6 reasons to run
Running is an exercise that tends to divide people into two camps: those who love it and those who don’t. People who love running will talk about the great stress release, the euphoria of feeling the road beneath their feet, the sense of being strong and powerful. But if you fall into the other category, it’s often a result of feeling frustrated at the discomfort of starting. You know running is good for you but it can be hard to understand how it can be enjoyable. And if you haven’t run regularly before, or not for a long time, it can feel almost impossible to get started.
The good news is, developing a regular running program is easier than you think. Once you discover your natural rhythm it can become a really rewarding part of your lifestyle. All it takes is the right technique, some positive thinking and a bit of perseverance. No matter what your level of fitness, you can become a runner and learn to love it.
The benefits of running
To start and maintain a running program it can be useful to keep reminding yourself of the rewards you will reap. Running gives you many wonderful physical and mental health benefits and with a bit of practice it can be really enjoyable. Here are some of the top reasons to get your runners on.
1. It burns calories fast
Running uses a lot of energy in a short amount of time. The exact amount of calories you’ll burn depends on a number of factors (such as your weight, speed, intensity and if you’re on an incline) but, on average, 10 minutes of jogging at a moderate pace will burn about 100 calories. That’s about double what you would burn walking.
2. It’s a great cardio workout
When it comes to getting your heart pumping, running is one of the best activities you can do. Running gets your heart rate up quite quickly and if you can keep a steady pace you’ll build up your endurance levels in no time. You’ll also reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. When running, your arteries expand and contract about three times as much as when you are sedentary, so you’ll be giving your internal functions a great workout.
3. It makes you strong
Running works your legs, hamstrings and abs, so it’s a great way to tone up your whole body. It can also strengthen your bones and prevent muscle loss, helping your body to slow the effects of ageing and keep you feeling lean and strong for years to come.
4. It’s good for stress release
For many people, running can be great outlet for stress, tension and frustration — and even anger. Getting into a good rhythm as you run can help to clear your mind and give you a break from the rest of the world. Importantly, it allows you time to focus on yourself rather than worry about work, family or any other stressors in your daily life.
5. It makes you happy
Along with stress release, running has been proven to help improve your mood. Cardio exercise releases endorphins, which gives you a rush that some people refer to as a “runner’s high”. For years, running has been used to help treat mild to moderate depression, and many people report experiencing less tension, sadness, fatigue and confusion after starting a regular running program.
6. You can do it anywhere, any time
All you really need is a decent pair of running shoes and a good sports bra and off you go! Running is one of the few exercises that don’t require any equipment or special spaces, so it’s convenient and easy to fit in with your lifestyle.
The world is full of places to run, whether it’s in the streets around your house, by the beach, along the river, at a running track, around a park or on a treadmill. You can run almost anywhere at any time of the day.
Developing a natural rhythm with running is easier than you think. Once you’ve made the decision to become a runner, all it takes is the right technique, a sensible plan and a bit of self-discipline and you’ll experience the benefits in no time.
First, make sure you’ve got a good pair of running shoes. You need a pair that provides adequate cushioning and support so you protect your back and lower limbs from injury. Women should also invest in a good sports bra. Being comfortable while you run is one of the most important things to focus on, so take care of yourself and pay attention to your body’s needs.
Go slow and steady
A common mistake when starting a running program is trying to do too much too soon. Pushing yourself too hard before your body has a chance to get used to the new physical demands increases your risk of soreness and injury and it’s likely to make the whole experience far less pleasant.
Personal trainer and ex-AFL player Tim Hazell says the key is to go slow and steady. “Start with walking, then jogging,” Hazell says. “A good way to start is with a basic routine of 60 seconds walking, then 30 seconds running, and repeating that 10 times. Then you can gradually start to increase your running time.”
Over several sessions, you might build up to two or three minutes running with one minute walking, then five minutes running with 30 seconds walking and so on. Your body needs time to adapt, so be patient with yourself. Even just a gradual increase in running time is great progress. “The more you do it, the shorter the walking effort will be and the longer the running effort will be,” Hazell says. “But it’s always good to start small and then build strong.”
Get the technique
Because running is such a natural movement, the idea of “technique” can seem irrelevant for beginners. After all, you’ve been doing it since you were a child — you know instinctively how to put one foot in front of the other. But Hazell says it is important to make sure you’re practising the right technique from the beginning of your running plan.
“As soon as you start running, you’re forming habits that will last, so it’s really important to get a good form going,” he says. Learning the correct technique and developing good habits not only helps prevent soreness and injury when running but will also make better use of your energy and actually make the whole process a lot easier on your entire body.
The main principle to remember is to keep your movements fluid and easy. “I tell my clients to keep relaxed through the shoulders. It’s important not to tense up,” Hazell says. “Try to stay nice and springy by not being flat-footed. Stay light on your feet. Then you just need to find a pace you enjoy and are comfortable with.”
Keep it comfortable
Part of building a strong rhythm is keeping your movements steady. Hazell says the transition between walking and jogging should be fluid and natural. “When you’re walking, build up the pace over the last five metres and fall into a jog so you’re not being so explosive with the stop and start,” he says.
The important thing is to listen to your body and be kind to it. Challenge yourself but do it gently. Keep at a comfortable, easy pace and break into a faster run only when you feel ready. If you feel like you’ve reached your limit, slow down to a walk until you feel ready to start running again. Over time, you’ll get better and better and your break times will naturally decrease.
Control your breathing
Breathing properly is another thing that sounds so obvious it’s easy to overlook. But keeping your breathing patterns regular and steady helps your body to get oxygen to your muscles more efficiently. This means you’ll be able to run long distances more easily and the whole experience will be far more comfortable.
At the same time, though, your breathing should feel natural and not forced. “It’s a tough one but when you’re starting out you don’t want to get into too much huff and puff,” Hazell says. “In through your nose, out through your mouth is typically the best way to get started.”
Try to inhale and exhale at a consistent rate and focus on developing a steady, natural rhythm. “Keep a tempo that’s not uncomfortable and then the better you get, the quicker you get, the fitter you get, you can start to learn your own ways of controlling it better.”
Make it a habit
The first few times you get out there you’ll probably feel a bit of discomfort. But don’t let that discourage you; running gets easier and easier as your fitness levels improve and you become more used to the movements and breathing patterns. It might feel hard at first but regular practice really is the key to developing a comfortable rhythm.
“Routine is something I talk to my clients about a lot,” Hazell says. “Running consistently builds up a foundation through your body. When people start running and stop running and start running, they’ll often pull up sore, but if you’re running consistently and looking after yourself, it’s easier on your muscles.”
The best way to develop a habit, Hazell suggests, is to make a realistic but challenging schedule and discipline yourself to stick to it. “Look at your week and develop a routine that fits in with your lifestyle and work commitments,” he says. “Either use a diary, or write up a little calendar and put it on your fridge or wherever you’ll see it regularly so it will remind you and encourage you to stick to it.”
Giving yourself a challenge can be a great way to stay motivated and track your progress. “A good one is entering a fun run three or four months down the track, so then you have something to work towards,” Hazell says. It doesn’t have to be a full or even half marathon. Start small with a five- or 10-kilometre run and slowly work your way up to being able to run that distance comfortably. “Then, when the time comes to get out there and compete, there will be a real sense of achievement that can be really satisfying.”
Stay positive and keep focusing on the benefits. Congratulate yourself on your progress, you’re making great steps towards improving your fitness and overall health. Once you get into a comfortable rhythm, you’ll start to see the benefits quickly and, soon enough, running will start to feel like a natural, exciting and really rewarding part of your lifestyle.
Dealing with side stitches
Many runners, even professionals, will experience that sharp, localised pain just below the rib cage from time to time. A side stitch is actually a spasm of the diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. The diaphragm is important for breathing and moves up and down when you inhale and exhale.
There is still no definitive explanation for the cause of a side stitch. Some scientists suggest it is influenced by what you eat before you exercise, while others believe it may be caused by stretching the ligaments that extend from the diaphragm to the internal organs.
To prevent stitches while running, try to take deep, even breaths that come from your belly. You should also try to time your pre-run meal to allow time for it to digest properly first and avoid drinking fruit juices or other high-carbohydrate beverages before exercise.
If you do develop a side stitch, slow to a stop and place your hand on your belly, pushing up while breathing evenly. Bending forward to stretch the diaphragm may ease the pain, or you can try other stretches such as raising you arm straight up and leaning to the opposite side of the stitch.
Ready to mix up your running routine? Once you’ve developed a comfortable rhythm, try giving yourself a new challenge by adding some variety. Here are some ideas:
Go for distance.
Challenge yourself by adding some longer runs into your program. Once a week, try to add 10 per cent to your longest run. Then keep extending your distances little by little.
Hit the hills.
Once you’ve built up a bit of endurance, hills are a great way to give you more of a strength workout as well. Find a hilly route or increase the incline on the treadmill and challenge those leg muscles!
Intervals are a great way to boost your fitness and burn extra calories. Alternate quick bursts of fast, intense running with slower recovery periods to really test your limits.
Change your location. A change of scenery can make the whole running experience feel fresh and different. Run along the beach or find a nice lake. You might even face new challenges on a different terrain that can push you even further.