Looking for a form of exercise that lengthens your life, centers your mind and actually builds brain cells? Running is the thing for you. Even if you’ve never thought of yourself as an athlete, you can train your heart, lungs and legs to carry you on an immensely rewarding journey to health.
Where to Start
Be wise about starting any new form of exercise. If you’re out of shape or have mobility issues, check with your doctor to make sure you’re cleared to get active. Then start out easily, with a brisk walk. If anything hurts, slow down and take additional rest days.
Push yourself by lengthening your walks to 30 minutes, then adding intervals of jogging. Don’t strive for speed at first, as it will wear you out. Aim for an easy pace that feels like you can keep going indefinitely. Smartphone apps like Couch25K provide a structured program to get you from zero to running 3.1 miles in 9 weeks.
Document Your Progress
It’s easy to think, “There’s no way I can do this. It’s too hard,” when you’re in the midst of a hard training session. To get through these moments, pay attention to how good it feels the rest of the time. There are phone apps for tracking your runs, including speed, distance, elevation and route.
Runkeeper, MapMyRun and Strava are all good ones, with plenty of room to jot down notes after each run about how it felt. Or try keeping a running journal. As your body becomes accustomed to the new challenges, it may not feel like you’re making progress. Looking back at your notes is a great way to see how far you’ve come.
Join a Club
Try running with others. Many runners enjoy their sport as a group event. There are running groups, online communities about running and running networks where like-minded people can meet up to run together. Running with friends keeps you accountable–you don’t want to be the only one who doesn’t show up! It’s also helpful to share your running experiences with other people who can help you stay motivated and offer useful tips from their experiences.
Or Embrace the Solitude
If running in a group isn’t your thing, try running alone. Many runners love the solitude of running, as an antidote to their hectic work and family lives. It’s an opportunity to get outside, whether in your neighborhood or on a trail, and be with your thoughts. Research tells us that outdoor exercise is especially good for us. But if the weather is bad, a treadmill at the gym can feel equally peaceful with a good set of earphones.
Savor the Rewards
You don’t have to be an elite marathoner to benefit from regular running. Lacing up your shoes every other day for a few miles is enough to strengthen your heart and lungs, tone your muscles, increase blood flow to your brain and other tissues, and release glorious endorphins into your brain.
Running can introduce you to new friends. It can help you manage anxiety and chronic illnesses like diabetes or high blood pressure. It can improve your energy, mood and sleep. And you can do it almost anywhere, for the cost of a pair of shoes.
Our bodies were designed for regular vigorous activity, and we pay a high price for sitting around all day. When was the last time you really felt good in body and mind? Running will remind you how it feels to be strong, confident and agile.
As a novice runner, you will connect with your body in a new way, learning to read its signals and improve its performance. You will experience plenty of challenges, but each one will be followed by the triumph of mastery if you stick with it. And no matter what your age, fitness level or pace, you will be able to call yourself a runner.