Thinking about taking up running but don’t know where to start, or even if it’s a good idea? The benefits and drawbacks of running may appear to be a mixed bag, but it really comes down to choosing a sensible approach that incorporates running as part of an overall fitness program.
Any exercise program should take into account your age, conditioning, and ability to exercise at certain intensities, said Jason Fitzgerald a USA Track & Field certified coach, marathoner runner, and head coach at Strength Running. “It just depends on who you are.”
So, if you’re looking to increase your fitness but want an alternative to the gym, running may be a good option.
“Running is absolutely worth looking into if you're a beginner and considering a new exercise program,” Fitzgerald said. “It's relatively easy compared with more technical, skill-oriented sports, and all you need are some workout clothes and a good pair of running shoes.”
As a form of aerobic exercise, running can help control your weight; reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers; strengthen your muscles and bones; and improve your mood and mental health.
So where do you start? Fitzgerald recommends that new runners take it easy at first. Talk to your doctor before your start, to make sure you’re healthy enough for exercise, and include more than just running — beginners should also focus on runner-specific core workouts and flexibility routines.
There are two major "types" of running: fun running for general health and exercise and training for a specific race distance, Fitzgerald explains. “Most people should start running because they actually want to run — if not, why do it?”
“Once you're running a few times a week for general health, you'll probably get the race bug and want to try your hand at training for a race. Then your running will change and you'll start doing workouts, running higher mileage, and completing runner-specific strength workouts to help you get stronger and prevent injuries. What you choose to do is up to you, but make sure you're enjoying whatever choice you make,” he said.
If you’re still hesitant because you’ve heard running is hard on your joints, research has shown that just the opposite may be true, provided you are injury-free to begin with. One study suggest that running might actually strengthen the cartilage around your knees, which may protect against osteoarthritis.
One study found that running caused no more damage to your knees than walking. The reason? When you run, even though you’re hitting the ground harder, your foot is in contact with the ground for a shorter time, and you’re taking fewer steps to cover the same distance.
Running can help keep you younger. Another study found that older people who run for exercise expend about the same amount of energy when they are walking as someone in their 20s. But older people who walk for exercise use about the same amount of energy when they walk as older, sedentary people.
Routine regular exercise helps build a healthy heart and improves longevity, but too much exercise can result in injury to joints, muscles, and the heart. If you’re thinking about becoming an ultramarathon runner, you may want to proceed with caution. Studies of athletes who train excessively for, and compete in, extreme endurance events — marathons, ultramarathons, ultralong distance biking, and IronMan triathlons — show these events can damage the heart. Although most of these changes to the heart are temporary, returning to normal after about a week, constant repetitive extreme endurance training in some athletes may cause permanent injury, including hardening of the arteries, heart arrhythmias, and other heart problems. Excessive training can also result in overuse injuries. The harm is generally more pronounced in newer marathon runners with less training – in other words, amateur runners.
But if you’re just looking for a way to boost your activity and get a lot of bang for just a few bucks, running can be a great option. Many online running guides and coaching resources can get you started and keep you on track.
March 03, 2015
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA