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How to Start a Running or Walking Routine

First Steps

By Rebecca Taggart

Fall is here with its bright colors and cooler temperatures, and is a great time to be outdoors.  Although New Year’s Day is the traditional time to start a new fitness routine, starting now will make you feel better come 2012.  As the days shorten, increasing the amount of exercise you do helps compensate for the increased darkness, and makes getting up in the morning easier.

Running is great exercise—it will help you lose or maintain weight, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and moderate insulin response. And it is basically a free activity, once you have the right pair of shoes.  If running isn’t for you, brisk walking is a good alternative and easier on the joints.  It offers the same benefits, but you will need to walk longer to reach the same benefits as running.  Rain or snow may require you to move running activities to an indoor treadmill, but walking can continue in inclement weather, plus you can carry an umbrella.

Schedule it
It is easiest to stick to an exercise program when you schedule it into your day, rather than hoping you can make time for it.  Whether you run (or walk) in the morning, at lunch, or before dinner, doesn’t matter, but consistency does.  Remember, taking care of yourself helps you have the energy to take care of others and do all you need to do.  Do not stress about exercise—simply do it.  Another benefit is that while exercising, your mind focuses on what you are doing physically, and takes a rest from any anxieties and worries you may have.

First steps before starting a running or walking routine
1) First, see your doctor if you have any health concerns, be it high blood pressure or a funky knee, to get advice on what kind of exercise and level of intensity is safe and best-suited for you.  Your doctor will likely encourage you to exercise, but if you are older and have been inactive, he or she may recommend building up your fitness stamina by walking, before you try running.

2) Find good shoes made for your feet and activity. Consult a running shoe expert at a specialty store, even if you don’t end up buying your shoes there.  Everybody’s feet are different. Even with a good-quality shoe, the wrong style or fit can generate pain and injury remarkably quickly.  My husband bought our daughter expensive shoes at a sports store when she began running, but she quickly developed intense pain along the soles of her feet.  With a trip to a shoe store specializing in running, we learned that the support of those shoes were completely wrong for her feet.  It was painful to fork over more money for a different pair, but she could immediately tell the difference and never experienced that pain again

Starting your routine
As you begin, remember that starting slow is critical to a successful routine.  First, decide on a running or walking program.  There are many available on-line for new runners, or ask an expert at the shoe store or if you belong to a gym.  New runner programs generally recommend beginning with a mixture of running and walking, with short intervals of running followed by longer stretches of walking.  For example, for the first week you might want to run for one minute, then walk for two or three minutes, continuing to alternate until you have exercised for 30 minutes.  Alternate running days with brisk walking days as you build up stamina.  If the first week goes well, add a minute to your run time the second week, so that you are running for two minutes, then walking for two minutes.  Sticking with a good plan will help motivate you and ensure you don’t go too quickly, which could lead to overdoing things and force you to quit.  If you are walking instead, alternate brisk with slower-paced walking instead of running and walking.  Runner’s World has an 8-week program that slowly conditions you to work up to a two-mile run.

Learning good form is important. Keep your elbows bent to 90 degrees, and don’t let your arms cross over your chest.  This ensures you keep your chest open and reduces twisting in your gait.  Keep your shoulders and hands relaxed.  Observe how you land on each foot – it is best to land on the middle of the foot and roll forward, rather than land on the heel or toes.  Remember that many injuries arise when you do too much too soon.

Maintaining a schedule
1) Set a goal. Whichever program you follow, whether running or walking, set a goal, such as to run one or two miles without stopping.  For many of us, this is enough. Once you’ve achieved that goal, remain consistent in your practice.  You can vary your routine by running in different locations, changing intensity, joining friends, or participating in a running group.  Local sports clothing and equipment stores often offer free runs led by experts on the weekends, where you can pick up tips and find running partners.  If you are enjoying yourself but want to do more, you may want to train for a particular run, like a 5K.

2) Rest and recovery. In order to maintain a running program, it is critical to allow yourself a minimum of one, or even two, rest days a week.  Resting allows your joints and muscles to recover, thereby avoiding unnecessary injuries.  One day of true rest a week is strongly recommended, and a second day can be “cross-training,” which simply means doing another form of exercise, such as yoga, swimming, or cycling.  Avoid cross-training activities that put stress on your joints, particularly the knees and ankles.

In all forms of exercise, there will always be days that are better than others, but encourage yourself by remembering that however you feel on a particular day, you are doing something good for yourself.  If you find you hate running, however, don’t punish yourself; find another physical activity that you really enjoy.

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