Get out the door.