What can be said for running as an exercise? If I had 10 seconds to cover it I would instantly say “great for your health”; “inexpensive”; “an amazing way to burn calories and lose weight and something that is easily accessible” (you can run anywhere!)”. Thankfully I have more time so will endeavour to highlight the benefits of adding running to a regular training program.
This post will examine 9 benefits of a regular running plan can have on your fitness levels. I will also discuss strategies to help you persevere and progress with your training. Time to dust those running shoes off.
The Benefits of Running
Improved Cardiovascular Ability
Like it or loathe it, there is little disputing that running is still king of cardiovascular fitness. Even 10-15 mins of exercise (doesn’t matter at what level you are at) can improve your cardiovascular fitness dramatically.
How does it do this? Your body learns to adapt to the demands put on it by regular training. It needs a greater supply of oxygen (transported via blood) to provide the energy you need to sustain the run. The heart muscles (over time) begin to grow stronger to cope with the increased demand, which in turn reduces your resting heart rate and your heart rate under strain. Additionally, your maximum oxygen intake capacity is increased.
Over time this will result in vastly improved cardiac and respiratory efficiency and will improve your cardiovascular level whilst undertaking more gruelling runs.
Improved Health and Immunity
Running is known to reduce the risk of all manner of conditions, including heart disease; type 2 diabetes; high blood pressure and strokes. It has been shown to improve the cholesterol ratio in blood, by effectively dropping LDL profiles (‘bad’ cholesterol) whilst improving HDL cholesterol (‘good’ cholesterol) profiles.
LDL is the type of fats that stick to the walls of your blood vessels and restrict the flow of blood (a condition known as arteriosclerosis that can cause major problems). Therefore the reduction of LDL levels in the bloodstream is obviously a major boon.
Blood circulation improves via restriction of the flow and improved cardiac output (increased blood flow from the heart as it begins to work more efficiently – See above). Furthermore, regular running reduces the production of stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol (too much of these are detrimental to your health!)
One of the primary considerations of being healthy is obtaining and then maintaining a healthy weight. Running has been shown to burn a lot of calories! Generally speaking, the longer you run the more your body is in the ‘fat burning zone’. The average steady-state easy run should last between 15mins (beginners) to around 45mins (advanced).
Running can also be a great fat burner if thrown in post resistance training! Furthermore, this fat burning will increase dramatically if sporadic interval, hill runs and sprints are thrown in the mix!
Mental health can benefit from running just as much as physical fitness. Running is your own time, away from the stresses of everyday life. It is a very powerful way to help you focus, disconnect and regain your balance. With the sustained concentration on the simple repetitive act of placing one foot in front of the other at an increased pace, it has been termed ‘meditation on the move’ by some.
Furthermore, the serotonin and endorphin kick can improve the mood dramatically, whilst simultaneously reducing adrenalin and cortisol (stress hormones) levels. All of the above can definitely provide you with a more positive view of life in general.
If your busy schedule makes it tough to both meet up with people and stick to your exercise plan, then start inviting your friends to come running. Another thing to consider is the option of joining a running club. Clubs allow you to benefit from the experience of veteran runners as well as run with others on a similar level to you. There are pacesetters who can help you progress at a pace appropriate to your level and running buddies to motivate and encourage you during challenging runs.
With many other forms of exercise people start with vague goals such as ‘losing weight’ or ‘getting fitter’ which can be difficult to measure progress (See Goal Setting). To make progress with running it is easier to set clear, defined goals to motivate you (such as running a 5K Race without stopping or signing up and preparing for a half or full marathon).
If you’re an experienced runner you may choose to set mastery goals working on your personal best, improving your best times or technique. In the course of hitting these precise targets, you’ll find that things like weight loss come naturally.
The Gateway to the World
Use running to help you see more of the world. Bring your running shoes with you wherever you travel. A quick jog around a city you are visiting helps you experience more of it; become acquainted with your surroundings and is more fun compared to your routine weekly runs. Better still, aim to run a half or full marathons in other countries!!
Challenge yourself by visiting parks, not in your neighbourhood, take day trips out to national parks. Also, use sites such as www.mapmyrun.com to help you map out routes and take on runs that other members have created.
Running is as expensive as you want it to be. You can spend huge amounts on running if you so desire, splashing out on the best most expensive running gear and technology, but you don’t have to! Once you have a pair of running shoes a T-shirt and some shorts, you are ready to go!
Many people experience good ideas or solutions to problems when they are out for a run. There is an idea that a lot of problem-solving is best undertaken by unconscious brain processes that go on in the background. The unconscious brain is better at making unexpected associations and links that we think of as creativity.
A good way to get into that creative state of mind is for your brain to be engaged with something, but not overtaxed. With running you are in the moment and not thinking about lots of different things necessarily.
Some things to Consider…
Running isn’t for everyone
What is right for one person doesn’t necessarily mean it will be right for another, running is definitely not for everyone. If you don’t like it, don’t do it! Find something else, you are much more likely to be adherent undertaking an exercise that you enjoy.
Health considerations – Easing into it
Also, before you do undertake a running program, you should take into account several factors. First your weight, too many added pounds can injure your hips, knees and ankles, next to consider is your medical history, are there any spinal and balance issues?
Do you have any heart problems? Should you consult your doctor first? You must be smart with this, if you have not exercised in some time or have a high index on the BMI (Body Mass Index) then it would certainly be more prudent to consult your doctor beforehand. Relax, this is going to come down with time, hard work and patience!
Other questions that need to be addressed include ‘Are your goals realistic enough for you to stay consistent’? How is your diet? (All the training in the world won’t do anything for your weight, less if your diet is nutritionally deficient and generally poor!!) . Its the truth, changes may need to be made, prepare for a shakeup!
Previous exercise levels
What is your experience with exercise? Running is more advanced than other types of activities and can be challenging initially. So how is your readiness to learn a new and challenging skill? All of the above might need addressing, whatever you do, do not dive in head first if you are out of shape or inexperienced. Take your time and build up your cardio level. Pushing and challenging yourself will be so much easier once you have begun to notice changes to your health and fitness!
Running takes discipline and consistency in order to work
‘Weight loss’ is not a goal, outcome goals are difficult to measure and can be frustrating on not seeing results as early as you would like. Aim for realistic goals aimed at changing your behaviours, such as increased daily activity and improving eating habits (See Goal Setting)
Take the time necessary to decide clearly why you want to become a runner and develop a reasonable and flexible plan that you can adhere to.
Getting injured is not fun and many “repetitive use” injuries can result from running. Injuries can be chronic or acute and can last days or months. There is a multitude of injuries that are associated with running such as repetitive pounding on the joints, bones and muscles; strained Achilles’ tendons; plantar fasciitis; pulled hamstrings; torn calves and quadriceps; they are all out there waiting to ambush you!!
Doesn’t matter who you are, they may affect you to some degree, be smart, if something hurts stop running! Don’t make it worse. It may be that you have to consult a podiatrist or see a running specialist for running shoes that help you compensate for your running gait. Doesn’t matter, identify the problems, adapt and overcome. Adapt your training if you become injured. Try something lighter and non-impact that does not aggravate the injured body part, swimming, cycling, walking, isometric holds, be creative.
With a bit of luck, this has shed some light on the world of running for those new to it. Hopefully, some of my observations and recommendations may help make the transition to running more effective and fun. I will follow up this post with more of my thoughts on progressing as well as training tips that might help spur you along on the road to fitness!! Good luck!
When you are running out of steam, slow it down, regulate your breathing, aim for one minute more!
Martin Gallagher (circa…now)