Remember what you’d do as a kid when you heard a “last one to the…” challenge? You’d run! It was just something you did every day, usually several times. You were light on your feet, sailing through the air. Running was freeing and fun back then—and it can be again! This time, the rewards could be even greater than bragging rights or the best swing on the playground.
Benefits of running
While walking and other types of moderate exercise offer many health benefits, running amps up your results. You might tack on more years to your life without sacrificing another ice-cream sundae or adding another grueling workout to your schedule. Runners (of all speeds) live an average of three years longer than non-runners, according to research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. And all it takes is 5 minutes a day (anyone can do that!), even if you’re overweight or a smoker. Researchers suspect that’s because running is a vigorous, high-intensity exercise that improves cardio fitness faster than moderate activities such as walking. (Be sure you always check with your doctor before turbo-charging your workout routine.)
As for weight loss, running offers a better workout in less time! You could burn more calories running than you would walking, even if you go a similar distance, a study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found. And, you’ll finish faster.
So, it only takes 5 minutes a day to live longer? And I can exercise for less time and lose more weight? Get ready to pick up the pace!
Before you run
Head to the running section in your shoe store. “You want a running shoe, not a walking one or cross-trainer,” notes Bryan Heiderscheit, PT, PhD, professor and director of the University of Wisconsin Health Sports Medicine Runners Clinic. Running shoes are designed to take more impact and to help you move faster. Make comfort your top priority. Find a brand that fits you well, then sample a variety of styles to get a feel for each as you run around the store (yup, we’re serious). “Run for a minute or two and notice if there’s any abnormal pressure on your feet,” says Heiderscheit. “The best shoe is the one that feels like you have to work the least in it.” And wear seamless socks so that your foot rests comfortably (without rubbing against the interior) to prevent any foot wounds.
6 Secrets to pain-free running
With every step you take, you’re getting fitter (even if you run slowly), and your runs will become easier. Here’s how to speed up that process, without pushing yourself too hard.
1. Slow down.
“Don’t run any faster than you can fast-walk. Speed is the last thing you should worry about when you’re starting out,” says Budd Coates, a running coach and co-author of Runner’s World Running on Air. You’ll slowly condition yourself as you gain more endurance.
2. Be light on your feet.
When you run, land gently, with your foot underneath you to minimize impact and prevent overstriding, says the University of Wisconsin’s Heiderscheit.
3. Choose a softer surface.
Asphalt is more forgiving than concrete (most roads are asphalt, black or gray, and made of gravel and tar, while sidewalks are usually concrete, which is lightcolored cement). Softer surfaces like a track, gravel or dirt path, or a smooth grassy area, will further reduce impact.
4. Learn to belly breathe...
You’ll take in more oxygen (which helps prevent muscle fatigue) with a belly breath than if you breathe from your chest, advises Coates. To practice, lie faceup with your hands on your belly. As you inhale, push air down into your belly (contracting the diaphragm) so it expands and your hands rise. As you exhale, relax your belly and push (contracting the lower abs) the air out so your hands lower. Do this (lying or sitting) two or three times a day, taking at least 10 breaths each time, and try it while you run. If you start panting or notice your shoulders and chest moving up and down, you’re chest breathing. Slow to a walk, catch your breath and try again.
5. ...and change your breathing pattern.
The impact from running is more stressful on your body as you start to exhale because your diaphragm relaxes and your core becomes unstable, says Coates. Most people inhale and exhale every two or four steps, which means you’re constantly stressing the same side. To balance the stress, alternate your breathing by inhaling for three steps and exhaling for two—you’ll land on a different foot each time you exhale.
6. Know when to back off.
Feeling a little discomfort at first is normal. If you get a side stitch or your knees ache during a run, slow down, walk or stop and stretch until the pain subsides, then resume at a lower intensity. See a doctor if you have a recurring problem, or notice any nonhealing foot wounds lasting more than two days, says Heiderscheit.
Motivate yourself to run
“If you can’t convince your mind to be a runner, you’ll never get your body to become one,” says Julie Creffield, author of Getting Past the First 30 Seconds. Use these tips to psych yourself up for your run.
Focus on you. No one is staring. Really. “Most people are so wrapped up in their own lives, they don’t have the time or desire to worry about you when you’re running in the park,” Creffield says. “Block everyone else out. Remember that the only opinion that counts is your own.”
Give yourself a pep talk. Skip the “I can’t do this” inner monologue. Instead, tell yourself that you’re “feeling good.” Positive talk could help make your workouts feel easier, according to a 2014 British study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
Find a partner. “Your workout will double as a social hour,” says Jen Van Allen, co-author of The Runner’s World Big Book of Running for Beginners. Plus, you'll know if you're going too fast; if you are huffing and puffing or finding it tough to hold a conversation, slow down.
Record your runs. Research shows that tracking your workouts helps you to stick with them. And now apps allow you to share your routines on social media to garner more support. Some runner favorites: Strava, Endomondo, Runtastic, Runkeeper and MapMyRun.
Sign up for a 5K. Sounds daunting, but it’s only 3.1 miles. “Committing to a race even before going out for your first run can be a great way of motivating yourself to train,” says Creffield. (After all, you don’t want your entry fee to go to waste.)
Your 8-week walk-to-run plan
This training plan, developed by running coach Jenny Hadfield, co-author of Running for Mortals, will gradually introduce you to running. By the end of eight weeks, you’ll be doing an equal amount of running and walking. Do the workouts below on three nonconsecutive days each week. On off days, you can walk, strength train, practice yoga or do other moderate activities. (Rest one or two days each week.) If you find a progression too challenging, repeat the previous week’s routine for another week or two, to give your body time to adjust.
|Weeks||Run interval||Walk interval||Times to repeat||Total time*|
|1 & 2||30 sec||2.5 min||8||32 min|
|3 & 4||1 min||3 min||7||36 min|
|5 & 6||1.5 min||2.5 min||7||36 min|
|7 & 8||2 min||2 min||7||36 min|
3 Exercises to warmup for your run
The more muscle you have—and the stronger those muscles are—the easier it will be to push your body off the ground with every step. Try these exercises two or three days a week.
Side steps (targets hips, glutes). Tie an elastic exercise band in a loop and slip around toes and balls of feet. Sit back slightly into partial squat. Take 5 steps to right, then to left (band around feet will add resistance for deeper stretch). Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds.
One-Leg Heel raises (targets calves). Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Lifting left leg one inch from floor, rise up onto balls and toes of right foot, then slowly lower heel. Do two sets of 15 reps, then switch legs.
Plank leg lifts (targets core, legs). Lie facedown with elbows under shoulders, forearms and palms flat on floor and toes tucked. Lift body off floor, balancing on forearms and toes. With abs tight, squeeze glutes and slowly lift and lower right leg. Do 8 to 10 reps with each leg. Too hard? Hold plank position, working up to 1 minute.
How to cool down after running
Cool down by walking (or jogging slowly) at the end of your run, and then stretch. Do the following stretches two or three times, holding each for 30 seconds.
Hamstring stretch. Place right heel on curb or low bench, keeping leg straight (not locked). With head and chest lifted, slowly lean forward from hips, feeling stretch in back of right thigh.
Hip-flexor stretch. Stand with left leg straight behind you and right knee bent, toes pointing forward with torso upright. Tuck tailbone under, feeling a stretch in the front of left hip at the top of thigh. Switch legs and repeat.
Calf stretch. Stand with toes and balls of feet on edge of a step and drop heels, feeling a stretch in calves.
Not quite ready to run? Use any one of these walking programs instead.