Running has been steadily gaining popularity over the last several years as way to get — and stay — in shape. Not only is it easy to get started, running doesn’t require schlepping to the gym, learning fancy footwork or buying expensive equipment. Whether you’re an avid runner or merely contemplating moving from power walking to jogging, we have the scoop on the popularity of running and what it can do for your body.
We asked Melanie Zeh, sales specialist at REI Sacramento, for her insight into the biggest benefits of running and her tips for getting the most from every step.
Why we run
“There is an inherent ability in all of us to run. We may not recognize it as we get older and life gets the best of us, but we all started out as runners,” Zeh says. “From the living room floor at our parents’ house to the playground at school, our bodies were designed to run.” Running has an element of simplicity and somehow feels natural in a way that no other sport does, she explains. Most importantly, running is accessible no matter where you live. You don’t need any equipment other than a good pair of shoes, and anyone can do it, sans training.
There are many physical benefits associated with lacing up your sneakers. Running can help you lose weight by burning calories and it’s also a great way to just maintain your weight. But the benefits go beyond a smaller waist. “As with other cardiovascular exercises, running makes your heart strong and healthy, which has been reported to help lower the risk of heart attack, high cholesterol and high blood pressure,” Zeh says. “Running strengthens your lungs, which allows your body to distribute oxygen more efficiently and build stamina. As you run you’re building muscle, and muscle improves strength, coordination and balance,” she adds.
Beyond body benefits
Along with conditioning your body, believe it or not, as a runner you’re also conditioning your mind. When you run, endorphins (a chemical in the pituitary glands) are released and can give you a euphoric feeling commonly referred to as “the runner’s high,” Zeh says. “The release of these endorphins, however, has much longer-lasting psychological effects. Running helps you to relieve stress, sleep better and all around provides you with a positive sense of self and well-being,” she explains.
Before you hit the road or the track, make sure you know how to avoid injury. “Because running is a function that comes naturally to the body, most people don’t attempt to gather new information about the sport as they would if they were going to take up snowboarding, weightlifting or any other activity that requires specific instruction,” Zeh says. “Although everyone knows the motions that are required for running, not everyone completes them effectively.” It’s a good idea to do some research about the way your body should be moving during running to help avoid injury and optimize your workout. Visit REI Expert Advice on REI.com before you get started so you know the basics about everything from proper form to shopping for shoes.
What to add to your running routine
Once you start running, it’s also important to build in other activities to round out your fitness routine. “Engaging your body in other activities can help you better achieve your fitness goals and fight off the boredom you may feel from always doing the same routine,” advises Zeh. “Working out different muscle groups can help you stay injury-free as well as develop you into a well-rounded athlete.” She suggests cycling, swimming or circuit weight training as great options that will help boost your current routine.
Now that you’re ready to run, there are a few things to keep in mind to stay motivated.“As a first-time runner, it is important to stay optimistic and realistic about your goals. People begin running for a variety of reasons and it’s important to remember that change doesn’t happen overnight,” Zeh advises. “It takes time to get used to a new routine, so stay upbeat about your new goals and be proud of yourself for trying something new.”
It’s also important to know your body’s limits and act accordingly, especially as a new runner. “If you get really fatigued, it’s okay to walk. If you need an extra rest day, take it. Your body will thank you by perorming more efficiently the next time you go for a run,” Zeh says.
Have fun on the run!