Welcome to our blog, where we embark on a journey into the invigorating world of running. In this article, we will dive deep into the essence of running, exploring its numerous health benefits, providing practical tips on getting started, and offering valuable insights on how to enhance your performance.
Running is not merely a physical activity; it is a transformative experience that can positively impact both your body and mind. From cardiovascular fitness to weight management, running offers a myriad of health benefits that can improve your overall well-being. It boosts your endurance, strengthens your muscles, and releases endorphins, known as the “feel-good” hormones, fostering mental clarity and reducing stress.
If you’re new to running, getting started may seem intimidating. However, fear not! We will guide you through the essential steps to kickstart your running journey. From selecting the right gear and choosing suitable routes to establishing a training plan and setting realistic goals, we’ve got you covered.
But the journey doesn’t end there. We believe in continuous improvement, and that’s why we’ll delve into strategies to enhance your running performance. We’ll explore techniques for increasing speed, building stamina, preventing injuries, and incorporating cross-training into your routine. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned runner, there’s always room to grow and refine your skills.
So, lace up your running shoes and join us on this exhilarating adventure. Discover the profound benefits of running, unlock your potential, and embrace a healthier, more vibrant lifestyle. Get ready to experience the power of running like never before.
What Is Running?
Let’s start at the beginning. Running is the action or movement of propelling yourself forward rapidly on foot, according to Amy Morris, a certified running coach and head of personal training at CrossTown Fitness, a Chicago-based gym.
It’s different from walking because when you walk, one foot is always on the ground. But with running, there’s a moment when both feet are off the ground. That’s what makes running a high-impact activity.
Think of anaerobic running as sprints and other types of speed work. “With anaerobic running, your body is able to perform at high intensity using the stored energy in your muscles without oxygen, and this usually lasts anywhere from less than six seconds to up to two minutes,” Morris says.
Morris suggests that the average adult spends a minimum of 16 to 24 weeks to build a proper base for efficient aerobic running. After that, anaerobic running can help improve performance, she says, especially in terms of speed.
The Health Benefits of Running
Running can deliver a host of both physical and mental health benefits (as can most types of exercise, of course). Here are a few to know about that have specific links to running:
- Boosted Mood and Energy Levels A study published in 2018 found that running for as little as 15 minutes can improve mood and energy levels, and it had more of an effect on participants than meditation, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery.
- Boosted Memory, Focus, and Task-Switching Because running causes biochemical substances called endocannabinoids to be released in the bloodstream and into the brain, it optimizes brain function.
- Better Respiratory Function Along with mental health benefits, running is linked to improved cardiovascular and respiratory function because each of those systems is getting more oxygen and better blood flow, says Bryant Walrod, MD, sports medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.
- Improved Cardiovascular Health A research review published in 2020 found that increased rates of participation in running, regardless of how frequently you run, show a lower risk of cardiovascular-related mortality.
- More Muscle Strength Although running isn’t necessarily considered a strength workout, Morris says muscles in your lower body, like your hamstrings, glutes, and quads, definitely do get stronger with running (given that they have to fire up in order to keep you stabilized).
- Improved Bone Density A study published in 2021 looked at sprinters between ages 40 and 85, assessing their bone density using scans taken at the start of the study and again about 10 years later. Those who ran regularly maintained bone strength, and some even improved their density over time, while those who’d reduced training saw a decline in bone health.
- Lower Risk of Chronic Disease This is thanks to running being linked to more regulated blood pressure, blood sugar, and body weight, Dr. Walrod says. And if it helps you hit the recommended benchmark of 150 minutes of weekly physical activity, you’ll decrease the risk of some cancers, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
- Living Longer According to a research review published in 2017, studies suggest runners have a 25 to 40 percent reduced risk of premature mortality and live approximately three years longer than non-runners.
“Just getting started with a 10-minute run a few times a week can lead to health benefits,” he adds. “Increasing that amount slowly, by about 10 percent per week, can help ramp up the advantages in a meaningful way, without increasing injury risk.”
How to Start Running
One of the best approaches to getting into a running routine and building the endurance to help you follow a training plan is walk-jogging, says Joshua Scott, MD, primary care sports medicine physician at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles.
That means going on a brisk walk, and when your body feels warmed up — usually after 10 to 15 minutes — try a bit of jogging (which is running at a relaxed pace that requires only a low level of exertion, Dr. Scott says — though it’s worth noting there’s not a clear consensus on the specific differences between running and jogging).
“Start with just five minutes of jogging if that’s comfortable, or even 30 seconds,” he says. Then go back to walking until breathing becomes easy again. Then switch back to jogging for another short stretch of time that is comfortable and return to walking.
