Last week in class, we asked everyone when was the last time they sprinted – ran all out for a short distance. There were lots of nervous giggles and admissions that for most it had been decades.
After that Younger Games, they would have a different answer if asked the same question because they sprinted. Sure, older persons will not sprint with the power, grace, and speed of Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix in the picture below, but that is not the goal. Most will not run as fast as this 60-year-old woman.
Who cares? What older people gain from sprinting is more important than any fame and glory.
Running as fast as you can for a short distance has numerous health benefits:
- You develop stability, mobility, and balance in your feet, all crucial to your long term ability to walk. Remember a fast gait (walking) speed is associated both with living independently and longevity. Sprinting makes for a fast gait.
- Sprinting releases growth hormones that preserve and strengthen muscles (especially the fast twitch fibers), thus slowing muscle losses (sarcopenia) due to aging.
- There are huge cardiovascular benefits. The deep breathing promotes elasticity in the lungs and blood vessels. Cardiac muscle becomes stronger and more efficient.
- Sprinting brings metabolic benefits – like lower blood pressure, improved blood sugar control, fat burning – in a fraction of the time it takes jogging or cycling. It’s not a coincidence that the most shapely, tapered, and muscled bodies in a track meet belong to the sprinters.
If you haven’t sprinted in years, you must first get re-conditioned to do it. Don’t just take off running because you’ll be too sore the next day and risk injury. Go slowly, over weeks. Your body needs to adapt. (Note: If you have heart issues, get your provider’s ok to try sprinting.)
To re-learn sprinting, go somewhere with a level surface. Do a good warm up. Walk/jog quickly for a short distance – 10 to 20 yards – really concentrating on rolling off the heels up onto the toes for a strong push-off. Lift your knees high. Reach out further and further with the leading foot, steadily lengthening the stride as you gradually pick up the pace. Go fast enough you get a little winded, then pause for however long you need to catch your breath. Do this 5 times, then 6 the next time, building up to 10. You never need to go further than 30-40 yards or as hard as you can, unless you want to. And a sprint routine once a week is plenty.
Don’t worry about your actual time over a certain distance. Just run hard. Like we say in class, imagine yourself crossing the street and your see there’s a garbage truck bearing down on you being driven by a kid texting on his cell phone.
After a few weeks, you’ll find you feel stronger and more competent and energetic in day-to-day physical activities.
Beyond all the measurable benefits, sprinting is just plain fun. In some primal way, our bodies love it.