Running and its impact

For beginners, the most important thing is to start slowly. Don't try to do too much too soon or you'll risk injury.
The NYC Marathon is over, and its participants are headed home to soon once again begin training for next year's run. Running is popular for many reasons, and some of us feel almost addicted to it.

So, whether we aspire to begin a running program, run just a few miles a week, or we want to improve our performance (for the next marathon?), here's running's impact -- on our health, that is.

Running is a weight-bearing exercise that is highly effective for maintaining our bone mass. The stress it places on our bones every time we land, generates a force that is five to six times our body weight. Since our bones are living tissue, they respond to this impact by building more bone cells.

Running, of course, is a moderate to intense aerobic exercise (jogging may be considered moderate, while running is more intense due to its faster speed), which can increase and maintain our cardio-respiratory fitness and health.

And when running enthusiasts mention the "runner's high" they feel, it's because the brain releases "feel good" neurotransmitters (opiate-like chemicals), which is why so many of us feel addicted to it. And we all know how these "feel good" brain chemicals help fight mild depression.

So, what are the disadvantages to running? Unfortunately, running places great stress on our joints and the soft tissues in our body such as our muscles and tendons. This stress is greater if our posture and running form are incorrect. Running is also more stressful to our joints if we don't strength train to strengthen the muscles which support our joints and absorb the impact.

Running, like most things, requires some thought and planning. Also, we should be aware that the very same neurotransmitters that give us the high mood, also block pain signals temporarily, which is why we might continue running through an injury when we shouldn't!

So, here are a few tips to keep in mind if we're running year round, marathon or not.

Cross-Train
Let's add some cross training to our routine such as cycling, swimming and fast walking. Many of our injuries are a result of repetitive stress. Let's give our body a rest from the hard impact, and train our muscles in different ways. Training for a race? Try race-walking. A study done on Olympic athletes showed race-walking (technically racewalking begins at 6 mph) to be an effective training method that can enhance running ability.

And let's not forget about strength training for our upper body to help improve our posture, a vital component to getting those deep breaths!

Start slowly
This tip is for us beginners and experienced runners when we change any variable such as our running surface, shoes, geography (uphill vs. flat) and so on. Why? One client who had been used to running on a flat surface, ran five miles mostly uphill and created a chronic tendonitis in her shins!

Vary our routine
Let's challenge ourselves by doing interval training (changing speed for instance). Our bodies adapt to the same training methods, so if we want to increase our fitness level, let's add some variety to our routine. This can also be good for those like myself who cannot run for more than a few minutes (I had knee surgery years ago).

Now during my fast walk, once per week I add in a few fast 20-second sprints, and I've increased my fitness level and renewed my interest with a new challenge. I have also added a little more impact on my bones.

Wear the right shoes
This is important for all our activities. For example, fast walking is more difficult to do in running shoes due to heel thickness and walking shoes don't have enough support for the impact of running, while running shoes don't offer enough lateral support for weight training. Some of us need more support due to our body biomechanics, so let's buy shoes for function, not style.

Heed the signals
Let's heed the signals of our body. Are we tired, in pain or coming down with a cold? Let's remember that rest is an important part of a training program.

So, let's make our running and exercise program as safe as possible and keep it enjoyable. I also like to suggest that we seek the advice of our doctor before we start anything new or if we're in pain. Happy Running!


June is a lifestyle columnist at HealthNewsDigest.com. For more information about June, visit www.junefit.com.

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