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Run Your Way to Health: A Beginner's Guide to Running

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If you’ve decided you’re ready for more activity in your life, running is a great place to start. The gear list is minimal and with sunshine and lengthening days, it’s a nice time of year to get started. Our weather is also moderate enough you can continue to enjoy running outdoors most of the year.

The vigorous activity of running, even a little, is good for your health. A report published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that people who run have a lower risk of death for any reason and cardiovascular disease than non runners, even if it was just 5 to 10 minutes a day.   

“Running is a really approachable way to get into physical fitness,” said Angie Smith, a health and fitness specialist at SamFit. “You can start from nothing and go at your own pace.”

Smith highlights the most important parts of running to consider before you start:

Shoes Are Your Top Priority

Spend some time at a shoe store with knowledgeable staff who can evaluate your stride and help you find the right fit. Smith notes that different foot strikes require different types of shoe support; some people may have a neutral strike, some may pronate (or roll inward) and some may supinate (or roll outward). Just because a shoe is expensive, popular, or a friend has it, doesn’t make it the right shoe for you.

Start Small

If you are brand new to cardio fitness, expect to start with lots of walking. Alternate one minute of walking with one minute of jogging for thirty minutes, two to three times a week. Increase the jogging time by one minute each week followed by a minute of walking. Once you can comfortably jog for 30 minutes, start keeping track of your mileage and increase it slowly — no more than 10 percent a week. Smith encourages new runners to be patient as they build their strength. “Don’t be stressed about your time or distance. Going too fast or too long too soon are the top things that will cause an injury,” she said.

Smith cautions those who are already active but new to running are also at risk for injury. Running uses specific muscles that need to be conditioned slowly.

Plan on devoting three to six months of consistent running and strength training for your body to develop a strong running foundation. Programs like the Couch to 5k give step-by-step instructions to new runners for how to become fit enough for a 5k race.

Cross Train

In addition to your new running/walking routine, Smith recommends adding 30 minutes of strength training twice a week to help build muscle. “The more muscle you have the more cushion you have for your joints,” said Smith. “Knee pain is a common problem for beginners because they often don’t have adequate muscles in their quads and hamstrings.”

You can use weights for strength training, or just your body weight. Squats, lunges, planks, pushups and burpees all help cross train the runner’s body.

Listen to Your Body

Some muscle soreness can be expected when you’re starting a new workout routine, but pay attention to pain that is stabbing, shooting or dull and achy. If chronic knee pain is bothering you, stick to walking until you’ve spent enough time strength training to build up the necessary muscle.

“Listen to your body and be ok with the speed that your body is happy with,” said Smith. “Do the best you can and keep moving forward at the pace that’s right for you.”

It’s important to note that since running is a vigorous activity, you should talk with your doctor before you start to make sure you’re healthy enough to run.

Need help getting started? Find a SamFit near you and work with experts to create a personal plan.

Learn more about the benefits of warming up and cooling down when you exercise.