Running is good for you, that’s without a doubt. You’ve heard it a gazillion times, but it’s true: Running helps you look and feel great. First, running is one of the most efficient ways to burn calories’about 255 calories for a 140 lb. woman on a 30-minute run; regular runners also have slimmer hips and waists. Next, there are the psychological benefits: Studies show that running’which stimulates feel-good chemicals in the brain’reduces stress and anxiety, improves self-esteem, boosts mood and helps you sleep better.
There are less sexy health benefits, too, such as reducing your risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, high levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides (fats in your blood), and even eye disease. Plus, a 2009 study found that regular running over many years has anti-aging effects at the cellular level. Paul T. Williams, a researcher with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, has been conducting an ongoing National Runners’ Health Study that includes more than 120,000 runners and spans 20 years; results showed that the more you run, the more health benefits you gain.
The truth about running and joint stress
Scientific studies show runners don’t have a higher risk of hip and knee problems. And as Alan Brookes, Toronto-based race director of the Canada Running Series, who has also run 10 marathons, says, ‘No one ever died of a sore knee.’ But people do die of heart disease’which makes the benefits of running definitely greater than the risks. ‘Of course, this is provided you are generally healthy. If you have any health concerns, talk with your doctor before you get going.
How to start running
Plan to do a combined run/walk for 30 to 45 minutes three times a week. When you first go out, do a slow jog for a minute, then walk for a minute, and keep alternating. Try to do a little more running and less walking each time. (Check out our beginner’s running program for some inspiration.) ‘Make it fun and interesting,’ says Brookes. While you are running or walking, do some window-shopping, or go past restaurants you want to try, and stop to check their menus. Run on the sidewalk, on a park trail, or in the forest. ‘Don’t do the same soul-destroying loop every time,’ he advises.
The most important thing is to start with a plan and build slowly so you are having fun. ‘Women are better at this,’ Brookes says. ‘Guys go tearing out the door. Women are better at following plans that are realistic and sensible.’
Set some long-term running goals
‘You should be working slowly, patiently and consistently toward a long-term goal,’ says Brookes. This isn’t a mad dash; you still want to be a runner 10 years from now. Brookes suggests setting three types of goals:
‘ An acceptable goal: Complete your first 5K or lose five pounds.
‘ A challenging goal: Complete a 10K under a certain time or lose 10 pounds.
‘ An ultimate goal: Beat your running partner in a 10K or lose 20 pounds.
It should take you about 16 weeks of training before you are able to run 5K without stopping, says Jeremy Deere, past Canadian champion in the 5,000 metres and 10K distances, and owner of Strides Running Store in Calgary. But not all beginners achieve that. A full marathon, at 42.2K, could take as long as a year to train for, if you are starting from scratch. ‘People come to us and say, ‘Okay, I’ve signed up for the Calgary marathon in 20 weeks. I’m new to running,”’ he says. It’s good to be keen, but if you push too hard, you risk getting injured or giving up because the training is so gruelling. Keep in mind: You don’t have to run a race to be a happy runner. Lots of people enjoy running just for the sake of running.
Schedule your run
The great thing about running is there’s no travelling time involved as for, say, getting to the gym to work out. And you can do it any time of day. But you have to set aside time. ‘Schedule a run just the same as you would any appointment,’ says Brenda Barron, North America retail operations manager for the Running Room Canada. Add it to your email calendar so you get a reminder. As Brookes says: ‘If you want to change your life, then it’s worth making the time.’
Keep a running log
To become a runner, find a training schedule that works for you. The benefit of a tried-and-true training program, jokes Stephen Adams, a middle and long-distance coach with the Calgary Spartans running team, is that ‘you don’t have to think. You have a log that tells you when ‘to increase mileage and intensity.’
As you go, chart your progress in a journal or on your computer. Fill in details about how far you ran, when and what you ate before and after, and how you felt. ‘You get to know yourself,’ says Adams. He also suggests writing down what was fun about your run’the sun glowing through the branches of a tree, a beautiful sunset, fresh air. It will motivate you to keep going. "At the end of the month, it’s almost a story,’ says Adams. ‘It tracks your progress and is very motivating to look back on."
This article was originally titled "A Beginner’s Guide to Running," in the Summer 2010 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!’and make sure to check out what’s new in the latest issue of Best Health.