Running is probably one of the most straight forward, cost-effective and accessible forms of exercise in this world with more benefits than you can count on your fingers.
As our lives get more complicated and stressful amid buzzing phones and emails, allocating a small part of the day to intense physical activity holds the key to uplift you with feelings of liberation and accomplishment.
Milind Soman, India’s first male supermodel, who endorses running events all over the country in support of various social causes, insists that he has never, ever met an unhappy runner. Various studies published in the journal, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise confirm that running does fight depression and make you a happier person in the long term.
Still not convinced? Here are a few other major benefits.
1. Regular runners get leaner over time with a faster metabolism. Other than swimming, no other cardiovascular activity burns greater calories per minute.
2. Running is high impact enough to reinforce stronger bones and joints in your entire body. People who blame running for bad knees owe them to carelessness, overtraining, poor posture, age and too much weight. But, running is definitely not to blame.
3. Apart from a healthy heart, running boosts your immunity. You will live a longer, disease free life.
4. Regular runners age better. They have much better physical mobility in their middle age and avert age related mental decline. In fact, studies conclude that running improves cognitive and memory functions at all age levels.
5. Running can help prevent cancer. Also, you know those odd aches and pains that you get in your body without any reason? Well, regular running can help get rid of that too by lowering inflammation in your body.
Commencement: First things first start by building a strong foundation
To ideally experience a runner’s high, nothing beats outdoor running in fresh morning air. But, those who have been inactive for quite some time breaking into a daily outdoor run may not be the best idea to get started with. Even if you manage to endure week 1, chances are that your body will start breaking down with common running injuries by week 3 and 4. If you really want to make running a long term addition to your life, those new to running are better off joining a gym.
1. Build Stamina:
Running on the treadmill is not as taxing as running outdoors on stationary ground. Start building your aerobic health to 10 continuous minutes of running supported by cardio on other machines like the cross trainer, stationary cycle and rowing machine. A 45 minute extended cardio session four times a week will boost your resilience to last through serious exercise without getting tired or breathless.
2. Add Weight Training:
Since our body reflects our lifestyle, a sedentary lifestyle leaves us with poor posture, coordination and strength.
Before you start hitting your body hard with long sessions of running, you need to strengthen your muscles, which act as armor for your joints and ligaments, to withstand the intensity and impact of continuous running.
Incorporate weight training at least three times a week and train legs at least two of those days along with other body parts. Exercises like squats, lunges, dead-lifts, glute bridge and calve raises will strengthen your legs from all angles. These exercises minimize injury risk in your ankles or knees due to overtraining and add power to your run.
3. Core training and stability:
We are creatures of habit. Once into regular running, we might get swayed by the music on our iPod to the point of being oblivious to over-exertion or developing poor form. To ensure good postural alignment, supplement every run with 15 minutes of core exercises in the end that include movements like plank, side plank, Russian twists, leg raise, twisting crunches, bicycle crunches, superman and bird-dog. The last exercise is particularly helpful for beginners to strengthen their lower back as shown in the following picture.
4. Variety is the key:
Continuing in context of our habitual tendencies, we do need to be consistent with exercise to get stronger. However, the frequency, intensity and period should be switched every other week.
Many runners follow the same route, at the same pace for the same amount of time daily and end up with repetitive stress injuries. Once you feel strong enough to get into a continual running regime, listen to your body and vary the number of days and length of each and every run accordingly. Try short burst sprints on hills, grass, dirt roads or sand, a couple of times a week to improve your aerobic capacity. Concrete sidewalks and roads, though high impact, are more stable surfaces for steady state long distance runs. But, hard surfaces particularly require well cushioned specialist running shoes.
Any time your body starts feeling the strain of running outdoors, you can always seek the respite of a treadmill.
5. Achieving and sustaining a good outdoor run:
Apart from building lean muscle mass with a focus on keeping your core and legs strong, there are few other cautionary tips to keep in mind while running.
- Do NOT stretch too deeply right before running. Warm up with a few squats and twists and then start with a brisk walk. Build up to a light jog before breaking into a full run. Deep stretches should be done AFTER you have finished running.
- Which part of the foot touches the ground first is not AS important as the fact that your landing foot should be right underneath your body with every step. A long stride will cause your heel to hit the ground hard and put you at risk for injury.
- Look ahead and run tall. Your posture should be upright and your shoulders blades should be relaxed. Some people tend to lean forward from the waist which is an unnatural stance. If you work on maintaining a strong core, you will eventually develop a slight lean forward from your ankles to perfect the ideal running stance.
On a final note, do not try to build intensity overnight or start covering long distances daily. Outdoor running, to begin with, will cause some breakdown in ligaments and muscle fibers; but as long as there are enough rest days in between, you will come back stronger. The focus should be to stay injury free during the first year of regular running before you start challenging yourself on an advanced level. Learn to enjoy the process and you will surprise yourself with what your body can do.