Is Running a Suitable Form of Exercise?

Running was a popular form of exercise in the late 1970s. The invention of step machines, rowing machines, stationary bikes and elliptical trainers nearly phased running out as a popular form of cardio fitness. Recently, there has been a new-found interest in running outdoors. The surreal feeling of exercising in nature and achieving the so-called “runners high” has peaked the interest of many people who initially ruled out running because of the injury risks associated with the activity.

Why Run?
The health benefits of running are similar to the benefits achieved by all forms of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise. Some of these benefits include positive changes to body composition, increased aerobic capacity, decreases in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, improved heart health and protection from disease.

The benefits of running can expand beyond the physical and include many psychological advantages as well. Research has shown that as little as 10 to 15 minutes of moderate intensity running can positively enhance mood.

Running can be performed anywhere with very little equipment. Only a good pair of running shoes and comfortable clothes are required. Running clubs are very popular in fitness centers across North America. Running can be a social event as it allows people to communicate with others while exercising. Running is also ideal for enjoying time in nature, for discovering your neighborhood and for exercising with your dog. .

Why not Run?
The risk of injury is the primary reason people do not run. Since the cardiovascular benefits of running are similar to those achieved by cycling, swimming or cross-training, most people elect to perform these exercises which have a lesser chance of injury Recreational runners argue that even though the physiological benefits are similar to other forms of exercise, nothing compares to the “runners high” or speculative endorphin rush that occurs when someone engages in a long run. Research shows that every heel strike during running increases the ground reaction forces at least 5 to 6 times the individual’s body weight. In other words, a woman weighing 150 pounds would inflict approximately 750 to 900 pounds of ground reaction force with every heel strike during her run.

Is Running Supposed to Hurt?
Running is not supposed to hurt, but like all forms of exercise, moving too fast too soon can cause aggravation and stress on different joints in the body. Since running is a full- body, high-impact activity, pain and soreness is sometimes part of the experience. However, you can take the following steps to protect your body from injury.

Step 1: Decide Why You Want to Run
Do you run because you enjoy the experience of being outdoors or the feeling of running on the treadmill or do you run because you believe it is the best form of exercise for fitness or weight loss? A recent study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that the physiological adaptations in 22 moderately-trained females following a 12-week aerobic-training program using either a treadmill, elliptical machine or stair climber were similar.

Step 2: Start With a Proper Warm-Up
Tightening your running shoes and quickly stretching your legs before you set out on a run is not a good enough warm-up. You need to give your body adequate time to warm up so it can increase the blood flow to the working muscles and especially to the legs.

Start your warm-up by simply walking at a medium to fast pace for 5 minutes or so, and then jog for 3 to 5 minutes. Stop at a corner or temporarily get off the treadmill and stretch your legs, glutes, calves and lower back muscles for a few minutes. Afterwards, start with a slow jog and then begin your run. This may seem like a very arduous task, however, devoting 10 minutes to a proper warm-up will protect your body from the impact stress that occurs from chronic running. At the end of your run, take 5 to 10 minutes to properly cool down and to stretch the worked muscles.

Step 3: Consistent Resistance Training will Strengthen your Joints
Injury is best prevented by alternating the frequency, intensity and type of aerobic activity and by performing consistent resistance training to strengthen the muscles and other supportive structures such as tendons, ligaments and joints. Perform your resistance-training exercises on alternate days from your running routine. Resistance training, 2 to 3 times per week, will improve your strength and lean muscle mass. Make sure to perform exercises such as squats and hamstring curls that target both the front and rear thighs.

Step 4: If Your Legs Hurt, Don’t Run
No one knows your body like you do. If you can’t wake up one morning for your scheduled run or arrive home from work and your body just doesn’t seem like it is ready to run, don’t run. There is no need to push your body to risk potential injury when other activities such as biking or using an elliptical machine can temporarily sastisfy your need for exercise or stress relief. If you truly enjoy the sensation of running, alternate your workout between walking and running in order to decrease the stress on your joints. You can follow a walk-run program where you alternate walking briskly for 5 minutes and then running for 3 minutes for a total workout time of 30 to 45 minutes.

Running should be a fun activity, not a painful one. Take the necessary steps to protect your body and give it the relief it needs to properly heal and recover. Summer is approaching and the sun is shining. Maybe it’s time to dust off the running shoes and start your running program today.

The Final Lap: Let’s Review
The best and most effective running program is one that works for you and allows you to progressively set and reach your goals injury free. Your body needs ample time to rest and recover from your runs. This will allow you the option to alternate modes of aerobic exercises and to include a resistance-training program as part of your regimen.

Vary the distance you run and the range of your heart rate on a weekly basis. To determine the range in which your heart rate should be at during exercise, subtract your age from 220 (the estimated maximum heart rate) and then multiply it by the percentage of exercise. For instance, you may perform a slow to moderate 45-minute run at 60 to 70% of your age-predicted maximum heart rate (220-age x .60 or 220-age x .70) on Saturday morning and a shorter more intense 20-minute run on Wednesday morning at 70 to 85% of your age-predicted maximum heart rate (220-age x .70 or220-age x .85). You could also implement walk-run programs 2 to 3 times per week. It is completely up to you. If you enjoy running, either outdoors or on the treadmill, take the necessary steps to protect yourself from injury and provide a solid foundation on which to build your fitness goals. Enjoy your run.


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