By Chris Woolston, M.S.
What are the benefits of running?
Running demands a lot from your body, and it gives back a lot in return. Like any other aerobic exercise, it will strengthen your heart and lungs, giving you more stamina to get through your day. Running also reduces stress, tones your lower body, and burns up to 1,000 calories an hour.
How do I get started?
The first thing you should do is get a good pair of running shoes. Shop at a store with a knowledgeable salesperson who can help you find a shoe that fits your particular shape of foot. If you have high arches, you'll want some extra padding. If you have flat feet, you'll need a more rigid sole for control. Whatever shoe you get, you'll want a new pair every 400 to 500 miles.
Once you have your shoes, you'll need to choose a location. The local high-school track is a good place for beginners; the surface is likely to be forgiving, and you can easily keep tabs on your distance. (The typical track is a quarter-mile long.)
You might soon get bored of running in circles in the same place, though. Consider running around your neighborhood, on jogging paths, a beach or around a nearby park. Make sure the surface is relatively smooth and even. Of course, it's not safe to run alone in a place that is secluded or to run somewhere that isn't well-lit, especially near traffic.
How often and how far should I run?
Three times a week is a good goal to shoot for. Anything more than that will just increase your risk of injury but won't do a lot for your endurance. If you're just getting started, try jogging slowly for 15 minutes. If you're breathing so hard that you can't carry on a conversation, you need to slow down or take a break. Within six to eight weeks, you should be able to run for 30 minutes straight.
New runners often push themselves too far too fast, which is a recipe for shin splints, stress fractures, or other overuse injuries. You can protect yourself by increasing your distance by no more than 10 percent each week.
What's a good running technique?
Before breaking into a full run, it's a good idea to warm up for a few minutes with a slow jog or brisk walk. When you run, relax your shoulders so your arms swing easily at your side. Unless you're sprinting, your feet should land heel first. You can mix up the pace with 15-30 second bursts of sprinting. When you're done, cool down with a few minutes of walking.
Running can stress your joints, so you should check with your doctor if you have any joint or back problems. And since it works the heart, you'll also want to talk to your doctor if you have a history of heart trouble.
National Health Service. Getting started: Running. 2010.
American Academy of Family Physicians. Running: preventing overuse injuries. 2010.
American Council on Exercise. Can you offer some basic guidelines for avoiding overuse injuries associated with running? 2010.
Last Updated: March 11, 2013
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