The length of these intervals in time and distance will depend on your fitness level, but both should increase gradually over time. The jogging portions will be more challenging than the walking ones, but your pace overall should feel somewhat leisurely, Scott adds. (You don’t want to be pushing yourself so hard you are panting or completely winded.)
The endpoint is to build up to running at a comfortable pace for at least 15 minutes a few times per week. At that point, you can consider following a training program to continue your progress.
Most injuries occur because people do too much, too soon, Scott says. “You want to err on the side of not doing enough versus running too hard right away.”
Also, definitely add in rest days when your body is recovering, even from short runs. He suggests some upper body exercises on those days to give the legs a rest or yoga that can improve your overall mobility.
Following a running training program that fits your goals and fitness level is a good way to increase your running at the right pace.
How to Get More out of a Running Workout and How to Get Better at Running
Slow and steady really does win the race when it comes to getting better at running — meaning getting faster or being able to run longer distances, says Nicholas Romanov, Ph.D., a Miami-based Olympic running coach.
That means cautiously progressing in terms of the number of days you run, your distance, and your speed.
“A lot of runners get into trouble because they overtrain without realizing it,” Dr. Romanov says. Overtraining when it comes to running (and overexercising in any sport) can be a recipe for injury, as well as other health problems.
Most importantly, follow the formula that works for you when it comes to training and increasing the intensity of it. “Each runner must go through a little bit of experimentation in order to find out what works for them,” Romanov notes.
Incorrect form or posture can be an indicator you’re pushing too hard too quickly or overtraining. If you find yourself slouching or you feel like you’re falling forward as you run, you may be upping the ante too quickly. Harder runs on your training plan (whether they’re difficult because of distance or speed) should be challenging, but you should be able to maintain good form while doing them.
Here are some tips to help you figure out how you can increase the intensity of your running training:
- Hire a running coach. Hiring a running coach for a few sessions to look at your technique can help you create a challenging-but-realistic plan to meet a specific goal you have.
- Cross-train. Another way to get more out of your running isn’t through running at all but cross-training. That involves working on strength (especially for the quadricep, hip, and glute muscles), flexibility, and range of motion. For example, you might do resistance training a couple of days a week, or do another exercise like swimming or biking. “This will help you withstand the stress of running,” says Romanov. “That’s a large part of how you prevent injuries.”
- Follow the 10 percent rule. Increase weekly running volume (cumulative distance) by no more than 10 percent from one week to the next.
- Follow the “build build recover” model. Increase cumulative weekly distance by about 10 to 15 percent week over week for two to three weeks. In week four, decrease mileage by 10 to 20 percent.
Nutrition Tips for Runners
Striking the right balance when it comes to food is important when you start running — eat too few calories, and you’re likely to run out of energy soon into your run but eat too much (or the wrong types of food), and you may end up dealing with bloating or other stomach trouble, according to Kacie Vavrek, RD, an outpatient dietitian at Ohio State University Sports Medicine in Columbus.
Many notice they have more gastrointestinal issues when running compared with other types of exercise. Vavrek says this can come from a number of factors, including the mechanics of running — more blood gets pumping through your cardiovascular system, which can disrupt your digestive system and speed up the process of waste elimination (your need to poop).
For most people, eating foods high in fiber, fat, and protein too close to a run can cause stomach pain or indigestion.
But deciding on what to eat before, during, and after a run is often a highly individual decision and takes time to figure out, Vavrek adds. Many people experiment with different options and keep a log of what they ate and how their run went to narrow down their pre-run and post-run snacks.
A good rule of thumb is to wait at least two to four hours after a large meal to run, or one to two hours after a snack.
In general, a combination that has a blend of lean protein and carbohydrates tends to be best, adds Elizabeth Ray, RDN, a Kentucky-based nutritionist. She recommends these options for eating about an hour before a run:
- A small amount of skinless grilled chicken paired with a serving of sweet potatoes
- Banana or apple and nut butter
- Toast with half an avocado and a tablespoon of honey
- A small bowl of oatmeal and berries
- Bagel with nut butter
And before, during, and after your runs, stay hydrated. Drinking water before and during a run helps you replace what you’re losing through sweat. Adding electrolytes — especially on long runs and in hot, humid weather — can make up for the sodium and potassium that also get lost.
There are plenty of electrolyte powders and tablets on the market that dissolve in water, but you can also make your own by combining some sea salt and coconut water and adding those to your water bottle, says Ray.
When navigating snack and meal choices, Vavrek says her biggest tip to runners is to make sure you’re getting enough calories. Skimping not only sabotages your energy, but it also makes it more difficult for your muscles to recover from running, she adds.