It may not be as trendy as Pilates or power yoga, but running is still a great fat-burning, stress-reducing aerobic workout. Experts have long linked many health benefits to running. It helps increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol; helps with weight loss; builds strong bones; improves balance and coordination; lowers your risk for heart disease and diabetes; and helps improve sleep.
Nearly anyone can run, at any age, and many people make it a lifetime habit.
Most people can ease into a running program on their own. However, If you are a smoker, have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or problems with your hips, legs or feet, it’s wise to check with a health care provider first. Getting your doctor’s approval is also a good idea if you are older than 40, especially if you have not exercised for a while. If you are obese, you may want to try a less strenuous type of exercise first, such as walking or swimming, because running puts extra stress on your muscles and joints.
If you are ready to try running, it’s best to start slowly and not push your body too hard. Be patient, and remember that it may take a while to get into shape and achieve the performance level of experienced runners. Everyone is different, and your progress will depend on your fitness level and stamina.
Before getting started, you’ll want to buy a good pair of athletic shoes to help you cover ground comfortably and avoid injury. Shoes don’t have to be expensive, but they should have a flexible sole, solid heel support, and good shock absorption. Replace your shoes every 300-500 miles; just like tires on your car, shoes will wear out.
Warm up before you run, by walking for a short period first. If you are a beginning runner, try walking and gradually add some jogging to your routine. If you can comfortably talk while running, you are running at a good beginner’s pace.
Choose a safe running area, preferably flat, soft ground instead of concrete. To help prevent injuries, avoid running too far or too fast too soon. Even with slow, easy exercise, it is normal to have small aches and pains at first, which will subside as your muscles get stronger. You can treat most minor injuries with rest and ice. However, if you have pain that does not subside within a reasonable amount of time, see your health care provider. You may also want to take rest days to help your body fully recover from the impact of running.
The most common running injuries affect the knees and feet and result from overusing muscles. Athletes often use the term, “runner’s knee,” to describe a variety of knee injuries that overuse, poor stretching habits, or muscle imbalance can cause. It’s important to listen to your body. If running results in pain or discomfort, try changing your running habits or stop and rest for several days. See your health care provider if the pain persists.
Although running burns calories and improves endurance and cardiovascular fitness, it is not as good at improving flexibility and strength. For these benefits, add other types of exercise into your routine, such as swimming, bicycling, and lifting weights. A combination of activities will improve your overall fitness and reduce your risk for injury.
Above all, running is a year-round activity that is convenient and enjoyable, and it can get you moving, outdoors or indoors.