It may not be as trendy as Pilates or power yoga, but running is still a great aerobic workout to burn fat and reduce stress. 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, or 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 healthcare provider first. Getting your healthcare provider’s OK 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 demanding type of exercise first, like 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. Remember that it may take a while to get into shape and achieve the performance level of experienced runners. Everyone is different. Your progress will depend on your fitness level and energy.
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 miles to 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. These will lessen as your muscles, bones, and joints get stronger. You can treat most minor injuries with rest and ice. See your healthcare provider if you have pain that does not get better within a reasonable amount of time. 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 healthcare provider if the pain lasts.
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 like swimming, bicycling, and lifting weights. A combination of activities will improve your overall fitness and reduce your risk for injury.
Running is a year-round activity. It is convenient and enjoyable, and it can get you moving, outdoors or indoors.