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Running and Your Health

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Do you love the feel of running in the great outdoors yet worry about the bad press running sometimes gets? You can continue to enjoy running as long as you alternate this activity with other types of exercise and take certain precautions.

Do you love the feel of running in the great outdoors yet worry about the bad press running sometimes gets? You can continue to enjoy running as long as you alternate this activity with other types of exercise and take certain precautions.

First let's look at some of the pros and cons of running.

Benefits of Running

The health benefits of running are similar to the benefits achieved through all forms of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise, and include:

  • positive changes to body composition
  • increased aerobic capacity
  • lower blood pressure
  • reduced cholesterol levels
  • improved heart health
  • protection from disease.

Research has shown that as little as 10 to 15 minutes of moderate-intensity running can positively enhance mood.

The Runner's Edge

Running can be performed anywhere with very little equipment, requiring only a good pair of shoes and comfortable clothes. It can be a social event, allowing people to communicate while exercising, and is ideal for enjoying time in nature, discovering your neighbourhood, or exercising with the dog. Running allows you to be connected with your thoughts, and the increased heart rate and endorphin response of recruiting your entire body into the movement is uplifting, invigorating, and addictive.

Running Shortfalls

An increased chance of injury is the primary reason for encouraging fitness participation in forms of cardiovascular activity other than running. Since the cardiovascular benefits of running are similar to those achieved by cycling, swimming, or cross-training, why would anyone subject their body to a higher chance of injury? Recreational runners argue that even though the physiological benefits are similar, nothing compares to the runner's high that occurs when they engage in a long run.

Research shows that every heel strike during running increases the ground reaction forces to at least five to six times the individual's bodyweight. In other words, a 180-pound man would inflict approximately 900 to 1,000 lbs with every heel strike during his run.

In a mile run, foot contact is made at least 1,700 times. It's easy to see how foot contacts plus force transfer can lead to injury if proper precaution is not taken. Research findings unequivocally demonstrate a rise in reported injuries from running as the frequency and duration or distance covered is increased.

Doing it Right

Similar to other forms of exercise, running requires proper progression, recovery, and adaptation before efficiency and enjoyment improve. Expecting to run at the same pace you did in your early college days, even though you are 30 pounds heavier and haven't run for a number of years, will only dampen your spirit, predispose you to injury, and prevent you from experiencing the benefits of running.

Recreational runners can continue to enjoy or begin to enjoy the benefits of running by methodically planning and varying their training program. Injury is best prevented by alternating the frequency, intensity, and type of aerobic activity and performing consistent resistance training to strengthen the muscles and other supportive structures such as tendons, ligaments, and joints. Habitual stretching before and after a run can decrease muscle tension and help the body heal and recover following a training session. Comfortable and supportive footwear can help dissipate the energy transfer from foot contact.

Vary Your Routine

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 gives you a chance to alternate modes of aerobic exercise and include a resistance-training program as part of your regimen.

Vary the distance and intensity of your runs. For instance, you could perform a slow to moderate 45-minute run on Saturday and a more intense 20-minute run on Wednesday. You could also implement walk/run programs whereby you briskly walk for five minutes and run for three minutes for a total of 30 to 45 minutes, two to three times per week. It's completely up to you.

If you truly 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 goals. Enjoy your run.

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