As a child you may have heard about the tortoise and the hare a few too many times, but it’s a lesson that should be your mantra when starting a running program. Many first-time runners take off at a quick pace, but feel fatigued not long into the run, forgetting that “slow and steady wins the race.”
If you’re aiming to run a significant distance at a decent pace, it’s better to slowly work your way up to that rather than sprinting in the beginning. Running offers many benefits to the body and soul, and it’s important to start off on the right foot.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology revealed that people who ran for just a few minutes every day had a reduced risk from dying of heart disease. More than 55,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 100 were monitored over a 15-year period. Researchers concluded that even those who had smoked, had diabetes, or were considered obese benefitted from running each day.
Running also offers many additional physical and mental health benefits. It works multiple muscle groups at the same time, burns calories at a high rate thus helping to lose weight, helps strengthen joints and bones, and releases hormones that make you feel happier.
If this news has you itching to pound the pavement, let me provide you with some tips for starting your running plan safely:
• Purchase solid running shoes for support. A good pair of shoes that have been fitted properly can help prevent injury. Do some research online (i.e., www.runnersworld.com, which always provides a yearly shoe review) or check out a local running store.
• Start out at a comfortable pace and distance. Keep in mind that you should not increase your mileage by more than 10 percent per week to avoid overloading your lower body joints.
• Walk at intervals when you need to. Alternating jogging and walking in intervals is a safe, effective way to start to build endurance. For example, walk at a brisk pace for two minutes then jog at a comfortable pace for two minutes. Slowly work to increase your jogging time. If you prefer to exercise outside and don’t want to time your intervals, use the street poles: walk to one, jog to the next.
• Alternate your running days: running is all about establishing a routine and sticking to it. I recommend not running consecutive days, but to cross train and find a non-impact cardio exercise for your workout on your non-running days.
• Don’t be afraid of the treadmill. Some runners prefer to run outside, but a treadmill is a great alternative. The treadmill offers shock absorption, which is easier on your joints, and can almost exactly measure your distance. It also offers a safe running environment free of potential hazards, like cars, and weather elements that you may encounter outside.
• Keep lifting those weights. Many people make the mistake of not continuing to strength train while focusing on their running. Regular strength training can help to correct muscle imbalances and weaknesses that are common in modern life. Using runner-specific strength exercises will increase structural fitness (i.e., the ability of your bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles to withstand the impact of running).
• Work all of your muscles. You don’t have to be in the gym for hours to get the proper amount of strength training. Make sure you work all of your muscle groups, upper and lower body, with an emphasis on hip muscles, core muscles, and your glutes.
• Stay smart. Running is a great form of cardio exercise to burn calories, but you need to stay smart to prevent injury and receive the most benefit. Following these guidelines will help you start your running program safely and effectively.
Erika Smith has worked as a fitness specialist at The Lifestyle Center at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center for seven years. She graduated from Lynchburg College with a degree in health promotion and is certified as a personal trainer. In addition to assisting new members and managing the fitness floor, she performs personal training sessions and teaches classes including Lite Fitness on Monday and Friday mornings from 7-7:30 a.m. and Stretch Express on Wednesday mornings from 7-7:30 a.m. For more information on The Lifestyle Center, including a list of classes offered, call 757-312-6132 or visit www.chesapeakeregional.com.