FRIDAY, Dec. 30, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Taking up running is a good way to boost your fitness level in the year ahead, but one expert cautioned that anyone new to the sport -- or exercise in general -- should have realistic expectations about the commitment it takes to reach their goals.
"Running is very accepting of beginners. It's a great way to stay active at all ages, and it's a healthy choice for those who have set a New Year's resolution to get in shape. We used to believe it would ruin your joints. There have been several studies in recent years about running, aging and arthritis that have disproved this idea," Chris Sebelski, an assistant professor of physical therapy at Saint Louis University, said in a news release.
First, people need to prepare themselves and come up with a realistic plan to not only get started but also stick with their newfound running routine. Sebelski offered the following tips to help runners achieve their goals:
- Get a checkup. Primary care physicians should be informed about new exercise plans so they can help prevent injuries or other health issues. "Remember, it's so much better to prevent injuries than to try to recover from them," she warned.
- Set reasonable goals. It's easy to be enthusiastic at the start of a new exercise program, but anyone who has been inactive for a while may get tired easily. Starting slow allows the body to get used to a new activity. "Make your goals personal," she said. "On an everyday level, the key is to think about small steps and celebrate the little victories."
- Expect setbacks. Common occurrences, such as colds, scheduling conflicts and family issues, could interfere with a running program. Sebelski advised runners to adjust their workouts and not throw in the towel if they have to take a day off. "On a day when you realize you're not going to be able to complete your normal routine, evaluate the situation and set a good goal for that day," Sebelski suggested. "Always do something. Eight minutes is better than nothing."
- Eat smart. Once people start running regularly they may burn more calories and feel hungrier. It's important, she noted, that they still choose their foods wisely and focus on eating lean proteins and whole grains. It's also important to drink plenty of water.
- Add variety. Cross-training, or including other forms of exercise into a training program, will help runners achieve their goals. "Running itself is an all-over body sport. People think it's concentrated in the legs, but that's not true. It affects your arms, back, trunk and almost every muscle in your body," Sebelski explained. "Cross-training is helpful because you'll strengthen these other muscles and avoid the injury risk posed by the repetitive motion of running every day."
- Strengthen your core. Sebelski recommended yoga and Pilates to help strengthen the core muscles in your abdomen, back and pelvic area. "There's a big link between core strength and breathing. Core strength assists with posture, which in turn will make breathing easier," she said.
- Stay focused. After the first month or two, new runners may lose some enthusiasm for the sport since it's hard work. Sebelski recommended joining a running group or reaching out to other runners or friends to inform them about running goals to help stay motivated.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides a guide on how to get more physical activity.